Topping Arborvitae #164462 - Ask Extension

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Topping Arborvitae #164462

Asked January 17, 2014, 3:30 PM EST

I have a stand of arborvitae in my yard that forms a nice visual border between my neighbor's property and mine. Problem is, the previous owner and I have collectively failed to properly keep the arbor vitae pruned. They are now about 15 feet tall, and I worry about them toppling over in a wind storm. How do I dramatically decrease the height of the arborvitae without killing them? I know that topping a tree can be very damaging, but I do not see many alternatives in this situation. If I do top the arbor vitae, how much height can I take off without effectively killing them? Thanks for any insight.

Marion County Oregon

Expert Response

Dramatic shortening of arborvitae isn't recommended, as once the brown interior is exposed it won't green-up. OSU Extension Agent Neil Bell explains this in his answer to question #114834,  https://ask.extension.org/expert/questions/114834.
I have not heard of mature arborvitae blowing over in our windstorms, though that doesn't mean it can't happen. In heavy snows, sometimes arborvitae bend and open-up, with damage so severe that the plants can't be repaired and must be replaced. Since you can't significantly shorten your trees, will they cause damage if they fall? If they are not a hazard, perhaps you will be comfortable dealing with a problem once/if it occurs.
An arborist experienced with arborvitae should be able to prune your plants within their green zone of foliage to limit continued growth, and make recommendations about their ability to withstand winds in your area. Interview a company carefully and check references. This Ohio State University Fact Sheet, How to hire an arborist, is helpful: http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/1000/1032.html.
Jacki Dougan Replied January 19, 2014, 7:12 PM EST

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