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What Tips Can You Offer on Pruning Arborvitae After Snow Damage?


Question: What Tips Can You Offer on Pruning Arborvitae After Snow Damage?
Reader, Skipandwanda writes, "My arborvitae took a beating this winter. Should I cut the ones that are bent from the top and, if so, how? As for the ones that have lower branches bent outward, should those branches be cut off? Will they fill in eventually? Should the ones that took a beating overall be cut just above the soil or should they be removed?"

Arborvitae is sometimes pruned so as to grow with a single leader, in which case extraneous leaders are pruned off entirely (right back to the trunk). If your arborvitae is young, it may not be too late to train it in this fashion.

The ice or snow damage that caused leader branches to become "bent from the top," as you put it, would provide you with just the excuse to perform this pruning. But if the arborvitae shrubs are already several years old (or if all the potential leaders have already become bent due to shouldering excessive snow and ice), it's too late for such pruning. You could, however, try to straighten them out by tying branches together with strips of cotton fabric (perhaps in conjunction with staking).

When pruning lower branches, don't prune back further than where you see stems with green foliage (unless you can live with not having a branch there at all, in which case you would prune right back to the trunk). Bare arborvitae branches won't sprout new growth.

As for the "ones that took a beating overall," I'd remove them and start with fresh, appropriately-sized arborvitae stock. Yes, I have heard of rejuvenation pruning, whereby arborvitae shrubs pruned almost to the ground do come back. However, your planting will be out of balance for years if you take this tack, with relatively tall arborvitae shrubs (the ones you left alone, more or less) intermixed with the ones drastically hacked back.

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