Arborvitae Care

  1. Learn More About Arborvitae, the Tree of Life

    Nature Hills grows two different species of Arborvitae:

    1. Thuja occidentalis selections
    2. Thuja plicata selections

    Why Arborvitae? 

    Arborvitae are super-fast growing, make the perfect screening plant, and have plenty of surface area to absorb sound.  You have no better way to eliminate ugly views, block some wind, catch some snow, and give you the perfect green backdrop to design around. 

    Most upright forms of Arborvitae can grow two feet or so each year.  There are some globe selections that are rounded and some that have yellow colored foliage.  Today we are focusing on the upright forms that are many times used for hedging or screening plants. 

    The fine textured foliage is born in a flat plane, but the plants are soft and dense, and they make beautiful hedges. 

    Expert Tips for Pruning Arborvitae

    If you trim back the tops of the plants, you will encourage the plants to become wider.  It is an extremely useful tip if something were to damage the bottoms of your Arborvitae.  It is one of the only evergreens that are able to generate new growth near the bottoms of the plants…good to know.

    Most all Arborvitae can be trimmed or sheared into formal hedges, but you can also just allow your Arborvitae plants grow naturally too.  Whatever landscape they are being used in (formal or more informal) you can choose how you would like your plants to be used.

    Garden Design Ideas for Using Arborvitae in the Landscape

    Natural grown Arborvitae provide a soft, elegant, fine textured look as they gain in size each year.  Classic use of Arborvitae is for screening out unsightly views, and for blocking winter winds on the north and west sides of your home. 

    Both Emerald Green and North Pole Arborvitaes are of the same species (known as Eastern White Cedar or Northern White Cedar) that grows fast, tall and they both stay quite narrow without pruning.  If you plant them closer together, they make a solid screen sooner.  Both of these varieties can be planted every three or four feet and just allow them to grow and touch each other.  There is no need to keep the plants trimmed to prevent them from touching but you want them to mesh together and make a nice solid green screen. 

    And Spring Grove, Green Giant, and Sugar and Spice are all the species plicata (known as Western Arborvitae).  The interesting thing about these three varieties, the deer find them less desirable once they get up a few feet tall.  These three selections look fantastic if you use them in a more natural untrimmed form.  A somewhat staggered informal planting in groups of three of fives is wildly desirable.  These western Arborvitae selections are also incredible windbreaks and screening plants in smaller and larger numbers. 

    Establishing Your Arborvitae, Tree of Life

    All Arborvitae are simply grown with few problems in areas that have sufficient moisture.  Watch the hardiness zones in which they grow within as they are for zones 3-9, but each one is specific to a range of northern zones. 

    The container plants that Nature Hills sells are the perfect sizes to establish new plantings of both species of Arborvitae.  Water carefully at the start making sure not to allow them to dry out.  Once established, they will appreciate a drink during dry spells and it’s always a great idea to water before winter cold freezes up the soil. 

    Arborvitae are green screens in which many are quite narrow not using up lots of space in your yard.  Blocking out ugly views, creating amazing backdrops to your favorite shrub and perennial borders, or even used to reduce your energy bills from blocking those cold winter winds if they are planted on the north and west sides of your home.  Left natural, they work beautiful with natives and a freeform style.  Formal gardens use Arborvitae trimmed in formal hedges and in living sheared walls that are easy to maintain. 

    Let the tree of life breath some life into your landscape!

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  2. Planting Arborvitae


    Planting arborvitaes is easy, as they generally require no aftercare to thrive, aside from occasional pruning. Once a suitable site is selected, the hole should be dug large enough for the root system to spread out. The roots should be only a few inches underneath the surface of the soil, as they require air to grow properly.   Once in place, the plant should be watered.  Planting arborvitaes should be done in an area of moist, alkaline soil for best results. This is not required, however, as arborvitaes will grow in dry or acidic soil as well.

