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Arborvitae Tree Care

Arborvitae Tree shrub

Cupressaceae, Thuja Orientalis

Belonging to the evergreen family, Arborvitaes are native to eastern Asia and North America. They are identified by their small, scale like leaves on flattened branches.

There are many varieties of Arborvitaes, with the largest growing over 60-65 feet. Among the most common is the Oriental Arborvitae from China, American Arborvitae, Northern White Cedar and Western Red cedar, which originated in North America. All varieties of Arborvitae are classified as members of the Cypress family.

Coming in a variety of shapes and sizes, homeowners love aromatic Arborvitae trees. They are one of the most popular foundation plants. They are also extremely popular as a fencing or hedgerow plant, thanks to their thick foliage and fast growing habit.

Arborvitaes are easy to grow. Once planted, established plants require little care and maintenance. An annual pruning keeps the plants in a desirable shape. Arborvitae benefit from providing some winter protection against damage from ice and snow, as well as foraging deer. If Deer are in your area, mesh net protection is needed in the winter. When deer food supplies get low, they turn to this evergreen for survival.

Did you know? Arborvitae leaves were once used as a remedy for Rheumatism.

A tree or a shrub? Arborvitaes are classified as trees. But, it is okay, if you refer to them as shrubs or bushes.

Long lived: The average life expectancy of arborvitae tree 50 to 150 years. In later years, the tree begins to look unsightly.

How to Grow Arborvitae Tree:

Arborvitae trees are easy to grow and maintain. Established trees thrive for many years. The plants tolerate both acidic and alkaline soils. They prefer slightly acidic soil, and grow in a variety of soils, from clay to sandy loam. Moist, well draining soil is preferred, but they will tolerate extremes. Arborvitae grow well in full sun or partial shade.

Ideal pH range: 6.0 - 8.0

Most arborvitae trees are grown as foundation plants around homes and buildings, or a hedgerow or fence rows. After selecting a location, dig a hole deep and wide. Mix generous amounts of compost with soil from the hole. Set the plant in the hole and fill with soil and compost. Peat moss works well, if you do not have any compost. Lightly tamp the soil lightly. Water generously after planting. Promote new root growth, by keeping the soil moist for the first few weeks after transplanting.

Mulch heavily around plants, to help retain soil moisture, and for a neat and tidy appearance.

Pruning Arborvitae Trees:

Once established, Arborvitae grow with little care for many years. The biggest task is pruning. While people tend to prune them a few times a year, pruning is best done once a year, in the fall or early winter. If pruned in the summer, the tips of the pruned branches can turn an unsightly brown. If pruning can not be done in the fall or winter, do so early in the season, while new growth is still appearing.


 New Arborvitae plants are propagated by seed or cuttings.

When growing from seed, collect seeds in the fall. Start in peat pots indoors in early spring, or sow directly into a seedbed outdoors. Transplant seedlings into a garden several weeks later.  

To grow from cuttings, cut a 4-5 inch branch of new growth. Strip away the lower leaves. Plant in coarse, well draining sand. Keep the soil most.

Winter Protection for Arborvitae

arborvitae pest, deer, netting, net, control, pictures

Unprotected With Shrub Guard


Small Arborvitae

In cold climates, it's beneficial to provide winter protection for Arborvitae. Snow and ice buildup can damage or break individual branches, or the whole tree.  Shrub protection against foraging deer, and rabbits is also important.

Many people use burlap to cover the plants. It's effective, but unsightly. It can also cause mold and mildew on the plant. 

Another alternative is heavy duty, multi-strand netting. The netting is made of UV protected material, and will last for years. Green netting results in a barely visible protection against animals, as well as winter protection from breakage of individual branches, when snow and ice buildup is a problem. It offers good air circulation, minimizing the likelihood of plant molds.


Arborvitae are native to North America and eastern Asia;. The most common varieties include:

  • Oriental Arborvitae

  • American Arborvitae, also called Giant Arborvitae

  • Emerald Arborvitae

  • Globe Arborvitae

Pests of Arborvitae:

A variety of animals feed on Arborvitae, especially in the winter months when other food sources are scarce. They include deer, rabbits, mice, and other rodents.

Occasional insect problems can occur from  mites and bagworms. Use insecticides only if necessary.

Deer and Winter Protection

Protect yews from browsing deer, and winter snow and ice damage, by using pest netting over the plants. They come in convenient bag, sheet and bulk sizes.

Diseases Affecting Arborvitae Trees:

The most common plant problems are molds and mildew, often caused in cool, damp weather. Drowning of roots can also occur in wet weather.

Cankers and sun scorch are also an occasional problem.

Also see: Cedar Shrubs

How to grow your favorite shrub

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