Cutting a hedge into a ball shape can seem a daunting prospect, but I got to grips with this popular topiary project and I’m sharing my tips with you!
To make ball topiary, trim your hedge into a rough ball shape first, and then take smaller cuts from all angles and keep checking the appearance to work into a round shape. Getting easy access to all sides of the hedge plant is the key to spherical shrubbery success so using potted plants is a smart move for beginners.
Half of the challenge with basic topiary is about picking the right plant for the job. Boxwood will do the trick. You can buy this versatile hedging plant in your local garden centre. If you have a low hedge, you can start sculpting your own topiary using your hedge as a source.
What Tools Do I Need?
To complete simple designs such as ball topiary, you don’t need a lot of tools which is another reason why it’s an ideal project for the beginner topiary artist. The most basic tools will do the job; just ensure that you have a pair of long or medium shears available and a pair of secateurs.
You may want to invest in a frame to make it easier, but as this is a simple shape to create, it is somewhat of an unnecessary expense. Don’t let us stop you, however, if you feel that using a frame will help you in the early stages of your topiary journey. There is no shame in it as the satisfaction of success will be an ally in your ongoing battles with bushes.
What Plant to Choose?
Arguably, the best hedging plant for your ball topiary is the humble boxwood. It is cheap, and if you make a mistake, it will grow back quickly. Its low cost and relatively compact size makes it a popular choice for creating a selection of balls (or other shapes) in pots surrounding a home.
We’ve got a guide to good hedge plants, but when you’re tending towards topiary, dense foliage and hardiness are two key factors to look out for – box is a natural choice in these areas.
Cutting the Ball Topiary Shape
If your plant is in a pot, it is a good idea to put the pot with the plant on a table or workbench, ideally so you can access all sides of it with ease. Make sure that you look at the plant from all angles before you start cutting and trimming. Is there a side which looks a bit denser than the other sides? In that case, you should pay particular attention to that side as it may need thinning out a bit more.
Stand above your plant, and start by cutting the plant into a rough shape using the shears or medium size cutters. Spin it around as you work and make sure that you do not take too much off the height. A short plant will easily get lost in a display.
Don’t rush things. This is not a competition. Shaping a plant into a ball or cube is all about practising your skills and if ever there was a time to take time, now’s the time to take the time. The only way most topiary artists learn topiary is by making mistakes, just like everything else in life, but if you can avoid haphazard trimming then you will be in good shape – literally.
Once you have achieved a rough shape, go to work with your secateurs. Spend more time looking at the plant than actually cutting it. When you do cut, trim small bits off at a time and then step back to look again. Does your creation look lopsided or not circular enough? A good idea would be to have a soccer ball or other round ball on the table next to you.
Once you think that you have finished, inspect the plant and pick out any loose twigs or branches. Spray with water to freshen the plant up and put to one side.
Clean up the area and your tools and then give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done!
If you are able, return to the topiary ball in a day or so, as it will give the plant time to settle into its new shape, and for the weather to shake up a bit, and so a final burst of fine tuning can round things off nicely – pun intended!
How To Maintain Your Ball Topiary
Over the next couple of days, keep an eye on your creations. Any brown twigs should be removed. Boxwood does seem to benefit from a spray of water for the first week. Some gardeners say that it helps to encourage more dense growth. It is probably true. Remember that water carries oxygen and plants absorb nutrients through their leaves as well as their roots. When you notice your topiary starts to lose it shape, keep it in check by regular trimming. If you want to change your creation and reshape into something else, just let it grow.
Busting Out The Shapes
Boxwood is rather fast growing and very forgiving. It lets you create the most amazing shapes and topiary creations. When it comes to topiary, you should never worry about experimenting. This is a living craft which will grow back and let you create something else.
There is a wide range of topiary frames and shapers that you can buy – these can direct the growth of your hedges to form specific shapes and make it easier to trim them. We’ll cover those in another post one day. However, once the bush trimming bug has bitten, you may one day find that you end up with a bunch of leafy critters in your garden. Never forget that topiary is about having fun and making a statement; see it as a way of expressing yourself and say something about you. With time comes experience, and before you know it, you will find yourself taking on all sorts of exciting projects.
One of the interesting aspects of understanding topiary is that you begin to deconstruct other people’s projects as you discover them. It doesn’t take long before you are able to break a seemingly complex design into its component parts and then you can understand how you might recreate something similar within your garden.
You will also discover that simple combinations of ball and cube shapes can be used to great effect – it just takes a bit of time, the right tools and a good perspective on the matter.
Just start with a simple topiary ball and cube to learn the craft and take pleasure in their elegant simplicity. Enjoy the process of creation and interaction with the plant and never rush any of your creations. It is all about getting the feel for working in a living material such as boxwood, so devote a good amount of time to the project and the rewards will last much longer than you realise.
If this all feels a bit daunting and you want something simpler, our essential guide to hedge trimming will get you off in the right direction.
- How do you shape a tree into a ball?
- While there is a definite difference in scale, and you will undoubtedly need to upgrade your equipment to include ladders, loppers and powered hedge trimmers, the fundamental principles of taking your time, refining the shape, and getting the perspective to check your progress are universal.
- Should I use a topiary trimming frame?
- There’s no shame in using topiary frames to help you get the right shape. If it makes the job more pleasurable for you and gives you the confidence to experiment with more technical topiary, go for it.
- When should I trim my topiary ball?
- The weather will have a big impact here, as will your personal preference. Our guide on when to trim a hedge suggests you shouldn’t really trim more than twice a year – formative pruning notwithstanding – but if you want your balls to keep their shape, a minor amount of trimming to tackle those sudden shoots in the summer season shouldn’t do much harm.