Herbs are some of the most popular plants to grow in your home; they are generally easy to grow, they look nice sitting in your window sill, and you end up with some tasty seasonings for your meals. Can we take growing herbs to the next level? Learning to shape and train your herb plants to grow into beautiful designs is an easy way to spice up your home.
There are many herb plants that you can use to create a topiary in your own home. Herbs such as rosemary, lavender, sage, and thyme are ideal to use when creating a topiary, although you can use nearly any herb you’d like.
Creating a topiary using herb plants can be a rewarding task, but it does require some time and commitment. There are a few key aspects to consider when starting your topiary project.
To get started on your herbal topiary, you’ll need a plant! You can either start your own plant from seed—which will take a little longer— or you can purchase a young plant that has already started its growing process.
When starting your herb from a seed, there is a good chance your plant will not grow the way you would like it to, such as not having a straight stem to base your design on. If you still want to start your own plant, you can take cuttings from your established herb and replant them. This can be a tricky process, but it is doable with enough patience and resources.
If you would rather purchase your herb plant from a nursey, spend some time looking at the main stem design and location, this will determine the design of your topiary. You will want a plant that is somewhere around 4 inches tall, give or take a little. A plant around this size is fairly established, but is still young enough to be trained to grow in certain patterns.
Training Your Plant
Once you have started or selected your plant, you will want to transfer it to a 4-5 inch pot. Depending on your design ideas, there are a few tricks you can use to train your plant to grow in the desired patterns.
To get your plant to grow tall, with a majority of the leaves at the very top of the plant, you will want to trim off all of the lower branches and leaves. As the plant continues to grow, continue trimming off all branches below your desired level where you want the leaves to start.
Make sure to leave the top branches alone while clipping off lower branches. This will help to ensure that the plant stays healthy and continues to grow— you can always trim up the top portion later.
Once the plant reaches your desired height, pinch the tip off to ensure that your plant does not continue growing upwards. Adding a steady stake next to your plant will help to keep the stem straight, especially as it grows upright. You can use some thin string or twist ties to hold the stem against the stake.
This method can be used to train your plant to grow in any direction you would like. Just be sure to eliminate branches and leaves in the places you want bare stem, and be diligent about trimming off those branches.
Trimming Your Topiary
One of the most important things to consider when trimming your topiary is investing in a good pair of secateurs, as they are designed for cutting small branches, so they won’t wear down as quickly from heavy use. Investing in a good quality pair early on can be worthwhile, so you won’t find yourself buying multiple pairs for each project. If you want to know what I recommend, here’s my favourite pair!
When trimming your plant to your desired shape, it is important to let your plant take a break from trimming and focus on growth, sometimes for a few weeks at a time. Letting your plant grow out will not only give the plant a break, but it will allow the leaves and smaller branches time to grow in full, which will make the final product more beautiful.
If you make a mistake at any point along the way, don’t panic, your herb will grow back if you give it enough time. Allowing certain areas of the plant to grow in—or grow back—requires some patience, but the end result will be worth the while.
Maintaining Your Topiary
When it comes to maintaining your herbal topiary, there are a few aspects to pay extra attention to:
- Providing Sufficient Light
- Soil Type
Providing Sufficient Light
As with any plant, ensuring that enough sunlight is available is crucial for growth. For most herbs, a minimum of five hours of sunlight a day all year long is necessary for them to thrive. Sitting your potted herbs in a window sill that gets sufficient sunlight throughout the day is a popular choice. If all of your windows are shaded, or you don’t think enough light comes through, investing in a good grow light may be important in getting your plants the light that they require.
Another important aspect in maintaining your topiary is to ensure you are using a good soil. These plants will need a soil that has good drainage and is not too heavy. A neutral soil is generally going to yield the best results for herbs. Any soil labeled ‘potting soil’ should be a decent choice for your herbal topiaries.
To cut back on those long wait times you’ll have while your plant grows upwards or fills out, you can add fertilizers to propel growth. You can add fertilizer as needed, or on a scheduled basis depending on your desired results. Any fertilizer that can be used on foliage plants should work well for your herbs. Be careful not to use too much fertilizer, or you may end up with excess growth that will just need trimmed more often.
Watering your topiaries is an essential task for keeping them healthy and alive. There is no exact science to when you will need to water your plants, but after some time you will start to get on a good schedule once you understand your plant’s needs. You’ll want to water your plants when you notice the soil is dry on the top layers, but don’t let your soil completely dry out.
When you go to water, use enough to fully saturate the soil. The drainage of the soil and hole(s) on the bottom of the pot should be enough to let the water through. The drainage is important because you don’t want to leave your plant sitting in puddles of water.
Keeping your topiaries within a safe temperature range all year long will help them stay healthy and continue to grow. Generally, any temperature you keep your home should be safe for you plants. In the warmer months, you can sit your potted topiaries outside for some direct sunlight, just make sure to bring them inside if temperature are going to dip below 55 degrees.
Choosing the Right Herbs
There are a number of herbs that you can choose from when creating your topiary, but some will yield different results based on growth patterns and leaf shapes. Although you can use nearly any herb plant, here are a few of the most common for topiary projects.
Rosemary is a popular choice for topiary due to its easily trainable nature. It can grow into a substantial form over time with a strong skeleton, and is a hugely useful herb for culinary purposes. Rosemary is a good option for more intricate topiary designs, such as those that use wire to train the plant to grow in certain shapes.
Lavender is another favourite for use in a topiary as it will grow well and can be trained easily. A potential downside is you may not get the charming purple flowers if you are trimming a detailed shape, but the end result may still have great appeal.
To get the best of both worlds – shape and flowers – you would need a section of your topiary that you allow to grow outwards, just enough to allow the flowers to bloom. Some creative thinking in your designs can achieve this, I have no doubt!
Using Sage for your topiary design will provide you with a nice herbal smell every time you trim. Sage also comes in a few different color varieties that will allow you to diversify your topiary garden.
If you are wanting a small topiary that is easy to maintain, Thyme may be a good option. Thyme plants do not get very large, so trimming will not be a constant battle to keep a clean-looking topiary.
How Do I Start a Topiary?
Starting a topiary is a simple task. and purchasing or growing your plant will be your first step. Give the plant time to establish and then you can consider shaping or training it to your desired dimensions.
For ideas on when to trim your hedge, which will also apply to topiary, check out my guide.
How Long Does it Take to Grow a Topiary?
Depending on the plant you are using to create your topiary, it can take up to four years before they reach the desired height and shape. Smaller plants may not take so long to grow, but patience and routine trimming is important in growing any topiary.
If growing the plant from seed you should allow the first two years for the plant to grow and get established naturally. Our beginners guide to topiary can help you make the right moves at the right time.
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