Tree Care

Tree Care Tips for the Tree of Life: Arborvitae

By Sheereen Othman | June 23, 2015

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Arborvitaes are among the most popular trees to plant because of their numerous benefits, including their fast growth, tall heights, and year-round green foliage. In fact, arborvitae is a Latin form of the French phrase “l’abre de vie,” or “tree of life.” Arborvitaes prove this to be true through their versatility in tolerating a wide range of soils and climate conditions.

American-ArborvitaerowArborvitae trees are a great choice if you’re looking to install a windbreak or natural privacy fence. There are numerous varieties to choose from, including American Arborvitae, Emerald Arborvitae and Green Giant Arborvitae. If you’re looking for fast growth then you might lean toward the green giant arborvitae, growing three feet a year and reaching up to 50-60 feet in height at maturity. If you don’t mind the wait and prefer something with a narrower spread, then you’ll appreciate the uniformity of American arborvitae.

Despite being low-maintenance, arborvitaes still need some care. Here are a few tree care tips to foster the best growth for your arborvitae in its early years.

Watch Ask an Arborist: Why Should I Plant Evergreens?

Environmental conditions for fast growth

Depending on the variety of arborvitae you select, you’ll want to be sure to plant trees approximately three feet apart to avoid root crowding and competition of nutrients and water; even trees don’t like to starve.

  • Arborvitaes do best in soil that is well drained but moist, rich and deep
  • pH of 6.0 (slightly acidic) to 8.0 (alkaline)
  • Full sun exposure is ideal, but they will grow in partial shade
  • Geographic regions with high humidity

Tree Pruning

green giant arborvitaeArborvitaes dense foliage provides sufficient privacy and at the same time are attractive additions to landscaping. Many arborvitaes take on a nice pyramid shape without pruning. If you must prune then limit it to once a year and keep the following in mind:

  • Prune in the fall or early winter, if pruned in the summer the tips of the pruned branches may turn brown
  • Never remove more than ¼ of a tree’s crown in a season
  • Ideally, main side branches should be at least 1/3 smaller than the diameter of the trunk

It may not be a sour idea to read Keys to Good Pruning just to be sure you’re not crippling them.

Read Top 5 Evergreens Sold Through the Arbor Day Tree Nursery

Potential threats

  • In times of drought, tree watering is important, but too much of a good thing can be bad so don’t overdo it (Proper Summer Watering of Trees has some helpful ideas)
  • Young landscape trees will need protection from deer in many areas, consider a Tubex tree shelter to keep wildlife away
  • Pest and Disease Problems: Bagworms are sometimes attracted to this species, but can be removed by hand in winter, or controlled with a biological pesticide
  • In forest or land development situations, large openings can lead to windthrow—trees uprooted or broken by wind— due to its shallow root system

Whichever selection you go with be sure to nurture your tree with proper care.

Read 5 Windbreak Trees that will Blow You Away

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  • Reply James Bergman June 17, 2016 at 11:00 am

    Thank you for your tips! I love seeing arborvitae privacy fences or even just planted throughout a yard. I plan on planting some in my yard and will do my best to keep the soil around them from getting too wet. Though that shouldn’t be too hard at the edges of my yard.

  • Reply tom harrison October 18, 2016 at 12:29 am

    thank you for posting this as I found it to be very valuable for me when searching for different types of tree services in the area

  • Reply Julie Morrison October 25, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    thank you for posting the helpful article – I didn’t know to be aware of tree diseases or pest problems when thinking about tree care near my home. You have given me ideas of thinking whether or not I should safely remove my tree or trim my tree.

    • Reply Sheereen Othman August 4, 2017 at 10:26 am

      Great to hear Julie. It’s important to think about trees long-term and how they may impact the area they’re planted in., pests and disease are a big part of that.

  • Reply Carl Heilman November 19, 2016 at 7:23 am

    Definitely a helpful article. Great insight & things to consider. While we provide significant palm tree services here in Florida, this is great information as many people down here who love green privacy fences. I think we will offer more tree services like this in the future. Thanks for providing great tree care and service content. We definitely appreciate it!!!

  • Reply Assurance Trees January 31, 2017 at 12:49 am

    Arbovitaes are so fun to raise but can be finicky to raise if not done right. Great article Sheereen!

  • Reply Trevor Miles February 23, 2017 at 7:05 pm

    Great article! Especially the information about how to protect young trees from deer. Thank you!

  • Reply Linda March 12, 2017 at 9:35 am

    Good article! I have Arbovitaes as privacy trees. They were installed by the previous owner more than 30 years ago. They were beautiful, tall and thick. Now, 4 years later, the trees are thinning with defoliage and some of the large branches are bending. I had a couple landscaper assess them but no one could give me a definitive answer. Any suggestion of what could cuased rapid thinning in 1-2 years?

  • Reply Henry Gonzalez March 23, 2017 at 2:29 pm

    Very interesting article here! Found this: “arborvitae is a Latin form of the French phrase “l’abre de vie,” or “tree of life.” Quite intriguing! To furthermore in the specification on what you talked regarding over tree care. Yes I agree with every word you have mentioned for the simple fact trees are impotent assets and we essentially need them. I believe it is highly important to prune your trees properly and to the standard as such. The tree trimming should be done in the times perfected to properly remove those tree limbs like you mentioned in your article. I will be following this and continuing to learn.

  • Reply Tree Care Guy March 26, 2017 at 8:47 am

    It seems a lot of people like to plant Arbovitaes as an alternative to fencing in my area. Informative read. Thank you.

  • Reply Ivy Baker April 12, 2017 at 9:53 pm

    I am glad that you pointed out that you should never remove more than 1/4 of the season crowns. It does seem like a good thing to be aware of at the start of spring. I wouldn’t want to have to worry about destroying my trees. I should probably have a professional take care of my trees. Especially, my new peach tree.

  • Reply Tree Care Services April 17, 2017 at 10:02 am

    Arborvitae trees are a great. Thank you for the sharing the tips!

  • Reply l. h.belz July 2, 2017 at 12:59 pm

    arbor vitae – ends of some branches, turn brown, and are ‘dead’—I was advised to
    pull the brown stuff, off — maybe cut the entire small branch ‘off’ is this the best way??

  • Reply Connie Hoehne July 13, 2017 at 9:44 pm

    It is important to appreciate our nature, especially the trees that have contributed greatly to our lives. This blog is a great help for the care and development of our trees.

  • Reply Heather August 4, 2017 at 9:15 am

    These are such lovely trees to grow on your property, but they definitely do require some careful growth and maintenance. So worth it though, thanks for sharing!

  • Reply jubert August 22, 2017 at 2:40 pm

    This was a wonderful information you shared on this page about the care of different kind of trees ,If you are interested in a proper care of trees then the best solution for you to read this great outstanding article and keep in your mind all the important guidelines are mentioned in this post especially ” Keys to Good Pruning “. Which help you to save the roots of your trees without any disease .

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