How To Plant Arborvitae Trees [ Full Guide ]

Arborvitae trees are popular choices for landscaping due to their evergreen nature, low maintenance requirements, and versatility in different soil conditions. Whether you’re looking to add privacy to your yard, create a windbreak, or simply enhance the aesthetic appeal of your landscape, planting arborvitae trees can be a rewarding and relatively simple endeavor. In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through the step-by-step process of planting arborvitae trees, including choosing the right location, understanding the different types of arborvitae trees available, preparing the soil, digging the proper hole size and depth, and essential care tips for ensuring the healthy growth of your arborvitae trees.

Quick Answer: How To Plant Arborvitae Trees

Before delving into the detailed steps, here’s a quick overview of the key points involved in planting arborvitae trees:

  1. Choose the Right Location: Select a location that receives ample sunlight and provides adequate space for the mature size of the arborvitae trees. Consider the soil drainage and the intended purpose of planting the trees.

  2. Select the Arborvitae Variety: Determine the specific type of arborvitae trees that best suits your landscaping needs, considering factors such as height, width, and growth rate.

  3. Soil Preparation: Test the soil pH and amend it if necessary to create optimal growing conditions for the arborvitae trees.

  4. Dig the Planting Hole: Ensure the planting hole is at least twice the width of the root ball and slightly shallower than the root ball’s depth.

  5. Planting the Arborvitae Tree: Gently remove the tree from its container, place it in the center of the hole, backfill with soil, and water thoroughly.

  6. Post-Planting Care: Mulch around the base of the tree, water regularly especially during the first year, and monitor for any signs of stress or disease.

Now, let’s explore each of these steps in detail to ensure you have all the information needed to successfully plant and care for your arborvitae trees.

Choosing The Right Location For Your Arborvitae Trees

The first and crucial step in planting arborvitae trees is choosing the right location. The site you select for planting will significantly impact the health and growth of your arborvitae trees.

Considerations For Location

When selecting the location for your arborvitae trees, consider the following factors:

  1. Sunlight: Arborvitae trees thrive in full sun to partial shade. Ensure the selected location receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day for optimal growth.

  2. Spacing: Consider the mature size of the arborvitae trees and provide adequate spacing between each tree to accommodate their width and prevent overcrowding as they grow.

  3. Soil Drainage: Arborvitae trees prefer well-drained soil. Avoid planting in areas prone to standing water or poor drainage, as waterlogged soil can lead to root rot and other health issues.

  4. Purpose: Determine the intended purpose of planting the arborvitae trees. Whether it’s for creating a privacy screen, windbreak, or simply for ornamental landscaping, the purpose will influence the spacing and layout of the trees.

Site Preparation

Once you’ve identified a suitable location, it’s essential to prepare the site before planting. Clear any debris, rocks, or weeds from the planting area. Test the soil pH to ensure it falls within the preferred range for arborvitae trees, which is typically between 6.0 and 7.0. You can purchase a soil testing kit from a garden center or have a professional soil test conducted to determine if any soil amendments are necessary.

Understanding The Different Types Of Arborvitae Trees Available

Arborvitae trees come in a variety of cultivars, each with its own unique characteristics in terms of size, shape, and color. Understanding the different types of arborvitae trees available will help you make an informed decision when selecting the right variety for your landscaping needs.

Common Varieties Of Arborvitae Trees

  1. Emerald Green Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’): This popular cultivar is known for its dense, compact growth habit, vibrant green foliage, and columnar shape, making it an excellent choice for creating a narrow privacy screen or hedge.

  2. Green Giant Arborvitae (Thuja plicata ‘Green Giant’): With its rapid growth rate and tall, pyramidal form, the Green Giant variety is ideal for creating a fast-growing privacy screen or windbreak, providing an attractive backdrop to the landscape.

  3. American Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis): This native North American species is available in several cultivars, ranging from compact to tall varieties, offering versatility in landscaping applications, from specimen plantings to privacy barriers.

