Answer: You can trim your lime tree into a lollipop shape, but you'll sacrifice flowers and fruit set.
Topiary is the art of trimming and training shrubs or trees into ornamental shapes. For example, you can grow and train a rosemary plant into a formal standard (the top is shaped into a perfect globe that is held on a single stem). To start, you need a young potted plant with an unpinched leader, scissors, stakes, ties, and patience.
In the first stage, you want the plant to grow straight up to the desired height. A slow-growing or small leaf plant should be 8 to 14 inches tall, and a fast-growing or large leaf plant should be 16 inches to 5 feet tall. Place a stake beside the plant, and tie the plant along the stake for support. Only allow the tip shoot of the plant to develop, by cutting off any side shoots that start to grow. Allow leaves to stay on the trunk. Check the ties often so they don't girdle or injure the growing stem. Check also for bugs that like to hide around the ties. Turn your plant so each side receives adequate light and it grows evenly. Feed your topiary every four or five waterings during active growth with a 15-30-15 liquid fertilizer for houseplants.
The next stage is forming the top of the plant to the desired shape. Before you pinch the growing shoot tip for the first time, think of the finished look you want your plant to have. Consider leaf size and rate of growth. Where do you plan to display your topiary and what kind of container will it live in? You may want to allow the plant to grow even higher. When you have determined these, pinch out the tip of the trunk. Allow three pairs of branches to develop. The trunk will elongate a bit as it matures and thickens. Again be sure to turn your topiary in the light so that it grows evenly.
Now comes the real art of topiary. You have to keep in mind the shape you want the plant to take and train the plant through careful tip pinching. Pinch tips about every 2 inches. Pinch or cut at nodes so that new shoots will grow in the direction you want. You also want to encourage width and branching at the base of the "head." Top growth will naturally develop faster, so keep upward growing shoots trimmed down. As you become aware of growth habits and observe the results of careful pruning, you will better be able to train the topiary to the finished shape you want.
Many herbs can be used for topiary, such as rosemary, French lavender, scented geranium, and lemon eucalyptus. The herbs you choose will depend on the topiary shapes you want to create, so be creative and have fun!
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