aborvitae spiral technique

backyardbull(z5 OH)July 25, 2005

First post in this forum (I hang out in the lawn care and tractor forums)

We have 2 tall narrow (5 ft. high) aborvitae shrubs on each side of our front entrance and I've been wondering if I could trim them into the classic spiral design. Has anyone attempted this or are there any websites that I can use for reference?

Thank you.

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Yes those are good sized trees to shape. Such a size would cost me well over $300 per tree so it's expensive and so before you start this project, it's best to get a good reference book. One of my new topiaries is a small arborvitae (then only 3 ft) which I started a year ago -and I made a mistake that has set me back a bit. Another tree with dual trunk was damaged in transport to my home - so the intended spiral became a pineapple. (It's funny shaped right now), however that pineapple will eventually become a double ball, topped with possibly a cup in years to come. So I'm being patient. As with all pruning exercises, step back time-to-time to review the job, don't be in a hurry. While arborvitae can grow back lost limbs, it takes time to do so, so a wrong move will set you back by years.

Because of the size of your trees, you may easily get overwhelmed in the process. It's important to create a visual guide - and so make one out of clay or styrofoam. Observe where the cuts fall and you'd need to imagine how you intend to create the shapes.

Two things are involved. First shape it into a cone tapering at the top, widest at the bottom. Clean up the bottom trunk below where you'd like to spirals to begin. Then take a tape or rope and coiling it around the tree forming spiral from top to bottom. Take some pruning shears and begin pruning along the tape forming a deep cut until you reach the (centre) trunk/trunks. (Some cedars have multiple trunks). Once you made the initial cuts it's time to shape the spiral to make it rounded. So start to trim and rounding off the edges. If you like the present height of the plant, prune the top of the tree to stop if from growing higher. If you'd like the tree to be taller, let the top grow out further, don't do any pruning until it can be shaped nicely into a taper. Maintain the tree by periodically trimming out the leaves that fall outside of the shape. Each time you trim, the leaves get denser.


    Bookmark   July 25, 2005 at 3:59PM
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one other thing I forgot to mention. Arborvitae covers a huge range of cedars. I'm assuming you have a cedar that's got compact foliage like emerald green cedars.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2005 at 8:08PM
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Ianna. That was some of the most helpful information I have read in this forum. I too will be making an attempt at a basic spiral on a few specimen that I bought simply for practice. Much thanks!

    Bookmark   August 4, 2005 at 6:33PM
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No problem. I enjoy the process more it seems. Making a spiral isn't that difficult but the best approach is to work on a tree as it grows. So if you are just planning to do this project, choose a young small dense foliaged evergreen.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2005 at 9:15PM
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rschmitt(z7 Nothern VA)

Can the same technique be used with Alberta Spruce trees?


    Bookmark   September 3, 2006 at 10:14PM
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I know this is an old post but to answer Robert's Q about Alberta spruce as spiral topiary, YES!!!!!!

I've done it to a 3 foot Alberta spruce. It took me about 45 mins to carve and trim out.

You have to pick the specimens that are the greenest througout and ones with a single main stem. Both these criteria are very important to get a good spiral.

Thin green wire is also very helpful in training the plant and getting loose branches from staying in place.

Very easy to do.

I saw a self trained topiary artist who was on PBS's Victory Gardens a long time ago (with that old bearded homey guy, not the new young guy) and he would shape 5 foot arborvitaes with a chainsaw in about 10 mins. This gave me inspiration to do it and it is way simpler than you would think. Just needs a bit of planning.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2007 at 7:10PM
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