One of the most common questions I seem to get from both novice and experienced gardeners alike this time of the year is “How do I keep my myrtle topiary alive indoors through the winter?”. I will admit they can seem a bit finicky, but just like any houseplant, all they need is the right balance of sunlight and water to sustain their growth. Well, that’s the short answer, anyway.
The long answer is that myrtle (we grow myrtus communis compacta, a small leaf variety) has been kept clipped this way as topiary for hundreds of years because it responds so well to being clipped into shapes, even if grown in a pot indoors.
We grow our topiaries on sight in the greenhouses at the farm. This requires practice and patience but also allow us to supply you with a well established plant that you will only need to maintain without too much trouble. Most of the topiaries we sell are already 1 1/2 to 2 years old and already well formed.
Most people find there myrtle plants thrive in the summer months. This is because myrtle prefers full direct sun. They can take a large amount of water in these conditions, especially for an established potted plant and so do best with regular, maybe even daily, watering in the summer. It is also best to clip your topiary often during it’s high growing season. This will not only make it easier to keep sufficiently watered, it will also keep the growth looking full and the shape well formed.
As the days get shorter in the fall and into the winter, the growth is likely to slow down considerably on your myrtle topiary. So should the amount of water and clipping necessary to maintain it. This means you won’t have to water or trim it as often! This is good, right? Just water it generously when the soil has dried out, you don’t have to soak it or mist it and the soil doesn’t want to be wet all of the time, watering approximately one to three times a week depending on how warm and dry your home is in the winter should do it, and just give it a quick trim when it starts to look shaggy, maybe once or twice a month.
Move your potted topiaries around inside if you don’t have a lot of light where you want to keep them. For instance, they look great on a mantle or tabletop but don’t get much sunlight, so once a week or so move them to a sunny windowsill for the day and give them a little water. This can be enough to keep them looking great through the winter months and ready to be enjoyed for years to come!
If you have had your topiary for some time or it’s growth has become much larger than the diameter of the pot that it is in, or if your New England home is drier than the sahara in the winter (I’m looking at you woodstoves and radiant heat) and you are finding it difficult to keep your topiary watered (i.e. I water it all the time and the damn thing is always dry!) it is time to transplant it into a larger pot. Pick a pot just slightly larger so the proportions will still be right, we have a great selection of terra cotta at the farm, and if it is particularly pot-bound you may want to loosen the roots a bit when transplanting. Always use a pot with a hole in the bottom and put something for drainage in the bottom of the pot like gravel or some broken pottery pieces. Myrtle requires good drainage. And make sure to stake and tie your topiary to support it’s shape, we use bamboo and raffia for this and both are readily available (bamboo stakes at most hardware stores, raffia at most craft or floral supply stores), inexpensive and have a natural appeal.
If you live nearby and want us to re-pot a topiary you got from us, we would love to have you bring it by. If you are not local or can’t stop in, you can email us with any questions you may have about something you got from us that I haven’t covered here.