The Q&A Archives: Arborvitae losing bottom branches

Question: I planted some 6 foot arborvitae evergreens last spring and one year later they have lost about 12 inches of the lower branches. They were fine until the harsh winter we had this year in northern illinois. What can I do? Will the foliage return? Could it be rabbits eating the lower branches (we seem to have a lot of them this year)? Should I withhold fertilizer this spring?

Answer: I can't tell from your description whether your plants have lost their bottom branches, or have just lost the leaves on the branches. If the branches are still there, you can encourage new leaf growth by pruning the tips back by a few inches; if the branches are gone, the plants may develop new branches along the trunk over a period of time. Let's hope they do so the bottoms of your shrubs won't remain bare.

Arborvitae will thicken up if you prune them back on an annual basis. Early spring is a good time to prune, just as new growth is beginning. You don't need to prune them back a great deal - 4-5" off the ends of all the branches should be enough to encourage healthy new growth.

Best wishes with your arborvitae.

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