How To Prune And Care For Arborvitae Trees

A person shearing an arborvitae tree in spring

Top Arborvitae Care Tips

Arborvitae trees are beloved for their dense foliage, year-round color, and elegant stature. They are also incredibly resilient, hardy, and quite easy to maintain. As versatile and low maintenance as these evergreens are, there are still a few care tips to know:

  • Arborvitae performs best in full sun, at least 6 hours a day. They can tolerate shade, but too much will lead to patchy foliage. 
  • They are highly adaptable to most soil types, though their preference is moist, well-drained soil. 
  • Newly planted trees will need to be watered 2-3 times a week for the first few months. Watering, and watering well is imperative to your tree's success! If you notice the leaves turning brown or yellow - that is a sign your arborvitae needs more water!
  • They generally only need to be fertilized once a year, and it's best to do that in early spring before new growth starts to show. Elements® Starter Plant Food is an excellent organic fertilizer, promoting new growth and healthy roots.
  • Arborvitae trees are extremely cold-hardy, though protecting newly planted trees in winter can be vital to yearly success. Protect the roots by applying a layer of mulch around the base of the tree; this will protect the roots from possibly dehydrating.
  • Be mindful of not planting them too close together, as it can have long term effects in damaging the trees. Click here to learn about proper Arborvitae Spacing.

Tips For Watering Newly Planted Arborvitae Trees:

Directly After Planting

Place your hose on a slow drip for 2-4 hours each day for two weeks. 

Two Weeks After Planting

Place your hose on a slow drip for 2 hours every other day.

Three Weeks After Planting

Place your hose on a slow drip for 2 hours every 3 days.

Once Established (6+ weeks) 

Place your hose on a slow drip for 2 hours once a week.

How To Prune An Arborvitae Tree

Even though they can hold their pyramidal shape all on their own, everyone needs a haircut every now and again. Arborvitae being an evergreen means that it bears needles instead of leaves. When it comes to pruning, it is important to know your tree, as arborvitae needles only grow from newer green wood. Therefore cutting back an arborvitae isn’t as complicated as it may seem, but it does require some precision. 

It’s best to first understand what look and style you are going for when thinking about pruning. Are you trying to maintain that perfect pyramidal form? Are you hoping to trim the top off to shorten the tree a bit? Do you need to remove overgrowth? Understanding your goals helps guide you into how and when to properly prune.

How To Maintain The Perfect Pyramidal Form

For a more formal, stately look, the shearing of your trees should be done two times a year for the best results (spring and fall). The objective is to shear more often to avoid making hard and deep cuts to restore the shape and size of the tree. The more regularly you prune, the better the results!

When you notice those "wild hairs" of branches sticking out, you'll want to trim those to keep them in line with the tree's clean shape. 

  • First Prune: This will be in late spring after the new flush of spring growth appears. This is when if you need to make deep cuts for any restorative shaping, this is the time to do so. 
  • Second Prune: This will take place in mid-fall. Arborvitaes continue to grow through summer and fall. So this shearing is just a light clean-up to even out the look of your trees - avoiding deep, hard cuts. Give it a new haircut for the coming holiday season! This will help minimize maintenance for the next season's shape-up and keep the tree thriving and your landscape looking sharp!

Pruning Arborvitae Q&A

We’re here to help answer your most asked pruning questions!

Can you cut the top of an arborvitae?

Topping off the tree is not a preferred method of maintaining a desired height. It will completely change the form of the tree, losing its upright shape, and becoming more boxy-looking. If it is absolutely necessary, it is best to wait until late winter when the tree is dormant and also giving enough time for the tree  to recover before spring. Make sure to thoroughly think about the desired height before cutting, as your arborvitae will most likely stop growing any taller after this cut is made.

What time of year should you trim arborvitae?

Arborvitae responds best to mid-spring pruning, after new growth appears because arborvitae grows on new wood. So cutting at this time of year will encourage growth. This is the best time of year for deep cuts, and restoring the shape of your arborvitae if it has become too wild and overgrown. 

How To Remove Dead Portions Of An Arborvitae Tree

Even though Arborvitae trees are quite disease and insect resistant, it can happen where part of your tree may turn brown or have diseased branches. In this case, it is important to prune it out quickly. Start by trimming a portion of the dead branch, and continue going bit by bit until you reach green growth. You’ll want to completely cut dead or diseased branches back to healthy wood. 

Pruning arborvitae trees is highly recommended to preserve the tree's health, structure, vigor, and lifespan. It will improve the shape and height, and rejuvenate old and new growth.

Arborvitae: The Tree Of Life

Arborvitae trees are the structural backbone of the garden, as the luscious green backdrops with four seasons of color! A living privacy hedge can be the everlasting framework for your backyard views, family photos, and proudly shining through dreary cold months. We all need a little tranquility in our lives, a space to be away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Plan out your perfect hedge today, and see just how fast these trees can grow!

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