12 Best Types Of Topiary Trees And Shrubs

By definition, a topiary is a woody shrub or tree that has been pruned and trained into a specific architectural form. This practice can be both meditative and satisfying, as well as landscape-enhancing.

The best part is topiaries can be formed into just about any shape you can imagine. From elaborate sculptures to simple pyramids, globes, and lollipop topiary trees. 

There are a surprising number of evergreen and deciduous plants that can be grown as topiaries. Below, you’ll find the 12 best plant choices to apply your creative sculpting skills.

Choosing Topiary Trees And Shrubs 

Narrowing down the best topiary plants is the same process as with any other plant you’ve ever chosen.

  • Pick one that thrives in your hardiness zone to ensure a higher rate of long-term success.
  • Match the plant’s mature size to that of your intended planting space to provide enough room for healthy growth.

Secondary considerations should include:

  • Indoor growing or outdoor
  • Evergreen vs deciduous
  • Flowering or non-flowering
  • Privacy or strictly ornamental

With topiaries, the final and perhaps most important aspect is the growth rate. This will dictate how often they’ll need trimming in order to maintain their sculpted form. 

Fast-Growing Plants For Topiary

Fast-growing trees and shrubs should definitely be considered when you’re looking to reach a specific landscape design goal quickly. For example, those serving as privacy barriers will reach that functional goal much quicker when they grow 1-2ft per year.

Best Trees and Shrubs for Shaping 

The best plants to shape are those that will tolerate regular pruning, many of which you’ll see on this list. For indoor topiaries, Lavender, Bay Laurel, Olive trees, and even dwarf evergreens are excellent choices.

indoor topiaries

Outdoor evergreens, such as Junipers and boxwoods are a snap to sculpt, with the right tools. Yet, flowering specimens like Hydrangeas, gardenias, roses, or any shrub with a central leader, make the most beautiful lollipop topiaries around. 

Are Topiary Trees And Shrubs Difficult To Maintain 

How much time you’re willing to put into maintaining your topiaries is an important consideration. Some plants display fast growth rates, which can potentially increase the frequency of required pruning.

If you prefer low-maintenance topiaries, consider plants with a slower growth rate. For example, boxwood cultivars often grow no more than 6” per year and naturally grow in a rounded formation. 

Light, water, and nutrient requirements for topiaries would be the same as for free-growing plants of the same species. 

Outdoor Topiary Trees And Shrub Varieties 

Outdoor trees and shrubs are typically much larger, giving you the opportunity to get more creative with your topiary shapes.

Evergreen pyramids, spirals, and hedges can offer a dramatic impact on your landscape with minimal effort. While floral lollipops expand that impact with color and fragrance.

Yew Tree Topiary

American Yew Tree

(Taxus baccata)

Tree Summary

This imposing and hardy evergreen is ideal for training as a formal garden feature, in zones 3-8 and maturing up to an impressive 65ft tall given the right growing conditions. Rich green foliage and vigorous growth will result from full sun to partial shade as well as loamy, moist, and well-draining soil.

Tree Appeal

Dense and compacted non-flowering conifer foliage makes for easy styling into formal hedges, conical or globes shapes, and even garden gate archways. Plus the slow growth of Yew means that this is a low-maintenance topiary option.

Tree Care

Water well for the first growing season after planting and until roots are firmly established. Avoid overwatering to prevent root rot. Fertilize with a slow-release evergreen-specific NPK in spring. Pruning should take place in dormancy – either late winter or early spring before new shoots appear.

Formal privet topiary

Privet

(Ligustrum vulgare)

Tree Summary

The beauty of privet is its uniform growth rate and rounded shape which lends itself both to formal topiary design as well as less structured shrub and tree formations.

Ground-planted privets can sometimes become invasive growing to an impressive 20 ft tall by 8 ft wide. But when grown in pots, most varieties (including Golden privet) can be contained as they mature to a more modest height of 13ft.

Tree Appeal

With a compact, bushy habit that responds well to regular pruning, thanks to its fast growth rate, glossy green foliage gleams around clusters of often fragrant spring blooms.

Tree Care

Tolerant of most soil types and winter hardy, privet hedges, and trees can be grown in USDA zones 3 through 7.
Water deeply when soil is dry down 2” and fertilize with a triple 10 NPK in early spring.

American Boxwood Shrub

American Boxwood Shrub

(Buxus sempervirens)

Tree Summary

The American boxwood can be sculpted into just about any shape, as it matures to 12ft tall by 10ft wide, in zones 5-9. This highly versatile shrub prefers full to partial sun and moist well-draining soil types.

