Learn which plants thrive in your Hardiness Zone with our new interactive map!

How to Cut a Spiral Arborvitae Topiary

By Melissa Sandoval ; Updated September 21, 2017

Cutting evergreen plants into creative shapes is an ancient art practiced by first-century Romans. Arborvitae, an evergreen from the Cyprus family, grows as a cone-shaped tree or shrub. It thrives in colder climates, prefers moist, alkaline soils, and doesn't need a lot of care. It produces soft, scale-like leaves. A spiral topiary provides a good shape for the arborvitae, since a spiral works well with the plant's natural cone shape. A few simple steps can turn your arborvitae into an attractive spiral.

Step 1

Use pruning shears to trim the plant, smoothing out the natural cone shape.

Step 2

Step back and look at your arborvitae from all angles to decide how steep you want the slope of the spiral.

Step 3

Tie a ribbon to the tip of the plant.

Step 4

Wind the ribbon around the plant, marking the slope you desire for the spiral, until you get to the bottom.

Step 5

Step back and look at the arborvitae from all angles, checking that the loops of the ribbon are even and represent the spiral you want.

Step 6

Starting about half-way down the tree, use the hedge clippers to trim above the ribbon, moving towards the top of the plant. Remove the last 1/3 of each branch above the ribbon, and step back every few branches to look at your work. Stop when you are about 1 foot from the top of the tree.

Step 7

Go back to where you started cutting and begin cutting the branches below the ribbon on the top half of the tree. Again, remove the last 1/3 of each branch above the ribbon.

Step 8

Step back and look at the plant. The ribbon on the bottom half should match the pattern of the spiral on the top half of the tree. Move the ribbon if necessary.

Step 9

Prune the bottom half of the tree using the same process you used for the top half.

Step 10

Start at the top of the tree. Use your hand to follow each cut branch back to where it joins the trunk, and use the hedge clippers to cut branches you want to remove about ½-inch from the trunk. Check that you are cutting the larger branches you want to remove, not the smaller ones that make up your spiral.

Step 11

Remove the ribbon.

Step 12

Step back and look at the plant from all angles. Use the pruning shears to remove any uneven areas and more clearly define the spiral.

Step 13

Use the pruning shears to trim the tip of the plant, blending it in with the top of the spiral.


Things You Will Need

  • Gardening gloves
  • Pruning shears
  • Hedge clippers
  • Ribbon or twine


  • Using a brightly colored ribbon that contrasts with the plant will make it easier to see the ribbon when you step back to check the spiral.


  • Arborvitae do not grow well in southern climates.

About the Author


Melissa Sandoval began writing professionally in 1996, dabbling in fiction and writing for new media and magazines. She has published work in "mental_floss magazine" and on websites such as TLC Family and TLC Style. Sandoval has work published in English and Spanish, including online topics guides en Español. Sandoval has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Wittenberg University.