How to trim arborvitae shrubs, is a question to have in mind if you would have to take the right steps and so you would be able to finish it in the right way. Trimming or pruning arborvitae shrubs requires the proper method and the correct timing.Trim Arborvitae Shrubs

Doing this will help to avoid the common mistakes that most people make. We provide a complete guide to teach you how to prune your arborvitae correctly and help your plant thrive and thrive.

What Are The Right Steps to Trim Arborvitae Shrubs?

The right steps to trim arborvitae shrubs are to prepare the tools needed, determine your pruning goals, and try to thin and reduce the length. Then, prune it lightly, remove the problematic branches, shorten the hedge, top it off, prune it as a shrub, and give it the right care.

Arborvitae shrubs can be found in the most attractive landscapes in different places. However, this stunning plant has a tall, narrow growing habit, so pruning is essential to keep it looking its best. In order to maintain your plant’s shape without making mistakes and affecting its health, here are the different steps to walk you through how to properly trim or prune arborvitae.

Once you have decided how you want to prune your arborvitae, look at the additional pruning tips below before actually working on it. This will help you to avoid common mistakes most people make when it comes to pruning their arborvitae.

1. Prepare All the Tools Needed

The tools you will need to prepare before you begin are hand pruning shears for thin branches that are less than half an inch in diameter, loppers for half to one-inch-thick branches, and a pruning saw for branches thicker than one inch. You will also need isopropyl alcohol or 10 percent bleach solution for sterilizing your tools and safety glasses for eye protection.

Before you start and after you finish pruning, ensure that the tools you use are clean and sterilized to avoid spreading diseases between plants. It is also important that the tools are sharp to make a clean pruning cut because jagged and torn edges increase the risk of your plant having a pest or fungal infection.

2. Determine your Pruning Goals

Once all the tools that you need are prepared, determine your pruning goals, and it is one of the different ways that you can trim your arborvitae to help you decide, whether you want to do light pruning, just reduce branch length, remove dead branches, or top off your tree, and how you would like to make it look more clean.Arborvitae Shrubs Care

We also included the perfect timing to perform each step, depending on your pruning preference. Taking a step back and examining your plant frequently allows you to avoid making mistakes and cut uniformly.

3. Thinning or Reducing Branch Length

Given that plants continuously grow reducing branch length once every year or two makes your arborvitae trees look manicured and keeps them healthy. To do this, determine which branches you want to prune, and this way, you would decrease unnecessary weight off the tree.

Look for clubbed growth or the twigs that look like V-shaped shoots, as these are the ones you need to remove. Also, you should remove the vertical shoots that give shade to lower branches. This will make sure to keep the base of the plant wider than the top for a more equal sunlight distribution and air circulation, which will prevent pest problems, diseases, and snow build-up in winter.

Remember not to cut back more than 20 percent of your plant’s height, and do not cut too deep to avoid developing bare spots, so make sure to have this in mind when doing so. Use the right pruners depending on the size of the branch you need to cut; moreover, as you are reducing branch length can be performed during the early spring.

4. Light Pruning

Light pruning can be done at any time in the early spring to mid-summer season. Doing this will keep your plant from looking overgrown and will make sure it is healthy. You may remove the tips of the branches to clean up new growth that your plant produced during the previous season. Remember not to cut all the way back to the old branch because this will not regrow, so be sure not to aim for the majority of the branches.Light Pruning of Plants

This is one of the most common mistakes that people make when pruning; instead of pruning in sections, they cut around the plant. Cutting around will only make your plant uneven, as you are prone to make mistakes.

5. Removing Problematic Branches

Arborvitae dead spots, such as damaged, diseased, or dead branches, are inevitable no matter how healthy your plants are. If these problematic branches arise, you need to remove them completely so that they won’t regrow; take this into consideration. This is one of the advantages of arborvitae; you just have to cut the problematic branches all the way to the trunk to get rid of them.

To do this, cut the branch gently and continually below where the needles are diseased or dead, and stop when you spot green and healthy growth. Make sure that you cut all the damaged parts of the branch. Depending on the severity, you can cut the entire branch from where it comes off the trunk, and you must also dispose of the cut branches far from other trees and plants.

