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Written by davethetreecenters • October 18 Arborvitae Privacy Trees – Pick the Right Tree

Privacy trees are almost always at the top of list for gardeners moving into a new home, or when new buildings go up around you. We all want to feel our house and garden is our own, and nothing does that better than a green screen. All year round. Yet it doesn’t take much driving around to see some pretty big ‘privacy disasters’. The most common is going for that ‘fast-growing tree’ without thinking any further – I know, speed in everything in our society today, faster connections, faster results – and so it’s natural to want that in the garden too. But ‘fast growing’ usually also means ‘big growing’, and before you know it that great bush that made a decent screen in three years is now a towering monster that has engulfed half your garden, throws a giant shadow most of the year, and has your neighbors enraged.

Pick the Right Tree

So what’s the answer? That’s simple – Pick the right tree. Among the trees called Arborvitae there is a privacy tree for every purpose, but it’s important to pick the right one. The one that is the right size for your garden, and the right size and shape for what you need. Let’s take a look. . .

Arborvitae trees are evergreen trees that come from right here in America. Some people call them cedar, but they aren’t a real cedar tree. There are only two wild trees, one from the east and one from the west. Since many of us live in the east, let’s start there:

What are the Advantages of Arborvitae as a Privacy Tree?

Also called white cedar, or eastern arborvitae, and by botanists Thuja occidentalis, you can find arborvitae growing all across the east, around the Great Lakes and the St Lawrence river all the way to the Atlantic. It has some great advantages as a privacy tree choice:

Arborvitae Varieties for Privacy

The top choice for a basic privacy and hedge tree has got to be the amazing Emerald Green Arborvitae. (It was discovered in Denmark, and it’s proper name is ‘Smaragd’, but that’s a story for another day). It’s dense, upright form, good growth, and especially the way it stays green all through winter, makes it THE hedge and screening tree for privacy in all colder zones. For a screen or hedge, plant those trees 4 feet apart for an untrimmed barrier, or 2 to 3 feet apart for a narrow trimmed hedge – 2 feet for a hedge 5 feet or less, 3 feet for a taller one. It’s a mistake to plant them too close, as it makes it hard to keep the lower section bushy and thick.

If you want to use arborvitae for striking vertical specimens, or want a screen over 12 feet tall, then the tree for you is ‘DeGroot’s Spire’ Arborvitae.

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Rising 15 to 25 feet tall in time, but only 4 or 5 feet tall even at full height, this elegant column of green is instantly recognizable by the twisted fans of foliage arranged vertically. It actually looks best untrimmed, but you can trim occasionally to keep it even more dense than it’s natural habit. It grows 6 to 12 inches a year, so just like Emerald Green this isn’t a tree that will eat your yard.

The Western Arborvitae

Although it looks very similar, the second of our native arborvitae is very different. Western Arborvitae, Thuja plicata, is also called western redcedar (yes, it’s where the lumber comes from) and it grows only near the coast in the Pacific northwest. Today it can be found around the world as a lumber tree, and in gardens. For most gardens it’s way too big, but garden forms are more manageable.

Advantages of Western Arborvitae as a Privacy Tree

When it comes to privacy, and you have the room for ‘big’ and ‘fast-growing’, this tree is your top choice.

Western Arborvitae Varieties for Privacy

The top choice here has got to be Green Giant, whether you call it Thuja or Arborvitae (opinion is about 50-50 on that). Actually a hybrid, which is where it’s incredible vigor comes from, this really is the very best fast-growing privacy tree around. It can reach 40 feet in height, and be 12 feet or more across, so never plant it in a small garden, or in a confined area. You might be willing to clip it three times a year to keep it at 6 feet, but someone in the future might not be, so don’t leave a nasty legacy.

Green Giant Arborvitae Trees Home & Garden

For a little less height, and not quite so fast growing, consider Spring Grove® Western Arborvitae, properly called ‘Grovepli’. It is a little smaller, reaching no more than 20 to 30 feet, but still spreading to about 12 feet wide. It isn’t quite so fast-growing either, so for hedges you won’t need to trim so often.