10 Best Topiary Plants to Grow

Turn These Dwarf Trees, Shrubs, and Herbs Into Works of Art

Australian bush mint topiaries.
Topiaries like these Australian bush mints (Prostanthera rotundifolia) look good flanking entryways. Lisa Kling/Getty Images

If you want to shear dwarf trees, shrubs, or herbs into animal forms or into geometrical shapes in three-dimensional space (globes, cubes, etc.), then it's essential to find the best topiary plants and learn how to work with them. You'll often want to use evergreens (including the broadleaf type) for the job so that you can admire your creation year-round. But there are exceptions: Not all privet shrubs are evergreen, yet they're among the most popular bushes for topiary.

The best...MORE topiary plants among trees, shrubs, and herbs bear small leaves, like to be sheared, grow quickly, and have a dense branching pattern. But, as always with plant selection, stay realistic yet open-minded: You may decide to give up one of these features to grow a plant that has another quality you admire, such as being scented or easy to grow

  • 01 of 10
    Closeup of yew bush with red berries (arils).

    Cora Niele/Getty Images

    Conifers renowned for being tough landscape plants suited to a variety of conditions (including shade), Taxus bushes are needled evergreen shrubs with two potential drawbacks:

    But if you don't have kids or pets in the yard and do have some patience, yews (zones 4 to 7) make excellent topiary plants. T. baccata Repandens is a great pick for a long-and-low topiary shape: It's 2 to 4 feet high and 12 to 15 feet wide.

  • 02 of 10
    Arborvitae bush with snow on branches and two sparrows perched on it.

     mikroman6/Getty Images

    Thuja occidentalis is also a needled evergreen, but its leaves come in flat, scaly sprays. It can take on different of sizes and plant forms; which you choose depends on the topiary shape you're seeking. 

    North Pole (​zones 3 through 7, full to partial sun) is a good cultivar if you need a topiary that's taller than it is wide (10 to 15 feet tall x 5 feet wide) but that isn't too tall.

    Golden Globe (zones 4 to 8, partial to full sun, 4 feet tall and wide) is suited to an entirely different type of topiary. It offers a different color (golden foliage) to boot.

  • 03 of 10
    Alberta spruce trees decorated for Christmas and flanking a front door with wreaths.
    Ellen Rooney/Getty Images

    Picea glauca Conica (zones 3 to 8, full sun, 10 to 12 feet tall and 7 to 10 feet wide) is another slow grower, but it makes up for it with dense and fragrant foliage. This dwarf tree is also great if you need a topiary with a pyramidal or conical shape.

  • 04 of 10
    Boxwood topiaries with ball shape.
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    Topiary is just one use for Buxus. Boxwoods have been used in formal landscape designs for ages because it's so easy to create crisp, even lines with these broadleaf evergreen shrubs. B. sempervirens Suffruticosa (3 feet x 3 feet, zones 6 to 8, full sun to partial shade), a dwarf, is best-suited for small topiaries.

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  • 05 of 10
    Japanese holly (Hetzii) with berries.
    Hetz Japanese holly has a rounded form. David Beaulieu

    Ilex crenata Hetzii (3 to 6 feet tall and wide) has a rounded form, so it works well for many animal and geometrical shapes. But if your topiary will be tall and slender (such as the "triple ball" topiaries), I. crenata Sky Pencil (6 feet tall, 14 inches wide) is a better choice. Growing conditions for both are zones 5 to 8, full sun to partial shade.

     

  • 06 of 10
    Cherry laurel in bloom.
    Martin Siepmann/Getty Images

    Cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) has nothing to do with mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), although its leaves resemble it. But it is, in fact, a type of cherry, as its genus name (Prunus) reveals.

    Grow the Otto Luyken cultivar (zones 6 to 8, full sun to partial shade) for a small topiary: It stays smaller than the species plant. It may eventually get bigger than its listed size (3 to 4 feet tall by 6 to 8 feet wide), but only after many years (prune to keep it from exceeding these limits if you'd like). 

  • 07 of 10
    Privet shrub in bloom.

    Diane Macdonald/Getty Images 

    Some of the best topiary plants are also among the best hedge plants, since desirable qualities for the former are desirable for the latter, too. The broadleaf shrub, privet (Ligustrum) is one example. L. vulgare is 4 to 15 feet tall, with a spread of 4 to 8 feet. This European native is hardy (zones 5 to 8) but not evergreen. 

    L. japonicum is indigenous to Japan. It's evergreen, but it's suited only to zones 7 to 10. The bush becomes 6 to 12 feet tall, with a spread of 6 to 8 feet. Both are invasive in parts of the U.S.

  • 08 of 10
    Lavender plants in bloom.

    Taya Johnston/Getty Images

    Lavandula angustifolia (zones 5 to 8, full sun, 2 to 3 feet tall, spread varies by cultivar) can be grown as a small topiary plant. It's especially favored by those seeking a pleasing aroma. As you trim your topiary, use the cuttings in potpourri.

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  • 09 of 10
    Germander planted with Alternanthea ficoidea to form a design.
    Teucrium chamaedrys is a low-growing, shrubby herb.

    K M/Flickr/(CC BY 2.0)

    If you're ready to progress past basic landscaping, Teucrium fruticans (zones 8 to 10, full sun, 4 to 6 feet tall and wide) is a fun plant to play with. Not only is this evergreen (a tender relative of T. chamaedrys) one of the best plants for topiary, but it's also a great edging plant.

    Those with an artistic bent can take the edging-plant idea a step further and build a knot garden, which is an intricately designed garden with plants arranged to create an interlacing pattern, sometimes with fanciful topiary and carefully tended paths.

  • 10 of 10
    Hedera helix 'glacier' (variegated ivy) against a backdrop of cotoneaster berries.
    Hedera helix Glacier is a variegated ivy.

    Mark Winwood/Getty Images

    A different type of "topiary" makes use of a fast-growing vine plant such as English ivy (Hedera helix) and a metal frame in the shape of whatever you want your creation to look like. You attach the vine to the frame and let it grow to fill in the shape, at which point you simply remove the stray growth. 

    Outdoors, English ivy (zones 4 to 9, partial to full shade) can put out vines 50 feet long. Where English ivy is invasive in North America, you can grow it as a houseplant; give it lots of indirect lighting and keep the temperature around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

How to Make a Kissing Ball

Another horticultural art form is the kissing ball. Except, in this case, you shape your creation not with living plants but with the branches cut from living plants. Kissing balls are especially popular for Christmas, but they can be made for other times of the year, too.