Winter weather and wet snow can have your arborvitae shrubs and trees bending over in every direction like a peeled banana. And that’s exact the opposite of what we purchase them for: their stately, upright, conical growth habits. If you’re lucky, they’ll bounce back to their original shape come spring time. But then again… maybe they won’t. Even more compact and low-growing varieties like dwarf globes can lose their nice shapes if the snow is heavy enough to break branches or flatten plants. And while mother nature may want to see our ‘arbs’ splayed out in all their un-glory, we as gardeners do have a say in the matter too. Here are four options to winter-proof your Arborvitae…
Burlap is the tan, heavy-fiber material that bags of flour were sold in many years ago. And it’s still around (and put to good use) to this very day. Although the priciest of options presented here, burlap potentially offers the greatest amount of winter-proofing. In theory, burlap not only helps a plant retain it’s shape under heavy snow, but it also protects against harsh winter sun and wind. In more recent years, the use of burlap for winter-proofing has come under fire, with opponents suggesting that it may actually do more harm than good.
If you decide to go with burlap, you’ll need to wrap the material around the plant like a blanket. Or, you can put up a stake next to the plant and then drape the burlap down like a tent. It’s important to wrap lightly, so as not to smother the plant, break branches or ruin it’s form. In both cases, you’re going to need some string or twine to tie this all together loosely and keep the material from blowing away.
A less-expensive, yet highly-effective method of winterizing Arborvitae is to wrap heavy string or twine around the plant like a cocoon. Begin at the bottom and work your way up and around in a corkscrew manner, then work your way back down again. Stay away from the topmost parts of the plant, which are the most delicate. Keep the twine snug, but not too tight – the goal is to keep branches from bending down under the weight of snow, and not to strangle them. Tie the rope to itself when your finished, and never tie any rope or twine tightly against the trunk, as this may eventually kill the plant. Be sure you remove all the twine come spring time.
SHAKE IT OFF
This option is so obvious, simple and effective (not to mention, free) but potentially overlooked. The battle against winter weather can often won just by getting out in the cold and shaking off heavy snow as soon as it accumulates. Too bad we’re not always at home when snow falls.
Last, but not least: it needs to be mentioned that Arbor vitae may look like a solid mass of growth sprouting from a single trunk. But often, there’s actually several trunks growing closely together. And when heavy snow breaks or bends these to the point that they never recover their original shape, it may be time to do some heavy pruning. You’ll want to focus on saving the trunk that is the most solid and upright, then saw off the rest. This will take months (or even years) for the plant to recover, fill in and regain a proper shape again. At this point, some gardeners choose to replace the plant entirely, but that’s a matter of personal preference. With smaller arborvitae that are newly planted, it’s a good idea to keep these future issues in mind and prune them appropriately, rather than deal with the consequences later.