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Celebrating with Spiral Topiaries

By: Maureen Gilmer

Double Spiral Topiaries - Maureen Gilmer

Double spirals are rare but obtainable from any garden center that carries Monrovia plants.

Nothing gives an entry more pizzaz than a pair of spiral topiaries flanking the front door. Plant them in a beautiful large pot and you’ve got the start of a truly elegant winter display.

Spirals are truly unique in the world of topiary because they don’t resemble the Asian bonsai styles or those poodled into balls. They’re tall and narrow, fitting nicely into corners and small spaces. Spirals are distinctly European in character and therefore they are an easy fit for virtually any traditional home style.

Potted Spiral Topiaries - Maureen Gilmer

After the holidays, move your potted spiral topiaries into the garden where they receive plenty of light on all sides to maintain their symmetry.

When the holidays roll around, spirals are the queens of decor because their corkscrew shape lends itself to strand twinkle lights. This shape also provides flattish spots where you can attach fruit or ornaments that completely transform them. When you have a pair, decorating yields even more glitz, and for a holiday party few other plants create such instant upgrade.

This year may be the perfect time to invest in a spiral at your house in lieu of the traditional holiday cut tree. This is a great investment that can be moved outdoors as a winter focal point after the new year if the climate is warm enough. There is nothing more lovely than topiary under snow.

Choose a spiral clipped from junipers since these are very drought and disease resistant, adapting to nearly all climate zones. These are sold in five gallon pots, or consider much larger pricier specimens that make great Christmas trees.

To create a pair to use outdoors, find large durable decorative containers that suit your home style. The interior and mouth of the pot must be large enough to hold the root ball with plenty of room to spare on top and sides. When the spiral sits in the pot with plenty of edge (freeboard) left at the top, you can fill it to the brim with water and move on, saving a great deal of watering time. In between tuck moss into the space to make it appear full.

Single Spiral Topiaries - Maureen Gilmer

Behind this huge single spiral is a field of Monrovia evergreens waiting to be clipped into spirals.

Since spirals are long-lived, woody trees, make sure you use Black Gold Moisture Supreme Container Mix with controlled release fertilizer (CRF). This slow release nutrition helps get your spirals off to a vigorous start. With topiaries, the strength and color of growth is essential because you must clip more often for a dense, and precise form.

Water generously after planting to coax roots out of the old pot shape into this new, organic soil. There is no better way to obtain rich, luxurious green color in your spirals.

These are sun loving plants, so life underneath the porch is ok in the dead of winter, but it won’t suit them in the growing season. The side that doesn’t receive enough light won’t grow, it may even shed foliage or turn yellowish over time. This is a disaster with topiaries like this which must remain perfectly symmetrical to maintain their beautiful form. Relocating with the seasons is easy if you have a dolly or set the pots on casters.

Whether you buy one, a pair or a whole row of them, spiral topiaries are the most versatile of all evergreens. They can transform a space overnight with their pronounced graphic forms. They’re as suited to Mediterranean architecture as they are American colonial, and even find a home in Spartan modern landscapes too. Just remember they aren’t furniture, but real live living plants, so make sure you give them quality soil and plenty of water. Then get yourself a sharp pair of clippers to enjoy the age old tradition of shaping evergreens all year around.

About Maureen Gilmer


Maureen Gilmer is celebrating her 40th year in California horticulture and photojournalism as the most widely published professional in the state. She is the author of 21 books on gardening, design and the environment, is a widely published photographer, and syndicated with Tribune Content Agency. She is the weekly horticultural columnist for the Desert Sun newspaper in Palm Springs and contributes to Desert Magazine, specializing on arid zone plants and practices for a changing climate. She works and lives in the remote high desert for firsthand observations of native species. Her latest book is The Colorful Dry Garden published by Sasquatch Books. When not writing or photographing she is out exploring the desert on her Arabian horse. She lives in Morongo Valley with her husband Jim and two rescue pit bulls. When not writing or photographing she is usually out riding her quarter horse.

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