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How To Grow and Care for American Arborvitae?

American arborvitae

Have you ever wondered how some people can effortlessly maintain a beautiful garden while others struggle to keep their plants alive?

The secret might be their choice of trees, such as American Arborvitae.

Despite their lush appearance, these trees are relatively low-maintenance and can thrive in various conditions.

This article will explore the benefits of growing American Arborvitae, how to care for them, and potential problems to watch out for.

What Is American Arborvitae?

American Arborvitae, or Thuja occidentalis, is a famous evergreen tree native to North America.

It is part of the cypress family and is known for its pyramid-shaped form, dense foliage, and exceptional resistance to harsh weather conditions.

The tree can grow up to 40 feet tall and 10 feet wide, making it an ideal option for hedges or privacy screens.

Commonly known as Eastern Arborvitae or White Cedar, this tree is known as the “tree of life” due to its medicinal properties.

The tree’s bark, leaves, and twigs have traditionally been used to treat ailments such as rheumatism, fever, and scurvy.

American Arborvitae is a popular choice for creating a natural barrier in landscaping.

The tree’s dense foliage also provides an excellent habitat for birds and small animals, making it a popular choice for wildlife gardens.

How Long Does It Take To Grow?

On average, American Arborvitae can grow up to 12 inches (30 cm) per year. The tree can take 10 to 20 years to reach its full size. The tree grows 30-40 feet tall (9-12 m) and 10-15 feet (3-4.5 m) wide at full maturity. However, the tree can start to provide some screening and privacy benefits within just a few years of planting.

How To Grow American Arborvitae?

Thuja occidentalis
Source: Wikimedia

American Arborvitae is typically planted as a young tree or sapling.

You can purchase the tree from a nursery or garden center, and it will usually come in a container or with a root ball.

Prepare the planting tools and materials:

  • A shovel
  • A garden hose or watering can
  • A slow-release fertilizer
  • Organic mulch, such as wood chips or shredded leaves

Select Location

Arborvitae trees prefer a location with full sun to partial shade and well-drained soil.

It can also tolerate various soil types, from sandy to loamy and acidic to alkaline.

However, it’s best to avoid planting in areas with poor drainage, as standing water can lead to root rot.

Planting Instruction

Dig a hole twice as wide and as deep as the root ball of your Arborvitae.

Gently loosen the roots before planting and ensure that the top of the root ball is level with the surrounding soil.

Backfill the hole with soil and water thoroughly to settle the soil around the roots.

Water the New Arborvitae

Watering needs for American Arborvitae vary depending on the climate and soil conditions.

During the first year, add water regularly to establish a robust root system.

After that, your plant can tolerate drought but will benefit from occasional deep watering during dry spells.

Fertilizing the New Arborvitae

Add fertilizer to American Arborvitae once a year in the early spring to promote healthy growth. Use a slow-release fertilizer that is specifically formulated for evergreens. Avoid over-fertilizing, as this leads to your tree growing too fast but with weakened branches.

Mulching the New Arborvitae

Organic mulch like wood chips or shredded leaves will help you retain moisture and suppress weeds.

Add the mulch around the base of the tree. But avoiding piling it much too high against the trunk.

Mulching will build up excessive moisture allowing pests to breed and diseases to spread.

Caring for American Arborvitae

Thuja occidentalis
Source: Wikimedia

To keep your American Arborvitae looking its best, you must have a few essential care techniques at your fingertips.

Pruning Techniques

Pruning can help shape the tree and keep it from becoming too dense or top-heavy. Prune the tree in late winter or early spring before new growth appears.

Use sharp, clean pruning shears and cut just above a healthy bud or branch.

Aim to create an even, conical shape that is wider at the base and narrower at the top.

Make sure to remove any branches that are crossing or rubbing against each other, as these can lead to wounds and disease.

How Far Apart to Plant?

When planting American Arborvitae, space them about 4-6 feet (120-180 cm) apart for a hedge or privacy screen.

If you’re planting a single tree, give it enough space to grow to its full size – typically around 10-15 feet (3-4.5 m) in width and 30-40 feet (9-12 m) in height.

Winter Care

American Arborvitae is a hardy tree that can withstand cold temperatures and snow.

However, in areas with harsh winters, you should protect the tree from heavy snow buildup by gently brushing off any accumulated snow.

Avoid using a shovel or other tool, which can damage the branches.

Possible Problems

American Arborvitae is very sturdy and unique in their growths. But, like all plants, it can be susceptible to various pests and diseases.

You need to be vigilant and identify any problems early on to prevent them from spreading and causing long-term damage to the tree.


Pests commonly affecting American Arborvitae include bagworms, spider mites, and aphids.

Bagworms are caterpillar-like insects that spin protective bags around themselves and feed on the tree’s foliage, while spider mites and aphids suck the sap from the leaves, causing them to be yellow and drop prematurely.


Diseases affecting American Arborvitae include needle blight, canker, and root rot.

Needle blight causes the tree’s needles to turn brown and fall off, while canker appears as sunken, dead areas on the branches.

Root rot, as mentioned earlier, can be caused by overwatering or poor drainage and can cause the tree to wilt and die.

Take action quickly if you suspect your American Arborvitae has a pest or disease problem:

  • Start by identifying the problem using online resources or consulting a local nursery or extension service.
  • Treatment options may include pruning affected branches, applying insecticides or fungicides, or improving soil drainage.


Growing and caring for American Arborvitae can be a damn good adventure.

With little sweat and elbow grease, you can watch these trees thrive and bring life to your landscape.

From the first time you plant it in the ground to the day they reach its full potential, you’ll be on a journey filled with excitement, setbacks, and victories.

But with the proper care and attention, your American Arborvitae will become a beautiful and lasting addition to your home, symboling your hard work and dedication to nature.

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