Tree Care Tips for the Tree of Life: Arborvitae (thuja occidentalis)

Arborvitaes are among the most popular trees to plant because of their numerous benefits, including their fast growth, tall heights, and year-round green foliage. In fact, arborvitae is a Latin form of the French phrase “l’abre de vie,” or “tree of life.” Arborvitaes prove this to be true through their versatility in tolerating a wide range of soils and climate conditions.

American-ArborvitaerowArborvitae trees are a great choice if you’re looking to install a windbreak or natural privacy fence. There are numerous varieties to choose from, including American Arborvitae, Emerald Arborvitae and Green Giant Arborvitae. If you’re looking for fast growth then you might lean toward the green giant arborvitae, growing three feet a year and reaching up to 50-60 feet in height at maturity. If you don’t mind the wait and prefer something with a narrower spread, then you’ll appreciate the uniformity of American arborvitae.

Despite being low-maintenance, arborvitaes still need some care. Here are a few tree care tips to foster the best growth for your arborvitae in its early years.

Environmental conditions for fast growth

Depending on the variety of arborvitae you select, you’ll want to be sure to plant trees approximately three feet apart to avoid root crowding and competition of nutrients and water; even trees don’t like to starve.

  • Arborvitaes do best in soil that is well drained but moist, rich and deep
  • pH of 6.0 (slightly acidic) to 8.0 (alkaline)
  • Full sun exposure is ideal, but they will grow in partial shade
  • Geographic regions with high humidity

Tree Pruning

green giant arborvitaeArborvitaes dense foliage provides sufficient privacy and at the same time are attractive additions to landscaping. Many arborvitaes take on a nice pyramid shape without pruning. If you must prune then limit it to once a year and keep the following in mind:

  • Prune in the fall or early winter, if pruned in the summer the tips of the pruned branches may turn brown
  • Never remove more than ¼ of a tree’s crown in a season
  • Ideally, main side branches should be at least 1/3 smaller than the diameter of the trunk

It may not be a sour idea to read Keys to Good Pruning just to be sure you’re not crippling them.

Potential threats

  • In times of drought, tree watering is important, but too much of a good thing can be bad so don’t overdo it (Proper Summer Watering of Trees has some helpful ideas)
  • Young landscape trees will need protection from deer in many areas, consider a Tubex tree shelter to keep wildlife away
  • Pest and Disease Problems: Bagworms are sometimes attracted to this species, but can be removed by hand in winter, or controlled with a biological pesticide
  • In forest or land development situations, large openings can lead to windthrow—trees uprooted or broken by wind— due to its shallow root system

Whichever selection you go with be sure to nurture your tree with proper care.

Check out additional Tree Care Tips & Techniques or share some in the comments below.

Fast Growing Trees

Fast growing trees are becoming more and more popular. The reason being, home owners get to enjoy the benefits of a mature tree sooner. Fast growing trees are especially great when landscaping. Some act as quick solutions to privacy and others as shade trees.

Let’s take a closer look at six fast growing trees available in the Arbor Day Foundation Tree Nursery.

weeping willowFirst, is the weeping willow. Depending on the cultivar, weeping willow trees can grow from 3’ to 8’ per year, making it one of the fastest of the fast growing trees.  Often seen as one of the first indications of spring, the weeping willow’s yellow twigs and green foliage appear early in the season—sometimes as early as February.

Quaking aspen quaking aspen has the widest natural range of any tree in North America- fit for zones 1-7.  The name stems from how it adds movement and a soft, pleasant sound to the landscape due to the “quaking” leaves. It grows 40’ to 50’ with a 25’ spread and averaging 2’ to 3’ per year. It has stunning golden-yellow foliage in the fall to accompany its iconic white bark.

red mapleRed maple stays true to its name by featuring something red all year round-—buds in winter, flowers in spring, leafstalks in summer, and brilliant red or yellow foliage in autumn. Homeowners are growing this favorite across the Unites States because of its tolerance to a wide range of soils and deer resistant bark.

green giant arborvitaeThe green giant arborvitae  is large and vigorous. This is an exceptional landscape tree for use as a screen, hedge or single specimen. Once established, it is resistant to wind and can withstand heavy ice or snow, making it a good choice for a natural windbreak. Arborvitae provides nesting sites and cover for birds and small animals. The flower buds, seeds and foliage are a food source, although this cultivar has greater resistance to deer browsing than most arborvitae.

tuliptreeTuliptree features aromatic stems, bright green leaves, and cup-shaped flowers, which bloom in May and June. It grows well in a variety of soils and reaches heights between 70’ and 90’. Tuliptree seeds, maturing in summer and persisting into winter, provide food for both birds and mammals, including finches, cardinals, quail, mice, rabbits, and squirrels.

river birchRiver birch as its name suggests, naturally grows alongside river banks but can be grown almost anywhere in the United States. Features include being the most borer-resistant birch, works well for holding stream banks, and control erosion.

When planted properly, these trees will grow strong, healthy, and tall. Get helpful tips and information on tree care, and to find out which trees grow best in each hardiness zone.

You can find all of these trees and more in our Tree Nursery. Get a discount on all of your trees when you become an Arbor Day Foundation member.

Did your favorite fast growing tree make the list? If not, share your favorite tree in the comments!

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