Topiary Gone Bonsai (Eugenia)

Topiary and Bonsai are almost like cousins. Both are practices that shape plants into something unnatural that we’d like them to be. Bonsai makes little trees. Topiary makes bushes and trees shaped like… stuff.


In order to get a ball of foliage you have to trim your material, and as we know that may just give you a thicker trunk than if you’d normally find that much foliage on a plant. That doesn’t mean you’d get taper or movement though. Just earlier this month I saw plenty of topiary that looked very much like kabobs, except with balls of shrubbery.

As such, for this month’s pick I didn’t start my pre-bonsai material search with a Eugenia topiary shrub. This month’s pick was from Home Depot and I started near the junipers, but didn’t see much I liked that day. After cruising the aisles I spied this Eugenia with a trunk of respectable thickness and some taper and shape.

It really depends on what shape topiary you’ve got but it would be common for some shapes to have several branches all coming out of one basic place on the trunk line. Which is not what you want in bonsai. But this one had a bit of a hole on one side. It was showing off its trunk line a little flirtatiously: almost like a ladies dress with a slit up the side. Just giving a peek at the goods.

I spent quite some time this month on my pick. There wasn’t anything inspiring. It was between this and a basic $10 juniper. The kids and spouse were irritated and wanted to go home, so I just said… “eh” and threw this is the basket.


This particular “topiary” material was an option when it’s two peers were not because of the little shimmy the trunk line is doing. The others grew straight. As well this had a couple of branch options where the primary branches would be. That created some taper up that tree. I hesitated because a few of the branches on the tree looked brown, but they were restricted to certain spots. I wasn’t sure if it had been from getting crushed and banged around or some sort of disease. The tree looked okay so I took a chance.

First round I spent quite awhile working on this lady. I cut off the top of the pot and brushed out some potting mix to get a better look at what I’m working with. Unfortunately it looks like there’s no nebari, but that’s okay. I wasn’t counting on them when I bought it.

Starting at the bottom up, I had to make a lot of choices about which branch of several I was keeping, which is really what took the time. I still cut off quite a bit, even though in a few areas I left a couple options of what to keep.

After going through branch selection on the first two spots, I had already taken off near half the foliage.

In bonsai branches that have isolated bits of foliage on them as “pads.” For the topiary I’d say instead the foliage forms cones. Bonsai shapes the foliage into flatish, spread out little sheets. Topiary is covering surface area.

For this reason though I had worked on half of my nursery stock, I didn’t feel like I could just stop and put it away for a while. The top half was untouched and little to no light could really move through down into those branches I had just trimmed up.  Before I put it away I thinned out a few branches on top to help with that.

Then I put it away for awhile.  It turns out it was put away longer than I thought because stuff happened (like an actual hurricane coming through). The below picture is the exact same material, with nothing done to it, two weeks later.  The only difference really is that the bottom left branch I was hoping to keep didn’t make it.

I finished up my initial pruning, which leaves me with something resembling a stick.

When pruning I removed those branches that were too vertical.  that is they were growing up or down.  I removed some when there were too many branches in one spot on the trunkline.  I also trimmed the end leaf pairs to try to encourage bud back.  With the topiary nature of this material you can see all the foliage is on the same point on all branches simultaneously, which doesn’t work.

A week later and it’s started to bud back which is great.  You can almost see the residual original shape of the ball of foliage.  It will take some new growth, time, and wire to return to a traditional tree like triangle.  I could wire it but I’m not for a few reasons.  Primarily the growth I have on there is pretty twiggy.  I’m just not confident that I’ll be happy that wiring this is going to take it where I want it to go.  Considering that wiring is stressing the tree, and I did just do a dramatic structural pruning, I’m not going to wire it just for kicks.  I want to see what comes in new growth in the next few months first.  That makes for a boring monthly pick, but I’m happy with leaving it there for now.