  4. Techny Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Techny’): Characterized by its narrow, conical shape and dark green foliage, the Techny arborvitae is well-suited for use as a formal accent plant or a dense privacy screen.

  5. Globe Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Globosa’): Unlike the upright varieties, the Globe arborvitae features a rounded, compact form, making it an excellent choice for adding a distinctive shape to the landscape or for low hedges.

Factors To Consider When Choosing A Variety

When selecting the right type of arborvitae for your landscaping project, consider the following factors:

  • Mature Size: Pay attention to the potential height and width of the mature tree, ensuring it fits within the available space and serves the intended purpose, whether for privacy, screening, or ornamental use.

  • Growth Rate: Some arborvitae varieties have faster growth rates than others. Consider the desired timeframe for achieving your landscaping goals, whether you need quick privacy screening or a long-term, slow-growing accent plant.

  • Foliage Color and Texture: Different cultivars exhibit variations in foliage color, texture, and density. Choose a variety that aligns with your aesthetic preferences and complements the overall design of your landscape.

Preparing The Soil For Planting

Once you’ve selected the location and the arborvitae variety, it’s time to prepare the soil for planting. Proper soil preparation is vital for establishing a healthy and thriving environment for your new arborvitae trees.

Soil Testing And Amendment

As mentioned earlier, testing the soil pH is an essential step to ensure the optimal growing conditions for your arborvitae trees. Based on the results of the soil test, you may need to amend the soil to achieve the ideal pH level and improve its texture and fertility. Common soil amendments for arborvitae trees may include:

  • pH Adjustment: If the soil pH is too acidic or alkaline, you can adjust it by incorporating lime to raise the pH or sulfur to lower it. Follow the recommended application rates based on the soil test results.

  • Organic Matter: Incorporating organic matter such as compost, well-rotted manure, or peat moss can improve soil structure, moisture retention, and nutrient availability, promoting healthy root development.

  • Fertilization: Depending on the soil nutrient levels indicated by the soil test, you may need to apply a balanced, slow-release fertilizer to provide essential nutrients for the initial growth of the arborvitae trees.

Soil Drainage And Compaction

In addition to addressing the soil’s pH and fertility, it’s essential to ensure proper soil drainage and compaction. Poorly drained or compacted soil can hinder root growth and lead to waterlogged conditions, potentially causing root rot and other issues.

  • Drainage Improvement: If the site has poor drainage, consider implementing measures to improve drainage, such as incorporating organic matter, creating a raised planting bed, or installing drainage tiles or pipes if necessary.

  • Soil Compaction: Compacted soil can restrict root penetration and water infiltration. If the soil is compacted, loosen it using a garden fork or a tiller to improve aeration and promote healthy root development.

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Digging The Proper Hole Size And Depth

The next critical step in planting arborvitae trees is digging the proper hole size and depth to provide an optimal environment for the tree’s root system.

Hole Size And Spacing

When determining the hole size and spacing for planting arborvitae trees, follow these guidelines:

  • Hole Size: The diameter of the planting hole should be at least twice as wide as the root ball of the arborvitae tree. This wide planting hole encourages the roots to grow outward into the surrounding soil and establishes a strong root system.

  • Hole Depth: The depth of the planting hole should be slightly shallower than the depth of the root ball to prevent the tree from being planted too deep, which can lead to waterlogging and root suffocation.

  • Spacing: If planting multiple arborvitae trees, space them according to their mature width, ensuring adequate room for growth and air circulation. The specific spacing distance varies depending on the selected arborvitae variety.

Planting Procedure

Once the planting hole has been prepared, the next steps for planting the arborvitae tree are as follows:

  1. Lifting the Tree: Gently remove the arborvitae tree from its container, taking care not to damage the root ball. If the tree is root-bound, carefully untangle the roots to encourage proper outward growth.

  2. Placing the Tree: Set the tree in the center of the planting hole, ensuring that it is positioned at the same level as it was in the container. Verify that the top of the root ball is slightly above the surrounding soil level.