Tree Appeal

Tiny, teardrop leaves grow in dense, evergreen clusters on hardy branches that can tolerate heavy pruning. It’s often used to provide structure and definition to formal garden designs and is an ideal companion plant for roses, azaleas, and foxgloves. A slow growth rate and rounded habit make the boxwood an easy choice for clean hedges and ornate topiaries alike.

Tree Care

Boxwoods should be watered deeply and on a weekly basis. A 10-10-10 NPK can be applied in early spring, just after pruning.

Juniper Tree Topiary

Juniper Tree

(Juniperus squamata)

Tree Summary

This naturally low-growing evergreen can be trained as a stunning garden feature, in zones 4-8. Maturing to just 3ft tall and wide, vivid color and vigorous growth will result from full sun and loamy, acidic soil.

Tree Appeal

Densely growing, star-shaped needle clusters lend themselves to conical or globe-structured topiaries and their blue-green hue provides contract and interest to formal landscaping year-round. Style as above or graft smaller shrubs onto hardy rootstock with a central leader to make a beautiful lollipop Juniper tree.

Tree Care

Water Junipers deeply during their first year for healthy root establishment. Fertilize with an acidic, evergreen-specific NPK in spring. Prune only in the cooler months of spring and fall to avoid undue plant stress. 

Japanese Holly Topiary

Japanese Holly

(Ilex crenata)

Tree Summary

This holly cultivar is perfect for the colder regions of zones 5-8 yet, will also thrive in their warm summers too. In full sun slightly acidic and well-draining soil, the ever-popular Japanese holly will reach 8ft by 6ft at maturity, at a rate of up to 12 inches per year.

Tree Appeal

A perfect topiary choice thanks to its heavily clustered branches that are rigid with compacted foliage. Natural growth forms an overall rounded appearance along with year-round greenery. Tiny white flowers bud in summer that develop into small black berries for winter interest.

Tree Care

Japanese Holly requires weekly watering until established and in extreme heat. Apply a balanced, slow-release fertilizer in spring. Prune in winter to sharpen up its already loosely conical shape.

Red Tip Photinia Topiary

Red Tip Photinia

(Photinia x fraseri)

Tree Summary

A fast-growing evergreen shrub that lends itself to neat shaping and offers seasonal interest. Capable of growing up to 10ft tall and wide at full maturity when grown in full sun or partial shade and in well-draining soils. Semi-hardy and best for USDA zones 7-9.

Tree Appeal

Ideal for training into oval domes and to be enjoyed visually throughout the year as the seasons progress. Foliage is showy with new growth first appearing reddish-bronze and then fading to gold-green within 4 weeks. In springtime, small white unpleasant-smelling flowers bloom, and in autumn deep red berries develop. Both of which are most attractive to birds and wildlife alike.

Tree Care

Avoid planting in wet soil or getting leaves unnecessarily wet. This evergreen prefers drought conditions and plenty of circulating air to avoid pest infestations and fungal leaf spots. Fertilize with a slow-release balanced feed and prune back only during dormancy, remove fallen leaves and debris, and mulch around the base to minimize the risk of disease.

Topiary For Doorways and Arches

The best plants for front porch topiaries or to frame a doorway or gate should match your home’s architectural style and the size and scale of the entry point

The following options will beautifully complement a number of different design styles and can be trained to fit most front porches, doorways or gates.

Bay Laurel Tree Topiary

Bay Laurel Trees

(Laurus nobilis)

Tree Summary

Bay leaf topiaries are both elegant and casual. In pots, they can reach 15ft tall and wide. Yet, can easily be kept smaller to accommodate your space, in zones 8-10. Provided that they receive at least 6 hours of daily sunlight.

Tree Appeal

These types of laurel bushes provide aromatic glossy green foliage with dense growth. Most commonly trained as lollipops or pyramids that frame your front door, leaves that are pruned away for shaping can be saved for soups and stews.

Tree Care

Shallow roots should be kept somewhat moist to prevent drying out. A slow growth habit means less spring pruning. Fertilize with a well-balanced organic NPK, prior to new growth emerging, in spring.

Baby Gem™ Boxwood Shrub

Baby Gem Boxwood Shrub

(Buxus microphylla var. japonica ‘Gregem’)

Tree Summary

The Baby Gem is one of the easiest topiary options. With a slow growth rate, this can mature to 4ft tall and wide, in zones 5-9. Partial sun and well-draining soil will encourage robust growth.

Tree Appeal

Tiny, lanceolate leaves mellow from chartreuse to rich green. Compact branches can withstand heavy pruning to form globes, pyramids and spirals.

Tree Care

Water potted boxwoods when the soil is dry down 2”. Re-shaping and fertilizing with a 10-10-10 NPK should be done prior to new growth emerging in spring. 

