Front Door Plants—Starting a Topiary Project

I’ve been working with plants professionally for 35 years or so. During that time, one of the most requested tasks has been to “find me something distinctive to go on the front porch (or by the door).”  Usually it takes a lot of time and searching to find just the right plant for the job. It dawned on me several years ago that someone should be growing specially shaped plants for the front porch. It also dawned on me a shorter while back that that “someone” should be me; after all, I’ve been working on the concept for years.

Topiaries in containers are wonderful accents for entry ways.

Topiaries in containers are wonderful accents for entry ways.

I have access to a small and private piece of land in the country that can be used to grow the plants. While I was working on preparing the site I decided to go looking at plant material for the project. I ended up purchasing a hundred plants to start with. The grower agreed to keep the plants until I had the site ready for them and I brought two of the plants home with me to show to my wife, Dekie, and to play with. One of the varieties is cryptomeria ‘Black Prince’. It looked like this:

Cryptomeria 'Black Prince' ready to be started as a topiary

Cryptomeria ‘Black Prince’ ready to be started as a topiary

The objective is to grow specimen plants that will finish out somewhere between three and five feet in height.  I am thinking that we will grow them in matched pairs because—well, because a door has a right side and a left side. At any rate, we’ll experiment with that as we go.

Dekie and I spent a fun afternoon studying one of the plants and figuring out just how we would approach the shaping. To start with, I isolated three main stems (or trunks).

Selecting the main stems or trunks for the topiary project.

Selecting the main stems or trunks for the topiary project.

The “apical bud” is the growth bud at the very end of each of the tips. I’m not going to touch this right now. If this apical bud is allowed to grow, it will give me the height that I need. I will watch as this bud develops and elongates, protecting it until I feel that it is at the proper height for cutting.

The apical bud on the cryptomeria will be allowed to grow taller

The apical bud on the cryptomeria will be allowed to grow taller

I carefully trim the sides of the three trunks that I selected. I will cut the “lateral buds” (or sideways growth) to encourage the bottom growth on these trunks to branch out and become lush and full. This means that I will be shaping the bottom sections of the plants while they grow in height. When the two selected sideways trunks grow out to where I want them to be I will cut the tips and begin the shaping process.

Trimming the side or lateral growth on cryptomeria to induce branching.

Trimming the side or lateral growth on cryptomeria to induce branching.

Over the years I have developed a potting mix using compost, finely ground bark, peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite. I add a bit of lime to adjust the pH and I lace it with just the right dusting of a time-release fertilizer. I think that as the topiary project proceeds I will finish the plants off in five and/or seven gallon containers. For the trial plant, I just planted it in a three-gallon pot to see what happens.

re potting the tree into a three gallon pot for growing on.

re potting the tree into a three gallon pot for growing on.

Here’s a picture of the very first plant for the “Front Door Plants” project. I guess I need to get a bit more professional on my photographic backgrounds—or, I could tell you that I really wanted to show the other side of the fence.  At any rate, the plant is two feet high from the top of the root ball and the side growth has been carefully trimmed. I’m going to set up a special file on the blog and update it periodically. Let’s watch the project develop. I think it will take two to three years to reach the picture I have in my mind. After that, who knows?

Cryptomeria 'Black Prince' topiary started 7/24/13. Approximate height from top of root ball 2 feet.

Cryptomeria ‘Black Prince’ topiary started 7/24/13. Approximate height from top of root ball 2 feet.

*********************

You may wish to check out my article on The Basics of Pruning.

An article on pruning an overgrown topiary

And another article on Foundation Planting With Containers

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sheila Ennis
    Sep 08, 2013 @ 09:23:24

    Good story today!!

    Reply

  2. John Schulz
    Sep 08, 2013 @ 09:35:25

    Thank you, Dear Ms. Ennis

    Reply

  3. Robert
    Sep 08, 2013 @ 11:13:28

    This looks like you are taking on a very long range project which has the potential to bring stages of elation or depression. Good luck. Last night was delightful. Keep on keeping on. Bob

    Sent from my iPad

    Reply

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