Shaping Up With Indoor Topiaries

Thanks to a thoughtful friend, I am in the topiary game. That’s right; I have a tabletop myrtle topiary. It is so cute — and a bit intimidating.

When I think of topiaries, I think of the legendary Bunny Mellon and her greenhouses filled with living sculptures of myrtle, rosemary and thyme.

Determined to bring to the little house on a big hill the same essence of topiary success as Bunny had at her Oak Farm Estate, I began my research.

First, my topiary is on the kitchen table, not in an estate greenhouse. Winning a spot on the table is a big deal; this is prime real estate, this is where my delicate indoor plants get the best sun and the most attention from me.
Sunlight is important. All myrtle loves direct sun and thrives in the summer months. Like with other houseplants, I will rotate the pot every month or so to make sure it grows evenly, and all sides are exposed to the sun.

My plant is a dwarf myrtle and about 18 inches tall because it is slow growing; I’m guessing with this height, it is about two years old. It will stay in this same container for quite some time; they like being root-bound. This allows the plant’s energy to focus on growing stems and leaves above the soil line.

Water is the other key factor in growing myrtle topiaries. They need lots of water. The indoor plant needs to be watered several times a week. I generally water it every third day and mist the leaves every other day. Some plant lovers suggest placing the pot on a tray of pebbles with water to raise the humidity level; I haven’t done this yet but might give it a try. The plant came to me with a wet paper towel on top of the soil; I am sticking with that for a while longer to make sure the plant is happy in the house and adjusting to the kitchen’s heat.

Every few years, when the plant begins to absorb the water too quickly, and is in need of water constantly, it may be time to repot. Select a new container one size larger, keeping in mind to balance the size of the pot with the size of the topiary design. Remember, you want the energy directed above the soil, not spent on filling the pot with extended roots.

To maintain the desired shape, careful clipping is necessary. Shearing the leaves may create brown spots within the shape, so try clipping the stem right inside the design. Trimming will not only make a tidy plant, but it will also help the foliage grow full.

When looking at my tabletop design and thinking about maintaining its shape, my mind wandered to bonsai trees. I know topiaries can be any size, and bonsai are small, but I was curious about the difference. Please know they are nothing alike and have different origins, care and designs.

Bonsai plants are trained into shapes using wires and clips. They look like miniature versions of the original tree. Topiaries are perennials pruned into shapes that often don’t resemble their natural form. Think of my dwarf with its lollipop shape or the fun animal and character shapes formed from other myrtle varieties, or boxwoods used as hedges in southern parks with much warmer temperatures.

When the weather warms up, if you decide to put the topiary outside, protect it from wind and heavy rains; it is top-heavy and will topple easily in a storm. Outside, it may need to be watered every day and fertilized monthly.
Having my first topiary is fun. Mine happens to be a dwarf myrtle, but I remember during the holidays seeing rosemary shaped like Christmas trees; maybe I’ll add this next year. For now, I will tend to my design in my little kitchen and pretend I am visiting and learning with the fabulous Bunny Mellon in her greenhouse.