  3. Backfilling: Fill the hole halfway with the native soil, gently tamping it down to remove air pockets. Then, water the tree to settle the soil and continue filling the hole, avoiding air pockets as you backfill.

  4. Mulching: Apply a layer of mulch around the base of the tree, extending out to the edge of the planting hole. Mulch helps retain soil moisture, regulate soil temperature, and inhibit weed growth.

  5. Watering: Water the newly planted arborvitae tree thoroughly to ensure the soil is adequately moist, and continue to water regularly, especially during the first growing season.

Planting arborvitae trees is an excellent way to enhance the beauty and functionality of your landscape. By carefully selecting the right location, understanding the different varieties available, preparing the soil, and following proper planting procedures, you can ensure the successful establishment and healthy growth of your arborvitae trees. Remember to provide ongoing care, including regular watering, mulching, and monitoring for any signs of stress or disease, to maintain the long-term vitality of your arborvitae trees. With proper planning and attention to detail, your arborvitae trees can thrive and become a beloved feature of your outdoor environment for years to come.

Proper Spacing For Planting Multiple Arborvitae Trees

Before moving on to the planting process, it is crucial to understand the specific needs and characteristics of arborvitae trees. Arborvitae trees belong to the cypress family and have a pyramidal or columnar shape, depending on the variety. They are evergreen, meaning they retain their foliage throughout the year, providing privacy and protection from the wind.

When choosing arborvitae trees for planting, there are several factors to consider. First, select a suitable variety that fits your needs. Some popular cultivars include Emerald Green, Green Giant, Techny, and American Arborvitae. Next, ensure you have the appropriate location with adequate sunlight, well-drained soil, and enough space for the trees to grow to maturity. Lastly, keep in mind that arborvitae trees require regular maintenance, such as pruning and fertilizing, to stay healthy and vibrant.

Now, let’s delve into the step-by-step process of planting arborvitae trees.

When planting multiple arborvitae trees, it is important to ensure proper spacing to allow optimal growth and prevent overcrowding as the trees mature. The spacing requirements may vary depending on the specific cultivar and its expected size at maturity. Here are some general guidelines for spacing arborvitae trees:

  1. Small cultivars, such as Emerald Green, should be spaced about 3 to 4 feet apart.
  2. Medium to large-sized cultivars, like Green Giant and Techny, require spacing of 6 to 8 feet apart.
  3. For the larger American Arborvitae variety, allow a spacing of 10 to 12 feet between trees.

By following these spacing recommendations, you provide sufficient room for each tree to develop a healthy root system and receive adequate sunlight and nutrients.

Transplanting Mature Arborvitae Trees

In some cases, you may need to transplant mature arborvitae trees to a different location within your garden or landscape. Transplanting can be stressful for trees, but with careful planning and proper execution, the process can be successful. Here are the steps to transplanting mature arborvitae trees:

  1. Choose the right time: The best time to transplant arborvitae trees is during the dormant season, typically in late fall or early spring. This allows the tree to recover from the shock of transplantation before the active growing season begins.

  2. Prepare the new planting hole: Dig a hole in the new location that is slightly larger and deeper than the tree’s root ball. This will provide ample space for the roots to expand.

  3. Carefully remove the tree: Start by watering the tree thoroughly a few days before transplantation to ensure the soil is adequately moist. Gently dig around the tree’s root ball, taking care not to damage the roots. Lift the tree, along with the root ball, using a tarp or burlap sack to prevent excessive root disturbance.

  4. Replant the tree: Lower the tree into the new planting hole, ensuring that it sits at the same depth as it was before. Backfill the hole with a mixture of native soil and organic matter, gently firming it around the roots to eliminate any air pockets.

  5. Water and mulch: After transplanting, water the tree thoroughly to settle the soil and encourage root establishment. Apply a layer of organic mulch around the base of the tree, leaving a gap around the trunk to prevent moisture buildup and potential diseases.

Remember to monitor the transplanted tree closely and provide extra care during the first year to ensure its successful establishment.

