Excelsa Giant ArborvitaeThuja plicata ‘Excelsa’
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Thuja plicata ‘Excelsa’
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The Excelsa Arborvitae is a tall evergreen tree with a graceful pyramidal form and branches right to the ground. It can be planted as a specimen tree on a lawn, in a row as a screen, clipped or unclipped, or used to develop a fast-growing hedge to any height. Its foliage is a rich, dark green that holds its color well through winter, when most other varieties of this tree turn yellow-green. Untrimmed it develops a strong central trunk, with almost horizontal side branches with upturned tips and drooping smaller branches.
Grow the Excelsa Arborvitae in full sun, in any fairly rich soil that is not very dry or permanently wet. Although moderately drought resistant once established, a regular supply of water will give the best results, and this tree grows best in areas with good rainfall throughout the year, or irrigation. Clip from late spring to early fall, as needed, for hedges and formal specimens. Maintain a single leading stem for trees left to grow naturally as specimens. Pests and diseases are rare, and deer normally leave it alone.
The trees called arborvitae are usually seen as the ‘work-horses’ of the garden, used wherever we need an easily-clipped evergreen for hedges or formal clipped specimens. They are certainly perfect for that task, and it is no wonder that we usually see them clipped. But some are beautiful trees for ornamental specimens when left to grow naturally. Of the different species that grow in America, the western red cedar is undoubtedly the most ornamental, and it is no surprise that the native Americans of the north-west revered this tree, not just for its vital role in their practical lives, but for its spiritual presence and towering majesty.
So you can perhaps see why, when introducing you to the Excelsa Arborvitae, a selected form of western red cedar, we are torn between recommending this fast-growing tree for the excellent hedges you can build with it, and recommending it as an outstanding and graceful specimen tree for your lawn and garden – so we will do both. If you are looking for a fast-growing hedge that will be rich, deep green all year round, then this is the tree. If you want a tall, slender specimen evergreen, with horizontal branches creating a splendid and majestic outline, then this is also the tree you should plant.
The Excelsa Arborvitae is an upright evergreen tree with a narrow pyramidal habit. It grows 2 feet or more each year when young, reaching 20 feet within a decade or so, and ultimately growing 35 feet or more in height. It is relatively narrow, growing no more than 10 to 15 feet wide. It has a single central trunk, with side branches growing out almost horizontally, turning up at the tips, but with the smaller branchlets drooping in a graceful fashion. The lower branches remain alive and growing for many years, keeping the pyramidal form right to the ground, unless crowded by other plants.
The foliage consists of many very tiny leaves that cling like scales to clusters of thin branches that are spread out in a flat spray. These sprays last several years, before eventually dropping in early summer, after the first flush of new growth for the year. The leaf color is exceptionally dark – a lovely rich, deep green – that holds its color well through winter, with little or no yellowing. The foliage, when crushed, has a beautiful aroma, resembling pineapple.
Grow this lovely tree as a specimen on a lawn, alone, in a group of 3, or as a row along a boundary. It will give good screening, and the trees can be spaced out at wider intervals (10 – 12 feet) to show each tree as an individual or spaced closer (about 6 feet) for a denser look. This screen can be grown naturally or clipped once or twice a year. For a hedge, space the plants 3 or 4 feet apart, evenly, in a row.
The Excelsa Arborvitae is hardy and grows best in zones 5, 6 and 7. It will also grow well in zone 8 if it has rich, moist soil and is not exposed to extended drought conditions. For colder zones choose a variety of the eastern arborvitae, also known as white cedar, Thuja occidentalis, which is hardy even in zone 2.
Grow the Excelsa Arborvitae in full sun for the best growth and development. Too much shade will lead to the lower branches dying prematurely. The soil should be rich and deep, and this tree grows best with a steady supply of water, although a well-established tree will tolerate some summer drought in cooler zones. It will also grow in ordinary garden soils and conditions. This tree will enjoy wetter soils too, but not completely saturated, boggy ground.
When growing this tree as a specimen it is important to maintain a single central stem growing upwards, not multiple stems. To encourage this, trim back all the stems but the strongest, making a difference of at least 12 inches between the first and the other stems. In a few years one stem will take a clear lead, usually for the life of the tree, but watch for any future dividing into two leaders, and remove one. Trees with multiple leaders will be less attractive and prone to splitting.
For hedges or clipped trees, begin clipping as soon as new growth develops. Don’t wait until it reaches the final height you intend it to be. Clip in late spring, after the first flush of new growth is well developed, and don’t clip after early fall. Use an evergreen fertilizer in spring and early summer to maximize growth. Pests and diseases are rare, and deer usually leave this tree alone.
Western red cedar, Thuja plicata, is a majestic forest tree that can reach nearly 200 feet tall in time. It is long-lived, and trees over 1,000 years old are known, with the oldest being almost 1,500 years old. It grows naturally in the north-west, including British Columbia in Canada, forming large forests from Alaska to northern California. This tree plays a central part in the life and culture of the indigenous Americans of the Pacific Northwest, providing everything from fuel to shelter, clothing and medicines.
The variety called ‘Excelsa’ was found in 1904 growing in a cemetery in Berlin. The tree nursery of J. Timm and Co. Elmshorn, Germany, propagated it and released it into the nursery industry. At some point plants were brought to America.
The Excelsa Arborvitae is a wonderful large specimen tree for a large lawn, and you are going to love having this majestic tree on your property. It also makes a great hedge if that is what you need – a top choice either way. Our stock of these lovely trees is limited, and this variety is always in high demand and short supply. Order now.