Garden Q&A: Snow-Loading on Arborvitae

by Genevieve on January 9, 2009

Conifers Bent Under Weight of Snow photo by rynosoft

A timely question from Jennifer about sprawling Arborvitae:

I have several 8-10 ft arborvitae that are bent over to various degrees from the weight of the heavy snowfall. Will these branches bounce back on their own or should I try to tie them to the main trunk to straighten them back up?

I’ll answer this one as best I can, but I have never lived in a climate that snows – I’m a coastal girl all the way! I have had similar experiences of flopping conifers from severe windstorms and careless contractors, though, so I’ll answer from that related experience.

My guess is that any woody branches that have sprawled out will not bounce back on their own, nor will the Arborvitae grow new greenery if you trim those branches off. Any branches that are new and not yet woody, that are just fresh and green, should recover without help.

So yes, I would tie any flopping woody branches to the main trunk, arranged as prettily as possible, and leave that tie on for some time until they have adjusted to being upright again, which may mean it is tied up indefinitely.

I like to thread the landscape tie underneath the foliage and right up against the woody stem, then secure your floppy branch to the main trunk underneath the foliage on that side, too. If you do that, you won’t have to look at the ties at all.

I prefer to use a flexible landscape tie so you don’t cut off the tree’s circulation as it grows – there are numerous ones you can purchase, or just use some old nylons – but if you think the flexible ties won’t be strong enough you could also use velcro ties, which wrap around themselves to become secure. The advantage to velcro is that when you go to check on the ties, you can adjust them easily without having to fiddle with and waste more tie. There are also very slim ties that are nearly invisible when used. Those are great for tying in the small floppy branches that aren’t too heavy but look a fright if you tied them with anything too wide.

For future prevention, a lot of people in cold climates suggest wrapping the tops of multi-stemmed conifers with twine before winter (or use Sturdy Twist ties). Or if they aren’t already too old for this, you may want to slowly train your Arborvitae to have one main trunk and as few other tall stems as possible, since trees with a single leader are a lot less likely to bend in this way.

Some other good resources:

GardenWeb discussion of snow on Arborvitae

University of Idaho’s discussion of this

Good advice on pruning and training Arborvitae

Thanks so much for your question, Jennifer!

Love to garden? Check out these other popular posts at North Coast Gardening:

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris Heiler January 11, 2009 at 2:33 pm

Hi Gen,

I have this problem with arborvitae here in Michigan.

I was going to tie up the branches this spring and summer but got lazy…then they actually did spring back up! By mid-summer I would have never known they took a beating in the winter. So they do bounce back…

Chris Heiler
LandscapeLeadership.com
Follow me on Twitter

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Genevieve January 11, 2009 at 5:55 pm

Well that’s awesome news Chris! I guess if Jennifer doesn’t get around to tying them up there is still plenty of hope that they’ll spring back nicely. That’s good to know.

I love when the same thing happens to me – when I get a teensy bit lazy on some bit of garden maintenance and find that things do just fine without the work. Like those articles I keep reading about how much better roses flower when they are hedged back roughly – shocking! I am still pruning my roses with care, but it’s nice to know that the stakes aren’t as high as one would be lead to believe by reading gardening books.

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Lindsay January 12, 2009 at 6:10 pm

I think it depends a bit on if they take any real damage. We had a row of these outside my condo in Spokane and last year we had to have a couple replaced after all the snow storms (it dumped 20 inches in one weekend, among other snowfalls for the winter).

Lindsay’s last blog post..Review of Yaro Starak’s Blog Mastermind Program

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Genevieve January 13, 2009 at 9:47 am

20 inches in one weekend, my gosh….. I was feeling pretty excited here about our three hours of light snowflakes last year, none of which stuck. :)

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Monica January 13, 2009 at 5:35 pm

Gently removing the snow by shaking the branches, and then tying the tops together gently with twine indeed does the trick. I had this happen with snow to one of my arborvitae two seasons ago, and by late fall after the winter in question, I could remove the tie. A client of mine had a much worse situation with ice and snow, but no branches broke off. That one I had to tie in several places to hold the branches together, as well as tie part of the trunk to a ground stake to straighten it out; That took about two seasons, but it was just fine! ~Monica in Michiganartica

Monica’s last blog post..Blankets of Snow

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Genevieve January 13, 2009 at 6:01 pm

Thank you so much for the input Monica! You must be a fellow pro gardener? Thanks so much for stopping by!

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