6 Mistakes to Avoid When Growing Arborvitae

Old style, white wooden fence,with arborvitaes in the background.
What You'll Need
Arborvitae plant
Water hose
Pruning tools
What You'll Need
Arborvitae plant
Water hose
Pruning tools

Arborvitae is a wonderful tree with thick dark green foliage that will stay all year round and create a natural privacy screen. There are many varieties, some growing over 40-feet tall. There are things you can do that may damage the arborvitae, however, so it is important that you are careful as you plant, grow and maintain your plants and trees. Make sure that you watch out for these mistakes, and your trees should grow and thrive for many years.

Our expert gardening advisor, Rachel Klein adds, "Arborvitae are slow growers so if you plan to use them as a privacy hedge, keep in mind that it may take a few years for you to get the privacy you want. Arborvitae growth averages 4-9 inches in height and 2-6 inches in width per year."

Ignoring Weather Conditions While Planting

Though your arborvitae can be planted during any season, there are certain conditions that are not good for it to start off. If you are having an especially hot summer and are experiencing drought, make sure that you wait before planting in the soil.

You can keep it near your house in a growing pot, but you must make sure it is in a place where it will experience both sunny and shaded conditions, and is well watered so that the soil will not become dried out.

If a drought comes after you have transplanted your arborvitae, make sure that you water the soil around it often, to make sure it will make it through the season. Rachel advises, "Arborvitae can be planted in full sun or partial shade and can grow in most soil types, though they prefer slightly acidic soil."

Pruning During the Wrong Season

Although arborvitae generally will not need to be pruned, you may need to cut back the branches from time to time. Avoid pruning in any season but spring. Pruning your tree in spring allows it to fully heal and continue its growth without damage caused by heat, extreme cold, or insects.

Rachel notes, "Keep in mind that trees pruned on the top will be thicker and bushier. Trees that are not pruned will be tall but skinny and will need to be placed closer together for the optimal level of privacy."

It is not uncommon for some arborvitae branches to die. Dead growth should be pruned off immediately. Usually, dead material will accumulate inside the tree at the bottom. Each year, remove this material. Typically you can just pull it out wearing a pair of heavy gloves.

Planting the Wrong Variety

Although most arborvitae will grow in any climate, certain varieties grow better in each zone. When you are purchasing your arborvitae, research the climate zones where it will flourish. This will make your arborvitae care much simpler and the tree will require less maintenance.

Spacing Improperly

Although arborvitae, when grown next to each other, make a good hedge or fence, make sure they are properly spaced apart. Planting them too close together will prevent them from growing as they should because they will all be competing for the same minerals and nutrients in the soil.

Check your variety of arborvitae to see how far apart they should be placed and make sure that you follow those steps to keep them healthy. Most varieties should be placed at least 2-feet apart.

Forgetting Winter Care

Heavy snow and built up ice can be very damaging to your arborvitae trees. Make sure you maintain your trees during that time by knocking the snow off the branches and allowing the trees to stay upright. This will prevent disease caused by cold and keep your tree's branches from breaking.

Consider purchasing a mesh to go over your arborvitae during the autumn and winter. Not only will this help the snow fall to the ground, but it will also protect your tree from foraging animals. Rachel suggests, "Heavy duty multi-strand mesh offers the most protection for your arborvitae and even offers UV protection. It is green, to blend right in and can last for seasons."

Forgetting to Water in the First Season

Since arborvitae are so green, many people forget to water their newly planted trees. New trees need to be watered deeply for the entire first season after planting. Sprinklers never work as well as a deep soak.

The best way to achieve this is simply to turn your hose on and leave the open end at the base of your tree for 10 minutes every few days in the hot summer. If you wait until the foliage begins to turn brown, you may have waited too long. A layer of mulch 3-inches deep will do wonders with moisture retention. As the tree matures, forgo the watering.

Mistakes to Avoid When Growing Arborvitae FAQ

What is bad for arborvitae?

Arborvitae is a beautiful plant when it's healthy but this plant can be a bit finicky about its growing conditions, which can make it challenging to keep it healthy.

Arborvitae is very particular about the soil it is planted in. This plant needs well-drained soil but the soil should also be moist, which is a difficult balance to maintain.

Rocky soil, wet soil, and dry soil are all bad for this plant since it has such specific soil requirements. The pH balance of the soil should also be between 7 and 8, as anything above 8 or below 7 is bad for this plant.

Arborvitae is also attractive to several types of pests, which will cause damage and can even kill the plant. It's important to inspect for pests regularly, try to prevent them as much as possible, and treat pests as soon as you notice them doing damage to arborvitae.

How do you keep arborvitae healthy?

Arborvitae grow beautifully in the right conditions but they can be a pain in the neck if they don't have proper growing conditions or they're being damaged by pests. To keep arborvitae healthy, they must be planted properly and maintained regularly.

Plant arborvitae in a spot where they have enough space to grow, at least 12 inches from all other plants, and place them in well-drained, nutrient-rich, moist soil that has a pH of 7 or 8.

Arborvitae prefers full sunlight, so plant it in a bright, sunny spot. You should also prune the plant to help it maintain a neat, pyramid shape and to get rid of any dead or dying parts of the plant.

Water the plant enough to keep the soil uniformly moist, but not wet. Once the plant is well-established, you can usually get away with watering it well about once a week.

Will arborvitae grow back after turning brown?

If your arborvitae has brown patches in it but is still mostly green, it is possible to save the plant. Make sure it is getting enough water and sunlight and check the pH balance of the soil.

The healthier the environment the plant is in, the healthier the plant will be. Browning areas in the plant usually indicate that it isn't getting enough water, though this can happen if the plant is not receiving enough sunlight.

Prune the brown areas of the plant, do what you can to make its growing environment as healthy as possible and with luck, the arborvitae will recover and turn green again.

Should you water arborvitae everyday?

Arborvitae needs somewhat moist soil in order to grow optimally. Depending on the conditions where you live, this might mean watering the plant once a day if you're growing arborvitae in a hot, dry area.

Well-established, mature arborvitae can be watered as little as once a week in an area that receives regular rainfall.

To know when to water arborvitae, check the soil. If it's dry to the touch, water it.

Can arborvitae get too much sun?

Arborvitae is a sun-loving plant that should be planted in full sunlight whenever possible. However, this plant can tolerate partial shade growing conditions and it can be scorched by the sun if it is exposed to a lot of bright, direct sunlight for most of or all of the day.

Arborvitae needs about six hours of direct sunlight per day. If it gets a lot more than six hours of light a day, however, this can cause stress on the plant and it can make the foliage become brown or yellow.