In my latest video, topiary pro Pat Hammer shows step-by-step how to plant a succulent topiary. Pat explains design, watering, pruning, and long-term care. You'll discover how easy it is to plant cuttings in a moss-filled form, and how to keep a planted topiary looking good for years.
Thanks to Pat, I'm inspired to use succulent topiaries to add whimsy and appeal to my garden and outdoor living areas. I can attest that such Disneyesque plantings delight guests, make wonderful gifts, and are simple, rewarding projects to do with friends, garden clubs and grandkids.
Meet the Artist
Her Samia Rose Topiary is near San Diego, but owner Pat Hammer began her specialization at famed Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania. When we met several decades ago, Pat was renowned for large topiaries for destinations such as Universal Studios, the Dallas Arboretum and the San Diego Zoo.
Pat put Samia Rose on hold for 12 years to serve as Director of Operations at the San Diego Botanic Garden. She gave the garden nine life-sized topiary dancers and mariachis that she'd made earlier for the Philadelphia Flower Show. They continue to be the SDBG's most photographed displays.
Pat now specializes in topiaries perfect for patios, outdoor sitting areas and entryways---any sheltered area where they can be seen up-close and get adequate light. With proper care, such sturdy, metal-frame topiaries last decades.
Create a Topiary
Pat ships topiary kits throughout the US and Canada. Each comes with a moss-filled form, florist's pins, and succulent cuttings (which are optional---you can use cuttings from your garden).
Plant a topiary, step-by-step:
- Submerge the moss-filled form in water for at least an hour. Let drain. When it no longer drips, it's ready.
- Set up a work area and spread out your cuttings. If you have a lazy Susan, it's handy to rotate the form as you plant it.
- Secure cuttings to the moss with floral pins.* Optional: Poke a hole in the moss for a cutting's stem before pinning it.
- Leave ears, tails, faces and lower legs unplanted so it's obvious at a glance what the figure is.
*Pat provides U-shaped floral pins with her topiary kits. They're also called fern pins, greening pins or florist's pins, and you can get them at Amazon https://amzn.to/3t6wHPn (affiliate link).
Typical of most soft-leaved succulents, those in a topiary thrive in a location that gets several hours of sun (morning or afternoon) and bright shade the rest of the day.
Plants grow in the direction of greatest light, so for balanced growth, turn the topiary 180 degrees weekly.
Keep moss moist but not soggy. If a topiary is heavy when you lift it, it's wet enough. If it's lightweight, it likely needs water. If it goes completely dry, soak it to rehydrate it (plants and all). A lot depends on where you live; In humid areas, moss doesn't dry out as quickly.
Most succulents need protection from frost, strong sun and extreme (desert) heat. If you need to seasonally shelter a topiary indoors, give it good air circulation and use grow lights to keep plants from stretching.
Should you add fertilizer when you water? It's not necessary, in fact it can make plants larger. It's best for the look of the topiary if they stay tight and compact.
Worst Case Scenario
No worries! If succulents rot from overwatering or shrivel beyond hope from under-watering, simply pull them out, discard, and start over with fresh. Remove as many of the old pins as possible. Be careful, because they'll have rusted. Btw, rust is a good thing aesthetically because it turns shiny pins brown, so they disappear. "Which makes what you've created seem like magic," Pat says.
Succulent topiaries at Samia Rose
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