Essential Guide to Arborvitae Trees: Varieties, Planting, and Care Tips

by Nancy Penrose

Selecting an arborvitae tree for your garden? Get straight to the heart of what makes these evergreens a landscape favorite. From selecting the ideal variety and planting tips to maintenance and design applications, this guide simplifies the process for you. Discover how to use arborvitae trees for privacy, accent, or design and ensure they prosper in your personal green space.

Key Takeaways

  • Arborvitae trees, known as ‘tree of life,’ complement any garden design while providing historical and healing significance.
  • Proper planting and care are crucial for arborvitae trees, requiring a specific planting technique, regular watering, mulching, pruning, and fertilizing to ensure healthy growth.
  • Arborvitaes are versatile in landscape design, functioning as privacy screens, noise barriers, and ornamental features, with various varieties available to meet different gardening needs

From the moment the phrase “arborvitae” was coined, its meaning – “tree of life” – hinted at something extraordinary. This title is rooted in the arborvitae’s remarkable healing properties, which were well known to Native Americans. They brewed the leaves into a vitamin C-rich tea that became a lifeline for early settlers battling scurvy.

Today, the emerald green arborvitae stands tall in our gardens, not only as a testament to its historical significance but also as a beacon of health and vitality in the plant world.

Are Arborvitae Right for Your Landscape?

Choosing trees for your landscape is like selecting a piece of art for your home; it requires careful consideration of the canvas – your garden. From the grow zone you reside in, to the size and color palette of your desired greenery, the selection process is crucial to ensure your arborvitae not only survives but thrives.

In the following sections, we’ll navigate through the considerations for space and size, and uncover the growth patterns that will transform your garden into a living masterpiece.

Considerations for Space and Size

Space is a luxury not everyone has, but the versatility of arborvitae sizes ensures there’s a perfect fit for every garden. The Emerald Green can accommodate narrow planting areas 2-3’ wide and the screening is only needed 15’ or less, while the Green Giant cedar can accommodate 8-10’ planting spaces but can soar up to 30 feet in height. With arborvitae, even the most compact areas can flourish with life.

Mulching and Soil Care

A vital element in care for your arborvitae is a protective layer of mulch to conserve moisture, insulate roots, and keep weeds at bay.

A 1 to 2-inch layer suffices, allowing the soil to breathe while providing the tender care your arborvitae needs to establish itself as a thriving member of your garden family.

Essential Maintenance for Thriving Arborvitae Trees

Just like any living creature, arborvitae trees crave care and attention to flourish. From the gentle quenching of their thirst to the occasional trim for a tidy appearance, these trees will reward your efforts with robust health and verdant beauty.

Let’s explore the essential maintenance rituals that will ensure your arborvitae trees remain a vibrant and vital part of your outdoor sanctuary.

Watering Needs and Techniques

Water is the elixir of life for arborvitae trees. In their first year, a daily soaking nurtures their roots, establishing a strong foundation for growth. As they mature, these stoic sentinels become more independent, requiring water only when the topsoil feels parched.

Employing a soaker hose or drip system mimics a gentle rain, ensuring the water reaches deep, quenching the thirst of the roots and fostering lush green foliage.  These trees only need irrigation during the growing season April-October.

Pruning Practices for Shape and Health


While arborvitae often boast a naturally handsome form, a little pruning can enhance their shape and health. Here are some tips for pruning arborvitae:

  • Springtime snips encourage dense growth
  • Remove dead or damaged branches to ensure the tree’s vigor
  • Avoid late fall pruning to prevent undue stress before the winter chill

With judicious cuts, your arborvitae will maintain its regal posture year-round.

Fertilizing for Robust Arborvitae

To bolster the vigor of your arborvitae, an early spring application of nitrogen-rich, slow-release fertilizer nourishes the soil and stimulates verdant growth. This nutritional boost supports a lush canopy and a sturdy trunk, setting the stage for a season of growth and the admiration of neighbors and passersby.

Addressing Environmental Stressors

Beyond pests and diseases, environmental factors like heavy snow can pose a threat to arborvitae. A rounded hedge top allows snow to slide off, preventing limb breakage. Gently brushing snow from bare branches after a storm can also mitigate damage, preserving the tree’s structure and ensuring its graceful presence in your winter garden.

The Versatility of Arborvitae in Garden Design

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Arborvitae trees are not just living green walls; they are artistic elements that elevate garden design. Their versatility allows them to serve as natural partitions, acoustic barriers, and focal points of evergreen elegance.

Whether used as a tall hedge or a solitary specimen, arborvitae trees offer endless possibilities to shape and style your outdoor living space.

Creating Effective Noise Barriers with Arborvitae

The dense foliage of arborvitae varieties, like Green Giant and Emerald Green, offers more than just privacy. These living barriers absorb sound, creating serene oases in the midst of urban clamor.

Planted in strategic rows, arborvitae trees can reduce noise pollution as effectively as wooden fences, allowing for peaceful retreats in your own backyard.

Incorporating Arborvitae into Decorative Elements

Beyond their functional uses, arborvitae varieties can be stars in the decorative aspects of garden design. Some ways to incorporate arborvitae into your garden include:

  • Framing entrances
  • Complementing rock gardens with flair
  • Using them in container plantings
  • Incorporating them into theme gardens

These evergreen trees can adapt to any gardener’s creative vision.

Emerald Green Arborvitae: A Compact Choice for Small Spaces

The ‘Emerald Green’ arborvitae is a gem for gardeners with limited space. Its compact size, reaching 15-20 feet in height and 3-4 feet in width, makes it ideal for smaller gardens or as a discrete privacy screen.

Hardy and resilient, the arborvitae emerald green, also known as ‘Emerald Green’ arborvitae, thrives in a range of climates, offering a lush, evergreen presence with its dark green foliage throughout the seasons.

Thuja Green Giant: The Rapid Grower

For those seeking a swift solution to privacy or windbreaks, the Thuja Green Giant is a formidable choice. Its rapid growth and affinity for sunny climates make it a popular option for gardeners in warmer zones. As a close relative to thuja occidentalis and thuja plicata, the Thuja Green Giant offers similar benefits with added advantages.

Towering and lush, it quickly fills in spaces with dense greenery, providing immediate impact and long-term satisfaction.


In the realm of gardening, the arborvitae stands as a testament to versatility, resilience, and beauty. From the historical “tree of life” to a present-day symbol of green vitality, arborvitae trees offer something for every gardener. Whether through careful selection, proper planting, diligent care, or creative design, these trees can thrive in your landscape, providing privacy, beauty, and a living legacy for years to come.