If your plant is severely damaged, and you are thinking of rejuvenation pruning, do not do it, or your plant will not grow back. Arborvitae does not tolerate extreme kinds of pruning; in short, if your plant is beyond saving, you may need to replace it.

6. Pruning to Shorten Tall Hedge

A tall arborvitae hedge row can serve as an excellent border that beautifies landscapes. If you are planning to prune your hedge back, make the cut in the green woods to allow the top of the tree to fill in. Take note that old wood does not produce new growth. Always begin pruning at the bottom of the plant, and work your way up to create proportion to achieve a dense hedge appearance.Tall Arborvitae Hedge

The top part of the tree should be trimmed last to create uniform cuts. You can use a long stick and put a mark on it with your desired height. Place it on the ground against the tree, and start cutting by following the markings you have made.

Perform this type of pruning in late spring when your plant is finished blooming, but make sure it’s before mid-summer, to help you throughout its development phase. By this time, the plant will maintain the size you desire because it has just finished flowering. This will also improve air circulation and sunlight distribution to the lower parts of the plant.

However, if you are going to make a drastic change in your plant’s height, make sure to cut back only a foot every year until you reach the size you are aiming for. An electric or battery-powered hedge trimmer is an effective tool to use when trimming hedges, which is also going to save you so much time. It has a variety of blades and handle lengths that you can use depending on your needs.

7. Topping Off Arborvitae Tree

This is the solution when arborvitae too tall. Most people choose to make a major reduction to their arborvitae tree and turn it into a hedge when their plant’s height becomes a problem. If you are going to shorten your tree’s height, expect the outcome to appear too flat or boxy.

Make sure this is exactly what you want because this plant does not grow a new leader when cut off; try to determine first how you want your plant to look after you finish topping it off, and make a final decision. Late winter is the best time to do this since the plant would be dormant and store most nutrients in its roots, and in spring, you will see it growing again. Make a cut before your plant starts to transport nutrients upward to the leaves and branches and begin active growth.

When you are topping off, cut above the area where the branch and the shoot meet to reduce shoot growth. For branches that grow beyond the main shape of the plant, cut them back within the border to keep the form you desire.

8. Pruning to Form Shrubs

If you want to create your arborvitae into a shrub, shorten it by no more than one-third of its height. Cutting drastic sizes can cause harm to your plant. Remember to do this during the early spring season before your plant produces flowers and new growth.

It is important that you start pruning arborvitae shrubs when they reach two years old. Pruning trees at an early stage will delay their growth, so you must remember that the new growth would not come from old wood. Once you cut the branches up to the point of growth, do not expect them to grow afterward. Trim only the terminal tips, and do not cut 25 to 35 percent of the plant’s foliage.

9. Maintain Proper Care

Whether you are growing Green Giant or emerald green arborvitae, and no matter what arborvitae variety you are growing, make sure you thin them from time to time. This will encourage new, dense, and thicker growth, keeping your plant healthy and looking neat and tidy, which is perfect for your landscape.Emerald Green Arborvitae

Once you finish pruning, it is essential that you ensure your shrub can cope well with pruning. Continue to water your plant. Keep the soil moist but not damp, as arborvitaes do not tolerate this. It is also best to apply at least a couple of inches with a layer of organic mulch like pine needles or tree bark around the base of the plant. This will help improve water retention and gas exchange and add organic matter to the soil, so try to make sure that you do not place mulch too close to the base of the tree.

Feeding your arborvitae after pruning is not really recommended. You should allow your plant to heal first until it is healthy enough to absorb fertilizers properly. Regularly inspect your shrub, and ensure no fungi, pests, or diseases are bothering it during recovery.


Knowing how to trim or prune your arborvitae shrubs has many benefits to you and your plant. Take advantage of these benefits by properly pruning your plant and keeping the following in mind:

  • Pruning your shrub at the right time is essential.
  • The ideal time to perform pruning depends on why you are pruning.
  • Make sure to use clean and sharp pruning tools to avoid ragged cuts that could cause potential damage.
  • Do not cut on old wood, as cutting on green growth instead will allow your plant to continuously grow.
  • Remember not to cut 25 to 35 percent of your plant’s foliage.

After reading and learning from this article, we hope you can get the best out of your shrubs through correct pruning so that they will thrive prosperously all year round in your yard.

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