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All About Arborvitaes

Ask This Old House landscape contractor Jenn Nawada explains some of the basics of selecting and caring for a couple different species of arborvitae.

Is an Arborvitae a Tree or a Shrub?

Thuja occidentalis—also known as arborvitaes—are fast growing evergreens with thick, textured needles that are drought resistant and low maintenance.

TOH Landscape Contractor Jenn Nawada enjoys using them in her designs and she shows her two favorite species of the tree: the green giant and the emerald green. For smaller spaces she explains that the emerald arborvitae is a good choice as it grows tall but not wide.

How Quickly does Arborvitae Grow?

They can be great for privacy screens and marking the edge of a property. The green giant, also known as the western arborvitae, has the ability to grow very fast and get very wide. Jenn likes putting this variety along a natural border.

Unlike the emerald green, the green giant is deer resistant, a major plus in woodland communities. Jenn explains one of the major attractions of using these plants is the lack of maintenance it needs to still flourish, but still shares some tips on how to keep your arborvitaes in the best condition.

Types of Arborvitae

Emerald Green Arborvitae

  • Grows tall, not wide. Good choice for smaller spaces.
  • Can be great for privacy screens and marking the edge of a property.

Thuja Green Giant Arborvitae

  • Has the ability to grow very fast and get very wide.
  • Good along a more natural border.
  • Deer resistant.

How to Maintain Arborvitae

Need to know how to maintain your Arborvitae? Follow these steps:

  1. Take out all deadwood.
  2. You shouldn’t have to prune it unless there’s a branch bothering you.
  3. If you want to prune it: cut at the V.
  4. Choose if you want a formal or informal look.
  5. If you would like a formal look, shear the whole side of the arborvitae in early spring, before any new growth emerges.
  6. If you would like informal, let the plant grow naturally.

Resources

Jenn discussed two types of arborvitae—a green giant and an emerald green—which can be found at most home centers and nurseries.