Raking mulch when planting privacy hedge
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How to Plant a Privacy Hedge

Create a low-maintenance evergreen screen from tall arborvitae shrubs

Q: I want a low-maintenance evergreen privacy hedge. What should I plant? —Gloria Chin, Trumbull, Conn.

Roger Cook replies: Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) is a good choice because it doesn't need pruning to keep its full shape from top to bottom, and adapts to a wide range of growing conditions from Zones 2 to 7—including your Zone 6—as long as it has full sun.

To get a sense of privacy right away, select specimens that are at least 6 feet tall, with green foliage and moist root balls. They'll reach 15 feet or more when mature. These trees need to be planted far enough apart so that they'll be touching when full grown; they'll be stunted if put too close together. The spacing depends on the variety you choose. (Find more plants that work as privacy hedges and learn about their proper spacing at Evergreen Privacy Screens.)

In time, as your hedge fills in, you'll have a solid wall of green to enjoy year-round.


Steps // How to Plant a Privacy Hedge
1 ×

Dig a Trench

 
Step One // How to Plant a Privacy Hedge

Dig a Trench

Digging a trench
Photo by Ryan Benyi

Measure the height and width of the largest root ball. Then use spray paint to mark out a trench that is two to three times wider and 2 inches shallower than the root ball. Make the trench long enough to space the trees so that they will touch when they reach their mature width—3 to 4 feet apart for these Emerald Greens. As you dig, transfer the soil with a spade shovel onto a tarp.

 
2 ×

Roll the Tree into the Trench

 
Step Two // How to Plant a Privacy Hedge

Roll the Tree into the Trench

Man rolling a tree into a trench
Photo by Ryan Benyi

Lay a container-grown tree on its side and remove the tub. Then stand the tree up and gently roll its root ball into the trench. (For a burlapped root ball, roll it into the trench, then cut away as much fabric as possible.) Turn each tree's best side to face your yard. Measure from trunk to trunk to set the spacing and from the trench edge to each trunk to align them.

 
3 ×

Tease out the Roots

 
Step Three // How to Plant a Privacy Hedge

Tease out the Roots

Man teasing out roots from a tree
Photo by Ryan Benyi

With a cultivator, gently scrape across the sides, top, and bottom of each root ball to expose the tiny roots that absorb water and fertilizer. In a wheelbarrow, mix 2 parts excavated soil with 1 part compost, then backfill the trench up to grade. Form a soil dam around each tree just wider than the diameter of the root ball.

 
4 ×

Soak the Soil

 
Step Four // How to Plant a Privacy Hedge

Soak the Soil

Soak the Soil
Photo by Ryan Benyi

Fill each dam with water, wait for it to be absorbed, then fill again. When the water soaks in the second time, rake away the dam and add a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch. Keep it away from the trunks to prevent rot. In the first growing season, water once a week, unless it rains. After that, water if there's no rain for two weeks if you have sandy soil, four weeks if your soil is clayey.

 
 
 

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