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Arborvitae: How to Plant, Grow, and Prune Arborvitae Trees and Shrubs| The Old Farmer's Almanac

How to Grow an Arborvitae Tree

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Botanical Name
Thuja occidentalis
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Hardiness Zone
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Planting, Growing, and Pruning Arborvitaes

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Arborvitae are a popular, rugged evergreen tree with dense blue-green foliage. It’s commonly used in home landscaping, often to provide privacy. Here’s how to plant, grow, and prune arborvitae.

About Arborvitae

The elegant American arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) is native to North America, and the tree is hardy in zones 2 to 7. What planting hardiness zone do you live in?

The most common varieties have a narrow pyramid shape that makes a natural choice for privacy hedges and windbreaks at the edge of gardens. Their dense foliage can create almost a “living wall.”

Dwarf and miniature cultivars make excellent accent plants or foundation plantings, too. 

Arborvitae will add color and texture to your landscape, and are sometimes even trimmed into topiary plants. Plus, easy care requirements make this a rewarding plant to grow. Learn more about landscaping your property with trees.

Planting

When to Plant Arborvitae

  • Plant in early spring when the soil can be worked or in the fall before the ground freezes.

Where to Plant Arborvitae

  • Choose a location in full sun or partial shade with at least six hours of direct sunlight daily, preferably early in the day.
  • These trees get “thirsty” and prefer moist soil. So, plant the trees in a place that has access to watering until established and doesn’t get too dry.
  • Arborvitae are slow-growing, but some varieties can grow as tall as 60 feet, so consider their height at maturity when planting near any structures or powerlines.
  • Well before planting, amend the soil by digging in about 2 inches of compost or aged manure.

How to Plant Arborvitae

  • Dig the planting hole 2 to 3 times as wide and as deep as the root ball.
  • Loosen some of the roots in the root ball.
  • Plant the arborvitae in the hole so that the top edge of the root ball is level with the top of the hole.
  • Back-fill with soil around the root ball, tamping down with your hands. 
  • Soak the soil in the hole when you have filled it ½ full. 
  • Finish filling to the top edge of the root ball.
  • Water deeply. Learn more about how to water your plants for healthy growth.
  • Add a 2-inch layer of aged shredded wood mulch or pine straw around the arborvitae to conserve moisture. Avoid placing mulch directly against the stem.
Growing

How to Grow Arborvitae

  • Keep the soil consistently moist during the first growing season. Don’t let the soil dry out, but be careful not to over-water. 
  • Established arborvitae will require extra water only during prolonged periods of drought. 
  • Use stakes for support as newly planted arborvitaes are vulnerable to wind.
  • Fertilize the arborvitae in the spring with a slow-release high-nitrogen shrub/tree fertilizer.

How to Prune Arborvitae

  • Arborvitae do not require a lot of pruning. 
  • Plants that are used in formal hedges and foundation plantings can be trimmed with hedge shears to shape and spur new growth. 
  • Prune in early spring before new growth emerges. 
  • Trim from the bottom up. 
  • Shorten branches that are expanding beyond the desired length.
  • Prune damaged branches anytime.

How to Propagate Arborvitae

  • Take stem cuttings in late summer or fall.
  • Cut 4 to 5 inch cuttings from the current year’s branch growth.
  • Remove the leaves on the bottom half of the cutting.
  • Fill a small pot with organic soil mix or a mixture of sand and peat moss.
  • Stick the cutting into rooting hormone and then into the pot.
  • Water and cover the pot with a plastic dome or clear plastic wrap.
  • Place the pot in a location with filtered light.
  • Water if the soil gets dry.
  • It will take 6 to 8 weeks for the roots to form. 
  • Remove the plastic covering. 
  • Transplant into a bigger pot with soil.
  • Plant outdoors the following spring.
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Wit and Wisdom
  • The name arborvitae is the Latin form of the French l’arbre de vie, which means “tree of life.”
  • The genus name, Thuja, is from a Greek word for perfume.
  • Arborvitae was the first North American tree to be introduced to Europe.
  • Other names for arborvitae include northern white-cedar, eastern white-cedar, and swamp-cedar. 
  • The oldest living arborvitae is over 1,000 years old.
  • Native Americans made baskets from the roots and used the leaves in tea.
  • The wood is used for log cabins, fence posts, shingles, paneling, canoes, and wood crafting.
Pests/Diseases

Insect pests

Animal pests

  • Deer
  • Red squirrel

Diseases

  • Needle blight
  • Botrytis twig blight
About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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