Planting and Maintenance of Topiary and Hedges

Essentially the strategy employed for the planting and maintenance of topiary and hedges is the same as for any plant material but with a stronger emphasis on long-term nutrition and access for cutting in comfort.

Requirements for all planting:

  1. A good, balanced nutrient status.

    This is verifiable by a 3 or 4 element analysis, but a good indicator is the health of what is growing around and about the intended planting site.

    12 month (plus) stock yard manure can be forked into the planting pit or trench, together with a partial back fill with soil, but incorporate a drainage material such as clay granules, vermiculite or shingle.

    Alternatively, use fish, blood and bone meal, but wear gloves when handling.

  2. If your soil is not well drained, plants will suffer to a greater or lesser extent, dependent on species.

    More particularly, Taxus, Prunus and Fagus will decline and possibly die.

    Double digging with the addition of clean aggregate will help, but if the ground is heavy you may have to consider field drainage or choose species, which are more tolerant of these conditions.

    There are some advantages. Clay, with its fine capillaries, is a good nutrient transport medium.

  3. pH is generally not a major consideration with most species used for topiary. Taxus, Buxus, Ilex, Viburnum, Prunus, Fagus and Carpinus will stand a wide range of pH, but the natural condition in which Buxus and Fagus thrive is neutral to alkaline, whilst, in these same conditions, Prunus can become a little chlorotic and growth will be slow.

  4. Initial formative cutting is best done early in the year say no later than 1st May to encourage regrowth, and further trimming in the first summer.

    Most species respond and regenerate well after hard cutting. Carpinus will respond well at the growing points, but rather less so at large internodal or "woody" areas.

    Subsequent trimming can take place when regrowth has occurred up to 5 to 7.5 cms in Buxus, circa 10 cm in Taxus and Ilex, and up to 15 cm with Carpinus, Prunus and Fagus. Endeavour not to cut back into old wood, as regeneration will take longer, especially if late frosts occur.

    For plants which flower, trim immediately after flowering, or, if flowering is not a priority, trim flower initiates to minimise loss of growth energy.

    Late trimming of Taxus perhaps through the winter (on suitable days!) would also remove many of the berries and help make the foliation more dense.

    Clean your tools with water and lightly grease.


    Surface seep tubes or drip irrigation are least labour intensive and need not be expensive, especially in relation to the investment in plants.

    Hard water can impede both systems by scaling. Filtration might be necessary.

    Follow manufacturers advice as to pressure reduction, length of runs, etc.

    Do not leave on all day use a timer in the line if necessary and watch for drippers not functioning or wrongly positioned (drips down sides of pot, pointing away from plant, etc.), or leaks.

    Otherwise, surface water by hand, thoroughly dampening the soil and do not spray the foliage in sunlight.

    When its done, take a glass of whatever you fancy and enjoy your garden!

See also Pests and Diseases of Box.

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