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Past Articles Library | Trees | Got Spiral Shrubs? Well, now You do. Learn How to Create Spiral Topiary Shrubs

Have you ever been in the plant nursery and just drooled over those spiral shrubs?   But once you look at the price tag, you realize that the only thing you are going to be leaving with is that drool on your chin and not that shrub.  Well, you no longer have to just dream about that spiral shrub instead create your own. 

The steps below are will aid you in creating your own spiral shrub along with learning how to properly care for that shrub or tree.

Step One

When creating this type of topiary, the type of shrub you select is very important.   A pyramidal shaped shrub is best since a spiral pattern follows so easily down this shape.  Shrubs and trees with this natural shape include dwarf Alberta spruce, columnar blue spruce, boxwood, columnar pine, juniper, Norway spruce, and upright yew.

Keep in mind though, that when selecting your plant material it needs to be in good health.  Do not fall into the trap of purchasing material that is less quality based on the fact that you will be pruning a lot off.  Good quality material produces a good product while less quality materials create a less than desirable product.

Step Two

This step consists of creating your design but take your time.  Walk around your plant and consider its positives and negatives.  Does it have a good side?  Are there areas that you plan to remove anyway and can that be incorporated into the design?  Once you have these answered some of these questions, get out your masking tape.  This simple tool will be used to create the pattern for your spiral.

Starting at the top of the plant, take your masking tape and begin to spiral down.  At this point, you may wonder what is the correct number of spirals.  Well, believe it or not, the best looking spiral topiary is one that has three to five revolutions or spirals.  The number depends on the size of the shrub or tree and its individual characteristics. 

Once you have a design set out with your masking tape, take some time to look at your work before moving on.  Adjust as needed until you are completely happy with the design.

Step Three

The next step in this process is pruning but before your reach for that first branch with those hand pruning shears, you will need to sterilize them.  Nothing is so discouraging then to go to all this work and then find out that you had transferred a plant disease to your spiral topiary from dirty hand pruners.  To prevent this, simply take a rag, paper towel or cotton ball and soak it in rubbing alcohol.  Then, clean the cutting surface of the pruners with the “towel” soaked cleaner.  Once that is complete, place the pruners in the sun for about an hour.  This last step will kill any remaining germs through solar sterilization.

After your pruners are ready use, take note of your plant.  The area that should be pruned is what is between the masking tape not under the masking tape.  To begin the cutting process, one should start removing branches at the trunk in the middle of the shrub or tree.  Do not be worried if your plant begins to look bare, the shrub will begin to fill out as time goes on.

Once the middle is pruned, either work your way up to the top or down toward the bottom making sure to make clean cuts.  At this point, do not worry about the fine details.  This first round of pruning is just to remove the bulk.

Now that the plant is crudely pruned, remove the masking tape and begin to fine tune the design by rounding off your design around the trunk.  This should be done with the same hand pruners that you used above.

To give that finished look, finish off the pruning with a small, battery powered type of shear.  But make sure not to go too far into the evergreen at this point.  Many evergreens produce new needles at the end of their branches and excessive pruning can disrupt this process.

Step Four

After you have pruned your spiral topiary, you are ready to display it. You can simply plant it in a decorative container or place it in the ground.  To utilize the container approach, one will need to pick a pot that is the next size up from the original container.  While it may make sense to you to go up even bigger, it causes the shrub or tree to produce more roots then vegetative growth, which is not what you want.  Selecting a container that is just the next size on a little larger if you must, will give you at least two seasons before the plant will need to be transplanted.

Another consideration when selecting a pot is its material.  To keep the plant from becoming top heavy, make sure that the container is made of a heavy stone or terra cotta.  But while you want it heavy, you do not want it so heavy that you cannot move it, which will be very important come winter.

Now that you have your container, you will need to clean and sterilize it.  To do this, wash out the pot, inside and out, with soapy, warm water and rinse.  Place out in the sun to dry.

After the container has dried, move it to the location where you would like to display it and begin to add drainage material.  When doing this step, make sure to cover the drainage hole(s).  If your container does not have one, make sure to create one with a drill.  While you could create a drainage reservoir, it is better to control the amount of water through a drainage hole. 

At this point, you may be looking at your container going what do I use for drainage material.  Well, there are some common things lying around the garden shed that would work great.  Those broken pots on the garden shed shelf can go into the container along with broken bricks and stones.  If the planter is really big and weight is going to be an issue if the container is filled all the way with soil, consider adding packing peanuts as your drainage material.  They are inexpensive or free and can be used with any plant material that is not going to be eaten. 

Once you have your drainage material in the bottom, fill half way up with an all-purpose potting soil mix.  If you are a forgetful gardener, consider adding a slow-release fertilizer at this point. 

Now, cut away the container and place the plant in the pot.  Make sure that the plant is not being planted deeper than it was in its original container. Remove plant and adjust as needed.

After you have the soil level at the correct height, tease the roots of the plant with your fingers, place in the container and fill in.

Water in until you see moisture coming out the bottom of the container.  Add additional soil as needed.

If you are going to plant your shrub or tree in the ground, simply dig the hole so that it is twice the width of the plant’s pot but slightly deeper.  Once that is done, rake the sides of the hole with a rake and remove the plant from its container.  Test the plant in the hole and adjust as needed.  Next, tease the roots with your fingers and place the plant in the hole.  Fill in with soil, water in, and fill again as needed.

Step Five

Now that you have your plant in a container or ground, how do you take care of it?  Well, you will need to prune your plant once a year to keep its shape.  Also, you will need to fertilize and water it year round. 

If you planted your shrub in a container, you will also need to move it into an unheated shelter, such as a garage.  This move will prevent the root mass from freezing while allowing the plant to experience the cold for proper dormancy.

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Is space a problem for you?

Then you might want to consider growing your vegetables, fruit, citrus, or annual color in tubs, 1/2 wine barrels, window boxes or hanging baskets.

All make great areas to grow columnar fruit, citrus, beans, tomatoes, herbs, or even onions or lettuce.

Get creative! What can you think of that would grow well in a small space?

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