    They can be planted just about anywhere that has full to partial sun. Hardy to zones three to eight, arborvitaes will not thrive in warmer climates.   Propagation of arborvitaes can be done best by clippings.  This is generally easier than it is on other plants, as the tree can literally be torn apart to make hundreds of smaller clippings.  Planting arborvitae clippings is easy to do, but takes some time before a mature plant grows.  The clipping should be about four inches of new growth, and should be placed in a sandy soil.  After planting arborvitae clippings, a mist of water should be applied for a few seconds every ten minutes or so.

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  3. Pruning Arborvitae

    Pruned Arborvitae

    Pruning arborvitae trees is an important part of the maintenance process. Many of the species of arborvitae trees will not need any pruning, as they will maintain a natural shape that is pleasing to the eye.  In these cases, pruning arborvitae should only be done in order to limit the height that the plant will reach. In other cases, pruning will allow the gardener to change the shape of the plant into a hedge, or a more ornamental shape.

    The first step to pruning arborvitae is to understand when and why to prune. If a tree is mature, many of the branches may not be as lively as they once were.  This may be from lack of sunlight or proper nutrients. When this happens, pruning the plant down may provide the proper light to the branch, rejuvenating it. Pruning will also help to stimulate new growth.


    Most arborvitae should be pruned or trimmed while dormant in the colder months, roughly from about November to March. Pruning arborvitae may also be strictly ornamental.  A row of arborvitae trees may be pruned down to shrubs, for a more aesthetically pleasing screen.  Pruning arborvitae may also entail removing branches and growth that shoots out of the border of the plant. Removing these will make the plant seem fuller and healthier.  Cutting it down to just a few inches off the ground may rejuvenate an arborvitae that is overgrown or weak.  This is the fastest and most reliable way to renew a shrub.

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  4. Transplanting Arborvitae

    Arborvitae Cuttings

    Transplanting arborvitae is a fairly straightforward process. It is very similar to the act of transplanting most other plants. Transplanting arborvitae should always be done in the autumn months. The first step is to dig around the plant and fairly deep. The underground root structure of an arborvitae shrub or tree can sometimes get pretty large, and it is important not to damage any roots if possible.

    Once the plant is up, remove much of the soil from around the roots. This can be done using water or lightly shaking the roots.

    Once the soil has been removed, select a new location for the plant.  Ensure that the new location will satisfy the needs of the plant. There should be a good amount of direct sunlight each day, and also good drainage of water.

    Once the location has been selected, a hole must be dug for the plant. The hole should be large enough to house the entire root system freely, and not in a large clump.  Spread out the roots and add soil a little bit at a time and press firmly to remove any air pockets and reinforce the support for the plant. The crown of the arborvitae, where the roots come together, should be just an inch or so beneath the surface of the soil, as the roots need air to grow.  Now, the plant must be watered gently, to ensure the roots are in contact with the soil.

    Transplanting arborvitae is often done for a variety of reasons. One reason is that the plant may not be thriving in its current location. This may be for several reasons, including not enough sun or soil drainage.  Another reason for transplanting arborvitae is to create a better screen for wind or unattractive sights.

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  5. Arborvitae Growth Rate


    Arborvitae growth will appear in the early spring, and continue until well into autumn. The rate at which it grows will depend on the species that is in question. Globe arborvitae will grow at a pretty slow rate, while techny arborvitae can grow at a rate of four feet per year once the plant has matured. The arborvitae growth will appear mostly on branches and stems that had been cut back the previous year.

    Pruning an arborvitae plant in the winter will help to encourage more arborvitae growth in the coming growing season. Pinching back leaves or growth tips will also encourage the new growth. New arborvitae growth will appear a bright yellow green, contrasting with the rest of the plant, and be very soft. As it ages, the arborvitae growth will become harder and the color will darken to match the tree. The new arborvitae growth can be trimmed down to encourage the plant to split and grow two branches from that location.

    Pruning arborvitae growth should be done at a forty-five degree angle, and only about a quarter inch above a lateral bud that is pointing outward. This will not only even up the tree or shrub, it will also help to encourage it to grow in a more steady and complete form the following growing season.

    More information about arborvitae growth can be found in books at a local library. Internet pages will also be able to provide tips on how to control and encourage arborvitae growth. A local nursery or garden center will also be a good location to find out more and current information about growing arborvitae trees.

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