Tips For Successful Planting And Establishment

To ensure the successful planting and establishment of arborvitae trees, it is important to follow these additional tips:

  1. Site selection: Choose a location that provides full to partial sunlight and well-drained soil. Arborvitae trees thrive in moist soil conditions but can tolerate a range of soil types.

  2. Soil preparation: Before planting, prepare the soil by removing any weeds, rocks, or debris. Loosen the soil to a depth of at least 12 inches to promote root penetration and drainage.

  3. Proper planting technique: When planting young arborvitae trees, dig a hole that is twice as wide as the root ball but just as deep. Place the tree in the hole, ensuring it sits at the same level it was in the nursery. Backfill the hole with native soil, gently tamping it down to eliminate air pockets.

  4. Staking: While mature arborvitae trees usually don’t require staking, younger trees may benefit from additional support during their early years. Use soft, flexible stakes and loosely tie the tree to prevent movement but allow for some natural sway.

  5. Regular watering: Proper watering is crucial for the establishment of arborvitae trees. Water the newly planted trees thoroughly after planting and continue to provide deep, regular watering during dry periods. Avoid overwatering, as it can lead to root rot and other issues.

  6. Fertilization: Arborvitae trees generally have low to moderate fertilizer requirements. It is recommended to perform a soil test to determine the specific nutritional needs of your trees. Apply a balanced slow-release fertilizer according to the test results and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

  7. Pruning: Prune arborvitae trees selectively to maintain their desired shape and remove any dead, damaged, or diseased branches. Avoid pruning excessively, as it can lead to bare spots and affect the tree’s overall health.

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Watering Techniques For Newly Planted Arborvitae Trees

Watering is crucial for the successful establishment of newly planted arborvitae trees. Follow these techniques to ensure optimal watering:

  1. Initial watering: Immediately after planting, thoroughly water the tree to settle the soil and eliminate air pockets around the roots. Provide enough water to saturate the entire root zone.

  2. Deep watering: For the first year after planting, water the arborvitae trees deeply and slowly. This encourages the development of deep roots, which are more resilient and better able to withstand drought conditions. Deep watering means applying water slowly, allowing it to penetrate the soil to a depth of at least 6 to 8 inches.

  3. Frequency of watering: The frequency of watering will depend on the specific soil conditions and weather patterns in your area. Generally, young arborvitae trees require watering once or twice a week during the growing season. In hot, dry climates, more frequent watering may be necessary.

  4. Mulching: Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as wood chips or bark, around the base of the tree. Mulch helps retain soil moisture, suppresses weed growth, and insulates the roots from extreme temperatures. Leave a small gap around the base of the tree to prevent moisture buildup.

  5. Monitoring soil moisture: Regularly check the soil moisture level by sticking your finger or a moisture meter into the soil. If the top few inches of soil feel dry, it’s time to water. Avoid watering on a strict schedule and instead rely on the condition of the soil to determine when to water.

Mulching To Promote Growth And Health

Mulching is an essential practice for promoting the growth and health of arborvitae trees. Here’s why mulching is important and how to do it correctly:

  1. Benefits of mulching: Mulch offers numerous benefits to arborvitae trees, including conserving soil moisture, reducing weed competition, moderating soil temperature, and preventing erosion. Additionally, organic mulch slowly breaks down over time, enriching the soil with organic matter and nutrients.

  2. Selecting the right mulch: Choose organic mulch, such as wood chips, bark, or compost, for planting arborvitae trees. Avoid using plastic or inorganic mulch, as they can suffocate the roots and retain excess moisture.

  3. Applying mulch: Apply a layer of mulch around the base of the tree, extending it to the drip line (the area under the outermost branches). The mulch layer should be about 2 to 4 inches deep, but ensure it does not touch the tree’s trunk. Leave a small gap around the trunk to prevent moisture buildup, which can lead to rot and disease.

  4. Mulch maintenance: Regularly inspect the mulch and replenish if it becomes thin or decomposes. Aim to maintain a consistent mulch depth to reap its benefits continuously.

