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Fixing Snow Damaged Arborvitae

Arborvitaes are multi-stemmed plants so when heavy, wet snow falls sticks to the foliage these stems are pulled apart. What used to be a slim, green plant suddenly resembles the Wizard of Oz scarecrow pointing in two directions. “Of course, some people go both ways.”

Such split arborvitae stems can become permanently bent and the plants inner, bare branches perpetually exposed. So it’s understandable that gardeners and homeowners want to fix these snow damaged plants as quickly as possible. But sometimes the repair does more harm than good. Eager to help, many people tie or bind these stems too tightly. These ties don’t allow for growth over time and their restoration job ends up strangling the trunks as the plant gets larger.

Foam covered wire to the rescue. This product is stiff enough to bend around a stem without knotting so that the tie can expand as the plant grows. The soft wire won’t dig into the plant tissues and a spiral can be fashioned around Arborvitae stems that pulls the plant back together firmly, without damaging it.

I had five Arborvitaes that had splayed open stems after this winter's storms.

Here is the foam covered wire I used. I cut it with my Fiskars titanium scissors, but you could use wire cutters as well.

I wrapped the end around one stem but didn't close the wire on the stem or around itself. This allows the wire to expand as the stem grows.

Next I wound the four feet of coated wire up the inside of the plant, making a spiral. I worked the wire so that it gathered all the stems in that spiral but not the foliage so from the outside you can't see this support.

Bent branches are no longer pointing in two directions, yet all are free to move and grow.

6 Responses to “Fixing Snow Damaged Arborvitae”

  1. 1
    Sue:

    I’m going to have to try this on my Platycladus orientalis ‘Collen’s Gold’. After almost 10 years in the garden, the blizzard we had in February really splayed some of the branches out in an unattractive fashion. Just yesterday I was thinking I would have to remove it. Now to find some of that wire.

  2. 2
    CL Fornari:

    Sue – You can always call the garden center where I work and have them send you some… 508-775-8703. Hyannis Country Garden.

  3. 3
    Jackie:

    Hi CL
    You probably know but just don’t prefer the old trick of tying up arborvitae with old pantyhose! I’ve done it, but probably wouldn’t in a place where anyone could see it.

  4. 4
    CL Fornari:

    Jackie,
    I used to tell people to use old panty hose (tied LOOSELY) but then most people started answering, “Who wears panty hose???”

  5. 5
    Ramona:

    I have arbor vitae and since the snow has finally finished here In Colorado, I’ve noticed that one side, the more exposed side, of the bush is brownish while the other side is nice green. The leaves don’t feel dry and are flexible. Any ideas as to what’s wrong and what I can do?

  6. 6
    CL Fornari:

    Ramona,
    It’s probably either wind or salt damage. If the side that is brown faces a street that gets salted in the winter the spray from the road when cars drive on the wet, salty pavement can brown evergreens in this way. Wind and even winter sunburn can also brown arborvitaes. At this point you’ll just have to wait and see if the side that’s browned will regrow and green up again. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. Best of luck!