Fabulous color changes through the seasons bring lots of fun and interest to the garden, and it is exciting watching bushes quietly but dramatically change color. We usually associate this with trees like maple that color in fall, but other plants do it too. When it happens with evergreens it can mean beautiful color through the winter months, brightening our gardens at that time, when they are often drab and dark. Morgan’s Chinese Arborvitae is one of the best there is for striking color changes. Its gorgeous chartreuse-green foliage turns purple in fall, and then becomes a remarkable orange-red in winter, before turning back to green again in spring – quite the trick!
Morgan’s Chinese Arborvitae is a slower-growing dwarf conifer that will be between 3 and 5 feet tall in ten years, depending on the location and growing conditions. By then it will be a lovely conical shape, with a spread of 2 to 4 feet across at the base. It can add 4 to 6 inches of growth each year, so in time it will become significantly taller and wider, probably reaching 20 feet eventually. Make sure that when planting it you leave enough room for it to become a wonderful specimen in your garden. Even cute little babies grow up.
The foliage of Morgan’s Chinese Arborvitae is striking. It grows as a tight cluster of flat, vertical fans, each made up of many tiny branches covered with flat, scale-like leaves. The flat character of these fans gives the plant a striking and unique look, but it is the color that really gets us going. In spring and through summer the leaves are a wonderful lime-green, with brighter chartreuse on the newer leaves, making it one of the best yellow-green evergreens you can grow. Then in fall, with the arrival of colder weather, it darkens to a rich purple. Once the mercury really falls – wow – it is fall brilliance all over again, with this great tree turning wonderful rich shades of orange-red from top to bottom.
This is a plant for a special spot in your garden, where you can watch its chameleon habits regularly. Don’t tuck it away, but plant it near a path, or visible from a window. You will love to follow its transformations. Morgan’s Chinese Arborvitae is the perfect addition to that bed of mixed dwarf conifers that is the ideal way to grow these interesting plants. Choose a sunny spot, on well-drained soil, and decorate the bed with boulders and gravel. Choose a varied collection of evergreens of different shapes, sizes and colors, and then sit back and watch them mature into beautiful specimens. You can also plant it in the foreground of a bed for a splash of winter interest, or in planters and pots to brighten a terrace or entrance.
Growing Morgan’s Chinese Arborvitae Trees
Plant Morgan’s Chinese Arborvitae in full sun for the best colors. In hotter zones, a little afternoon shade in summer will reduce the risk of sun-scorch. It is hardy in zones 6 to 8, and in a sheltered spot in warmer parts of zone 5 as well. This plant is tolerant of a wide range of soils, from very dry to very moist, although it does not grow well in stagnant, wet soil. It will grow best in a looser, well-drained soil, with added organic material and a regular supply of water, especially when newly planted. Once established it is drought tolerant, and it will grow well in sandy soil. In good growing conditions, you are very unlikely to encounter any pests or diseases, and trimming is not recommended, as it will reduce the unique appearance of this plant, with its flat, vertical plates of foliage.
History and Origins of Morgan’s Chinese Arborvitae Trees
The Chinese arborvitae, or oriental arborvitae, Platycladus orientalis, was for may years thought to be part of the arborvitae plants, called Thuja. Many nurseries still list is as Thuja orientalis, but botanists have placed it in its own genus, in recognition of the unique structure of this plant. As the name suggests, this plant grows naturally in north-western China, although it has also established itself in the wild in many other parts of Asia. The wild plant grows into a large conical bush, that in time will become more tree-like, usually with several major stems growing from the base. It will reach 25 feet and even 60 feet tall in time. It grows naturally in open, mountainous areas, and very old trees are often seen around Buddhist temples, where the wood is used for construction, and to burn as incense. The foliage does not have the characteristic smell we find in the true arborvitae.
There is some confusion about the origin of the variety called ‘Morgan’, but reliable sources indicate that it was found by Mal Morgan, a nurseryman from Sydney, Australia, in the late 1970s, among a batch of seedlings of this species that he grew. He named it after himself, and it was introduced commercially by Andrews Nursery, from Picnic Point, Sydney. Our plants are produced from stem pieces directly derived from that original plant, so they are genetically identical, and they will have all the features that make this variety so special. This unique plant is a real winner, and it will add something very special to your garden. We only have a limited stock, so order now, while plants are still available.