Planting arborvitae trees requires careful planning and execution to ensure their successful establishment and long-term health. Proper spacing, transplanting techniques for mature trees, and following tips for successful planting are critical for their growth. Paying attention to watering techniques and mulching practices will further support the trees’ health. By following these guidelines, you can enjoy the beauty and benefits of arborvitae trees in your garden for years to come.

Fertilizing For Optimal Growth

Before diving into the planting process, it is important to consider the specific needs and preferences of arborvitae trees. These evergreen conifers prefer full sun exposure and well-drained soil. While they can tolerate some shade, it is recommended to plant them in a location with at least six hours of direct sunlight each day.

Arborvitae trees vary in size, with some species growing as tall as 60 feet. Therefore, it is crucial to choose a suitable planting location to accommodate the tree’s size once fully matured. It is also important to ensure that the trees are spaced adequately apart from other plants or structures, as their dense foliage can hinder air circulation if crowded.

After selecting the ideal planting location, it is time to prepare the soil and provide the necessary nutrients for optimal growth. Before planting, conduct a soil test to determine its pH level and nutrient content. Arborvitae trees thrive in slightly acidic to neutral soil, with a pH range between 6 and 7.

If the soil pH is too high or too low, you may need to amend it to create a more suitable environment for the trees. Adding sulfur or lime can help adjust the pH accordingly. Additionally, incorporating organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure can improve the soil’s fertility and drainage.

When it comes to fertilizing arborvitae trees, it is essential to follow a feeding schedule to ensure healthy growth. Apply a slow-release, balanced fertilizer in early spring and late fall. Choose a fertilizer with a formulation of 10-10-10 or 14-14-14 to provide a balanced supply of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K).

To apply the fertilizer, start by removing any mulch or grass around the tree’s base. Spread the fertilizer evenly around the drip line of the tree, which is the area directly beneath the outermost part of the branches. Be cautious not to place the fertilizer directly against the trunk, as it may cause burn.

Water the area thoroughly after applying the fertilizer to help it absorb into the soil. Remember to follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding the appropriate amount of fertilizer to use, as excessive application can lead to nutrient imbalance and potential damage to the tree.

Pruning And Shaping Your Arborvitae Trees

Pruning arborvitae trees is an important part of their ongoing care, as it helps maintain their shape, promotes airflow, and removes dead or diseased branches. The best time to prune arborvitae trees is during their dormant period in late winter or early spring before new growth begins.

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When pruning, start by examining the tree’s overall shape and identifying any branches that appear damaged, diseased, or crossing each other. Using clean and sharp pruning shears, make clean cuts just above the branch collar, which is the swollen area where the branch connects to the trunk.

If you wish to shape your arborvitae trees, prune them gently by making selective cuts to encourage a more desirable form. However, be cautious not to remove more than 10 to 15% of the tree’s foliage at once, as excessive pruning can stress the tree and affect its overall health.

It is also important to note that arborvitae trees do not regenerate foliage from old wood. Therefore, avoid cutting back into the inner brown sections of the tree, as it may not sprout new foliage. Focus on removing only the outermost branches to maintain the tree’s natural look.

Dealing With Common Pests And Diseases

Arborvitae trees are generally resistant to most pests and diseases. However, they can still be susceptible to certain issues that, if left unaddressed, can impact their health and aesthetics. Here are some common pests and diseases that arborvitae trees may encounter, as well as ways to manage them:

1. Bagworms

Bagworms are caterpillars that spin protective bags made of silk and tree foliage as they feed on the tree’s foliage. They can cause significant defoliation if left unchecked. To manage bagworm infestations, hand-pick the bags from the tree branches and apply insecticidal soap or Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) as a natural control method.

2. Spider Mites

Spider mites are tiny arachnids that feed on the tree’s foliage, causing the needles to turn yellow or bronze. To deter spider mites, regularly spray the tree with water to increase humidity, as they thrive in dry conditions. Additionally, you can introduce predatory mites or apply insecticidal soap to control their population.

