How to Plant and Grow Arborvitae

Native to North America, these rugged evergreen trees, hardy in Zones 2-7, are often found growing in places where little else might. Some varieties take on a bronze cast in the fall and winter, so be selective when picking an arborvitae variety to plant in your yard. These trees stand up well to trimming and can be made into whimsical topiary plants to create living garden art.

Arborvitae Overview

Genus Name Thuja
Common Name Arborvitae
Plant Type Shrub, Tree
Light Part Sun, Sun
Height 20 to 20 feet
Width 10 to 15 feet
Foliage Color Blue/Green
Season Features Winter Interest
Special Features Low Maintenance
Zones 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
Propagation Stem Cuttings
Problem Solvers Good For Privacy

Where to Plant Arborvitae

Planting these trees in dry soil or areas exposed to winter winds will likely cause burn. Site your arborvitae out of direct sunlight and wind.

Arborvitae trees create dense evergreen foliage that can make excellent "living walls" when privacy is needed in the garden.

How and When to Plant Arborvitae

Wrapping young and sensitive plants in burlap can help prevent winter burn. There should be 3 to 4 feet between planted trees when using arborvitae as a privacy fence or to block out unwanted views. Plant when soil is soft enough to work after spring starts or before the first freeze in late fall. 

Arborvitae Care Tips

Arborvitae are easy shrubs to care for and add green to the outdoors year round.


Arborvitae loves full sun, but they can also manage in part shade.

Soil and Water

Arborvitaes grow best in consistently moist, almost swampy soils. Their biggest downfall is drought conditions, especially during and leading up to winter. If fall has been dry, give these plants (especially young ones) supplemental water.

Temperature and Humidity

Arborvitae trees do best in sunny, humid climates. Anything cooler and your tree may have stunted growth. Where summers are hot, light afternoon shade will be beneficial to your tree.


Fertilize once a year with a nitrogen rich product.


Heavy snow can break branches, so brush them off after a storm—broken limbs should be pruned, and the plants may need to be staked upright until they recover.

Prune arborvitae in the spring for thick foliage. Only trim where leaves grow, not back to the base of the plant. If there are dead branches, they should be removed.

Potting and Repotting Arborvitae

Arborivitae does well in pots, but only outdoors. Use a 20 gallon pot to start so it won't need transplanting, which can be hard on the tree. Use a soil-based potting mix. Keep the soil damp but not soggy.

Pests and Problems

Winter burn may happen in frigid weather, and the first sign of it is the browning of the leaves. This can cause significant damage in severe situations and even kill the trees. Luckily, there are burn-resistant varieties.

A few pests may bother your arborvitae. Spider mites can appear, especially during hot and dry summer days. Unfortunately, by the time you find these pests, it'll be too late, as you'll most likely notice browning that can't be reversed on the foliage where they're feeding. Use insecticidal soap or horticultural oil, but be careful during summer heat since these sprays can also cause the plants to burn.

Bagworms can also attack arborvitae. In midsummer, you may see little brownish "bags" that look like small pine cones hanging from your tree. These are the cocoons of bagworms.

How to Propagate Arborvitae

Propagate arborvitae from cuttings rooted in late summer. Mist the cutting and soil lightly every few days and wait for roots to form.

Types of Arborvitae

Eastern Red Cedar

Arborvitae in a row
Bob Stefko

Thuja occidentalis is an especially tough type of arborvitae, native to areas of North America. It grows 60 feet tall and 15 feet wide at maturity. Zones 2-7

Mr. Bowling Ball

Thuja occidentalis Teddy, dwarf eastern arborvitae
Dean Schoeppner

Thuja occidentalis 'Bobozam' is a unique form of arborvitae that maintains a very tight, ball-shape form, usually reaching two to three feet tall and wide. Zones 3-7

'Smaragd' Arborvitae

arborvitae thuga occidentalis smaragd
Jason Wilde

Thuja occidentalis 'Smaragd' is a dwarf variety that forms bright green cones. It grows three feet tall and wide. Zones 2-7

Woodward Globe Arborvitae

Thuja occidentalis Danica
Denny Schrock

Thuja occidentalis 'Woodwardii' forms a dark green sphere that grows eight feet tall and 15 feet wide. Zones 2-7

'Hetz Midget' Arborvitae

Shrubs in Containers
Laurie Black

Thuja occidentalis 'Hetz Midget' forms compact globes that turn bronze in colder weather. It grows 32 inches tall and wide. Zones 2-7

'Little Gem' Arborvitae

'Little Gem' Arborvitae
Peter Krumhardt

Thuja occidentalis 'Little Gem' is a dwarf variety that forms a compact, dark green sphere three feet tall and six feet wide. Zones 2-7

'Rheingold' Arborvitae

Blue spruce with golden arborvitae
Paul Vandevelder

Thuja occidentalis 'Rheingold' bears golden foliage that is sometimes pink-tinted when young, on a conical shrub growing three to six feet tall. Zones 2-7

'Sunkist' Oriental Arborvitae

'Sunkist' Oriental Arborvitae
Peter Krumhardt

Thuja orientalis 'Sunkist' is a dwarf globe-shape variety with gold-tipped leaves. It grows three feet tall and wide. Zones 6-9

'Pyramidalis' Arborvitae

'Pyramidalis' Arborvitae near purple fence
Jay Wilde

Thuja occidentalis 'Pyramidalis' is a fast-growing, conical evergreen often used for hedges and windbreaks. At maturity, it grows 60 feet tall and 15 feet wide. Zones 2-7

'Techny' Arborvitae

Thuja Occidentalis Garden
Peter Krumhardt

Thuja occidentalis 'Techny' slowly grows into a dense evergreen pyramid; an excellent choice for for a hedge. It grows 15 feet tall and eight feet wide. Zones 2-7

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why is arborvitae called 'tree of life'?

    When early French settlers reached North America, they learned from Native Americans that these plants could be used to treat scurvy, a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency, from which many sailors suffered. Young foliage is high in this nutrient, which led to the plant being named arborvitae, which translates to "tree of life." It's not recommended to be used for this condition now.

  • How big does arborvitae get?

    The American arborvitae can get as tall as 40–60 feet and spread 10–15 feet when fully matured.

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