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A topiary tale

"If I dry, I die."

It was Christmas time, about a decade ago. I considered the handwritten sign propped in front of some dwarf alberta spruces for sale at a local nursery. I was searching for some greenery to place on each end of the fireplace mantel in my living room. These Christmas tree shaped plants, each about a foot tall, seemed just right. I visualized how they would look in gold pots. I studied the tag. Acid soil, sun, zones 3 to 8. That's pushing it. I am zone 7b, but I usually look for plants that will go to zone 9, to make sure they will make it through our hot summers. However, I reasoned that although the alberta spruces might not like our heat, with enough water they could survive.This dwarf alberta spruce is a recent purchase. The originals were smaller, but looked like this.

I purchased two of them and took them home to their gold pots.

The living room fireplace doesn't get much sun, so the plan was to keep the plants on the mantel through the Christmas season, then transplant them to larger outdoor pots. I would put them on the patio in a sunny spot near the water hydrant, so I could keep them watered easily. That was the plan.

The dwarf alberta spruces were perfect for the fireplace mantel. They were the perfect size, and they were the perfect accent to the oil painting that hung between them. I postponed moving them. I thought about getting some artificial ones to take their place, but I don't like fake plants. No plastic or silk for me. No way.

Six months later the dwarf alberta spruces were still in my living room. I was watering them one day when I was horrified to find brown needles throughout the center of each plant. I get emotionally attached to my plants, and these little guys had stuck to a spot right close to my heart. I felt guilty. I had kept them inside way, way too long. I took them outside to examine them in the bright light. It was bad. If I cut off all the dead branches, the spruces would look terrible.

Or maybe not.

As I studied the plants, I had an idea. I got my pruners. Snip, snip, snip. Snip, snip, snip. Voila! I now had two matched topiary trees, each with a large ball at the bottom and a smaller ball at the top. Why, people pay money for things that look like that. I smiled as I repotted them and put them in their permanent location.

I maintained the double ball look until recently. By now the dwarf alberta spruces had outgrown their pots, and the lower balls were looking scruffy, so in November I transplanted them to larger pots and completely trimmed off the lower balls. I planted pansies at the base of each plant, and I am happy with the new grown-up look.

This is what the dwarf alberta spruces look like now.

By the way, I eventually bought two small artificial Christmas trees to go on the mantel for the holidays. They look fine, and I don't have to water them at all.

You might also like "We are survivors" and How Not to Kill a Dwarf Alberta Spruce.

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Reader Comments (11)

I love your topiary story and how they have evolved. I like their new look. I have been considering getting some small artificial trees for my mantle. Maybe I will try to get some on sale after Christmas for next year :-)

December 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNoelle (azplantlady)

The dwarf alberta spruces are lovely. Here's wishing you a Merry and Happy Christmas!

December 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAutumn Belle

I love topiaries. I never made one myself, but you did! It looks great in that nice planter, with the pansies around its base. I heard that alberta spruce tends to get brown spots.

December 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTatyana

Yay! Great topiary.

December 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNell Jean

I can see the MANOR is progressing nicely, what. Good show!!!

December 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersanddune

I love how it looks! I bought one awhile ago and haven't decided what to do with it yet. I just might have to copy your idea.

December 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

Deborah, aren't you clever! A great idea, and it really kept your plants alive. We have problems at the flower shop, with clients putting plants on their mantles. If you light the fire, it really dries them out fast!

December 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah at Kilbourne Grove

beautiful topiary with pansies!!!! -- I'm in love with the pot too! Glad to hear you had success!

December 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJudy

transplanting and trimming should really take place early spring/late winter. hopefully they last.

February 23, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergreen thumb

Hi Green Thumb, thanks for stopping by and for your comment. Here in the Deep South, winter is a great time for transplanting, because our soil doesn't freeze. Plants are dormant and don't undergo transplant shock. They also have lots of time to get their roots established before the next summer's stressful heat. Also, trimming at that time doesn't stimulate new growth, and I did not want to do that on these topiaries. Spring growth is about to start now in late February, and they are looking great.

February 23, 2010 | Registered CommenterDeborah Elliott

I recently made a topiary out of 2 of my own Dwarf Alberta Spruce. I live in Missouri. I made 3 ball shapes on mine. They had been spirals once before and I let them grow out. I really got in there and hacked at them. I'm hoping I haven't set them on a path for death. They look amazing but I hope they live!

May 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPat

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