3. Canker Diseases

Canker diseases, such as cytospora canker, can cause sunken areas or dead patches on the tree’s bark. Prune and remove infected branches, making clean cuts below the cankered area. Disinfect pruning tools between cuts to prevent further spread of the disease.

4. Root Rot

Root rot is caused by fungi in poorly drained soil and can lead to root decay and tree decline. To prevent root rot, ensure the tree is planted in well-drained soil and avoid overwatering. If root rot is present, increase the tree’s drainage and apply a fungicide specifically formulated to combat root rot.

It is crucial to monitor the health of your arborvitae trees regularly and take prompt action at the first sign of any issues to prevent further damage.

Long-term Care And Maintenance For Healthy, Vibrant Arborvitae Trees

To ensure the long-term health and vitality of your arborvitae trees, ongoing care and maintenance are essential. Here are some key practices to implement:

1. Watering

Proper watering is crucial, especially during the tree’s establishment phase. Water your arborvitae trees deeply but infrequently, making sure the soil is consistently moist but not waterlogged. Once established, arborvitae trees are relatively drought-tolerant but still benefit from regular irrigation during dry periods.

2. Mulching

Applying a layer of organic mulch around the base of the tree helps retain moisture, regulate soil temperature, suppress weed growth, and provide nutrients as the mulch breaks down. Spread a 2-3 inch layer of mulch, such as wood chips or bark, keeping it a few inches away from the trunk to prevent moisture buildup.

3. Winter Protection

Arborvitae trees are susceptible to winter damage, particularly in regions with harsh winters. To protect them from the drying effects of cold winds and snow, wrap the tree in burlap or use anti-desiccant sprays. Additionally, avoid using de-icing salts near the tree, as they can cause damage to the foliage and roots.

4. Winter Watering

In regions where winter precipitation is inadequate, it is important to provide supplemental watering during dry spells. Watering in winter helps prevent the roots from drying out and ensures the tree remains hydrated until spring.

5. Monitoring And Inspection

Regularly inspect your arborvitae trees for signs of pests, diseases, or other issues. Look for changes in foliage color, abnormal growth patterns, or any signs of stress. Addressing issues early on can prevent them from escalating and potentially causing irreversible damage.


Planting and caring for arborvitae trees require careful consideration and proper maintenance. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can ensure that your arborvitae trees thrive and provide beauty and privacy to your landscape. Remember to plant them in an appropriate location, fertilize regularly, prune when necessary, and address pests and diseases promptly. By providing the necessary long-term care, your arborvitae trees will reward you with years of healthy and vibrant growth.


What Is The Best Time Of Year To Plant Arborvitae Trees?

The best time to plant arborvitae trees is in the late summer or early fall, as this allows them to establish their root systems before winter arrives. Planting in the spring is also possible, but it may require more watering and care during the hot summer months.

Where Is The Best Location To Plant Arborvitae Trees?

Arborvitae trees thrive in full to partial sunlight and well-draining soil. It is important to choose a location that receives at least 4-6 hours of sunlight per day and has soil that is not overly wet or dry. Avoid areas with strong winds as this can cause damage to the trees.

How Far Apart Should Arborvitae Trees Be Planted?

The spacing between arborvitae trees depends on the variety and the desired final size. Generally, smaller varieties should be spaced 3-4 feet apart, while larger varieties may need 6-8 feet of space. It is best to research the specific variety you wish to plant for optimal spacing guidelines.

How Deep Should Arborvitae Trees Be Planted?

Arborvitae trees should be planted at the same depth as they were in the nursery pot or container. This usually means the top of the root ball should be level with the surrounding soil. It is important not to plant the tree too deeply, as this can cause root rot and other issues.

How Often Should Arborvitae Trees Be Watered?

Newly planted arborvitae trees should be watered deeply once a week for the first year. After that, they may only need watering during prolonged dry spells. It is important to keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Mulching around the base of the tree can help retain moisture in the soil.