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Topiaries: Care & Feeding

by Cliff Sharples (chief cultivator)

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Topiary Standards and Animals may look like works of art, but you don't have to have the skill of Michelangelo to keep them looking great. It's this simple: your topiaries need the same four things that all living things need: light, water, food, and a good haircut.

light
Lights, action, grow.... Your topiaries are no different than other plants in terms of light requirements; all species have their own light needs. Jasmine, scented geranium, and all herbs need bright light; indoors, that means you should place them in a south or east-facing window. Ivy and ficus need less light, so they'll do fine in a north or west-facing window.

When the weather heats up (and frost is safely past), you can move your topiaries outdoors. The animals are right at home in the natural setting of a garden; perch and tuck them about for a little humor and surprise. Land your duck near a water garden, place your dinosaur in the children's garden...only Noah had so much choice in his animal options.

Your standards will also enjoy the summer outdoors and look great grouped on a patio table, or as the stellar members of a container garden. Make sure they receive bright light, although ivy standards will tolerate less. Keep standards out of open areas if they are liable to get tipped by the wind.

water
Like all container plants, topiaries need consistent watering. If peat-filled animals were real, they'd be hanging out at the water hole every day or so. So, to keep them from drying out, make sure your animal's skin is moist to the touch. For small animals, a good soak in the tub or in a tray of water will keep them properly hydrated. (Here's a tip: the peat absorbs moisture and in doing so, gains weight. If your topiary seems a bit light, chances are that he needs a drink.) All the topiary animals love a misting with a spray bottle as often as you can. The drying effects of forced air furnaces and fireplace heat can dry out these critters quickly. Topiary standards require watering when the surface of the soil dries out. They also benefit from a misting as often as you can.

food
Feeding topiaries is easy. Unlike your Cocker Spaniel who leaps into the air like Flipper at feeding time, topiary animals just sit there patiently waiting for a meal. All they require for sustenance is an occasional helping of fertilizer. When your topiary animals are growing, feed them with a dilute solution of liquid fertilizer once a month (you can just spray it on.) To fertilize the topiary standards, you can use liquid fertilizer or scratch granular fertilizer into the soil with a small gardening claw.

and, a good haircut
If your topiary turtle is starting to resemble Swamp Thing or if your topiary ivy cone looks more like a rhombus, then it's time to schedule a grooming session with your topiaries. Ever groomed a dog? Well, snipping and clipping a topiary animal is much easier (no muzzles involved). As the plants on your topiary animals grow, they'll send out tendrils that can be pinned back onto the animal or clipped off. When your animal is young, it's best to pin the foliage back to the animal to help beef up his coat. Once he's fully furred however, you can just trim off the excess. (In fact, you can use the cuttings to start new plants.) The best thing about pruning culinary topiaries (the oregano or rosemary chickens, for example), is that you can clip the fresh herbs right onto a pizza or into soup. Standard topiaries require just a nip and tuck with shears to keep them in shape.

Tags

topiaries, holiday decorating, thanksgiving

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