Mop tops make garden statements

Mop Tops

If you’re after a dramatic feature for your garden, a mop top plant will create an instant exclamation point in the landscape.

What are mop tops?

Mop tops are plants that have been shaped to form a trunk and a head so that they look a bit like the proverbial ‘apple on a stick’. They’re easy to produce – all you need is a suitable plant, a commitment to regular pruning and shaping and, most important of all, patience.

Which plants to choose?

Ideally select a plant with small leaves and a flexible single stem that can be trained to form the trunk. All is not lost, however, if there are multiple stems emerging from the base because some of the most stunning mop tops are produced when two or more stems are twisted into a spiral or plaited.

Gardenias are popular choices, as are box plants and ornamental figs. Some climbing plants – such as the easy-to-grow and attractive star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) – can be trained into a lollipop shape with the main supporting stem(s) twined around a stake. The tiny leaves of English box produce a tight, full head of foliage. Or you can give the garden a Mediterranean touch by using grey-leafed olives or some of the taller-growing lavender varieties.

Duranta, the pigeon berry, is a favourite mop top choice in warmer climates. The Mop Top Robinia has been widely planted but is less popular now because of its tendency to produce unwanted suckers from the roots and its susceptibility to borer. Good watering and feeding will reduce the risk of borer attack.

Getting started

After selecting the plant, choose the main support and remove other unwanted branches and shoots. Tie the stem to a stake but remember to watch that the tie itself doesn’t become a cincture as the stem thickens. Replace when needed or use a tie that allows for expansion.

Pinch out the growing tip at the top of the plant. This will encourage the development of the sideways growth that will form the ‘mophead’ part of the mop top. Then trim all over to begin shaping the head.


Watch out for new shoots emerging from the stem – the most effective way of removing these is to rub them off with your fingers while they are as small as possible. Because of its shape a mop top is naturally top heavy, so potted specimens should be kept in a wind-protected spot.

Feed regularly during the growing season with a long-term fertiliser such as Acticote or Nutricote.

Keep the head clipped into a perfect ball shape by using a plastic hula hoop as a guiding template.


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