Cherry Laurel Tree Topiary

Cherry Laurel Trees

(Prunus laurocerasus)

Tree Summary

Ideal for USDA zones 5 through 9 this fast grower is highly adaptable when it comes to planting positions, tolerating full sun to partial shade in cooler climates and shade where temperatures are warmer.

At maturity this beauty can reach a mature height and spread of 20 ft within 20 years, however, hard and regular pruning will keep Cherry laurel in check.

Tree Appeal

Whilst typically used in mass planting landscaping, this glossy-leaved evergreen is also perfectly suited for stately borders and hedges and often used to frame gateways and secret passages to add interest and mystery.

Offering a tightly packed display of shiny green, year-round foliage, and a beautiful display of delicate white blooms in spring.

Tree Care

Providing soil does not become waterlogged and is rich in organic matter, Cherry Laurel can be successfully grown in both clay and sandy soils and requires regular watering to keep conditions moist and support its deep root system.

Apply a balanced, slow-release fertilizer in spring to enhance foliage color and avoid fertilizing in later summer to prevent new growth. Prune in late spring after flowering.

Indoor Topiary Trees And Shrubs 

The natural size and shape of herbal and fruiting topiaries make them ideal for infusing indoor spaces with living charm and organic texture.

With enough sunlight, they’ll grow quite nicely in the corner of a room, or even on your kitchen counter, filling the room with their subtle yet intoxicating fragrances. 

Lavender Topiary Tree

Lavender Topiary Tree

(Lavandula stoechas ‘Anouk’)

Tree Summary

Lavender topiaries mature to just 3ft tall and wide and require 6 hours of daily sunlight. Gritty, well-draining soil, with a 6.5-7.5 pH, will encourage season-long blooming and lush foliage.

Tree Appeal

Downy, grey-green sprigs and fragrant, purple blooms are easy to train for elegant lollipop tree chic. Simply remove any shoots from the bottom half of the trunk and allow the top to fill out naturally.

Tree Care

Mid-spring pruning and removal of spent flowers will encourage a longer bloom time. This Mediterranean herb prefers deep yet infrequent watering. As well as a spring application of a 7-9-5 NPK. 

Lemon Crest Cypress

Lemon Crest Cypress

(Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Goldcrest Wilma)

Tree Summary

This bright, fragrant evergreen is easily trained into a lollipop, pyramid, or spiral form. Kept small or allowed to mature outdoors to 8ft by 2ft, in zones 7-11, these prefer loamy, well-draining soil and full to partial sun.

Tree Appeal

In addition to its sculpting flexibility, this cypress is also drought-tolerant and pest/disease resistant. Soft, chartreuse foliage releases a subtle lemony scent when clipped.

Tree Care

Water only when soil is dry down to 1 ½”. Apply a triple 10 NPK, in a dose based on plant size, each spring. Lightly prune in spring to maintain a desired shape.

Koroneiki Greek Olive Tree Topiary

Koroneiki Greek Olive Tree

(Olea Europea)

Tree Summary

The Koroneiki Olive is really low-maintenance with no deadheading required. These can be kept small or allowed to mature to 15ft by 12ft, preferring full-to-partial sun and well-draining soil. 

Tree Appeal

This Olive can tolerate heavy pruning and doesn’t mind remaining a smaller size. Vibrant green, lance-shaped leaves, and fragrant white blossoms are bare clusters of dark, edible fruit.

Tree Care

Prune olive tree topiaries in late winter/early spring to encourage new growth. Fertilize with a triple 10 NPK in the fall. In pots, water to keep the soil fairly moist, but not soggy. 

FAQ Best Types of Topiary Trees

How do I start a topiary?

Small, indoor topiaries can be started from seed or cuttings. This allows you to begin sculpting from the very start. Privets and Boxwoods are often easier to prune and shape when larger.
Better yet, find one that’s already started for you. The Blue Star Juniper or Double-Blooming Gardenia lollipops come ready-made.

Varieties of Topiary Trees Final Thoughts 

The art of topiary sculpting is a satisfying, time-honored tradition among gardeners looking for a new and unique way to express their botanical creativity. 

Evergreen Bay Laurel trees and Nellie Stevens holly shrubs can be sculpted to the level of fine art or simply honed to accent front entryways and pathways.

Lavender, Olive, and Lemon Crest Cypress topiaries can add cozy character and charm to kitchens, bedrooms, or even bathrooms, with their lovely scent and colorful blossoms.

For maximum impact, however, nothing beats the blooming Wax leaf Privet or Little Lime Hydrangea lollipop topiaries. 

fc0f28385ebd56da36c2bbe134f43736?s=150&d=mp&r=g
 | Website

Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.