Gardening in cooler parts of the country can be a challenge, especially for evergreens. Winter cold will easily burn the foliage, or even kill your plants, so it makes a lot of sense to use native plants that have evolved to survive those conditions. In the north-east, the evergreen of choice is the eastern arborvitae, which is also called white-cedar and American arborvitae. This tough plant is often seen growing wild in wet areas, among deciduous trees and along the edges of forests and wetlands. “Now,” we think, “If only that plain green foliage could be more colorful” – well it can be. With the Yellow Ribbon Arborvitae, you get all the toughness and adaptability of this plant, combined with great golden foliage coloring that really brightens your garden all year round.
The Yellow Ribbon Arborvitae is an upright evergreen bush that will grow to about 10 feet tall, but stay only 3 feet wide, taking up little space in a small garden. Instead of plain-green foliage, this plant begins the new growing season with light yellow new shoots flushed with orange – a bright beginning to the season. All through spring, summer and into fall, the color holds well, like a broad ribbon of yellow edging the branches. It will gradually deepen, but the golden color holds into winter, sometimes turning a little bronze during the coldest times. Then when spring comes the brilliant yellow on the new growth begins all over again. As the plant matures the inner growth becomes greener, and the contrast between the lime-green interior and the bright yellow edges is very striking. Older trees can be 15 feet tall, and up to 6 feet wide, making wonderful specimens.
Growing Yellow Ribbon Arborvitae
The Yellow Ribbon Arborvitae is incredibly cold-resistant. It grows even in zone 2, where winter minimums fall to minus 50 degrees. Yet it grows all the way into zone 7, in much milder conditions, making this a very versatile plant, but especially useful in the coldest parts of the country.
You can use the Yellow Ribbon Arborvitae in so many ways to brighten your garden, and once they are planted and established, you can sit back and relax – this is a low-maintenance plant for the busy gardener. In a smaller garden, plant a single specimen in a bed as an exciting accent plant that won’t get too large. Use it as part of the foundation planting around your home – it is perfect for a narrow space between windows, or to fill a corner. In larger spaces, plant in groups of three or five plants – a striking group for year-round interest. You can even plant a hedge or screen, as it trims just as well as ordinary eastern arborvitae, but instead of dull green you get bright golden yellow – a superb effect.
No matter what way you choose to grow it, choose a sunny spot for your Yellow Ribbon Arborvitae plants, for the maximum golden coloring. It will also grow well in partial shade, but after the spring golden flush of new growth, the foliage will usually turn almost green by mid-summer – still attractive, but less dramatic. It will grow in ordinary garden soil, as well as in wetter spots where most other plants, especially evergreens, won’t grow. This makes it the perfect choice for a low-lying damp area, or if your garden is naturally damp. It will grow in most types of soil, from acidic to alkaline, and in clay and heavier soils too. Avoid hot, dry, sandy spots, unless you have a fixed irrigation system. This plant has no important pests or diseases, and it thrives with no particular attention at all. Water well when planting, and weekly during the first growing season, especially during dry spells in summer. After that, watering is only needed during longer dry periods.
History and Origins of the Yellow Ribbon Arborvitae
The Yellow Ribbon Arborvitae is a special form of the eastern arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis. This tree grows throughout eastern Canada and the north-eastern states of America, from New York, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine, down the Appalachians all the way to West Virginia. It also grows in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Ohio, and Illinois. Wild trees are usually up to 50 feet tall, but exceptional trees can exceed 100 feet in height. The name ‘arborvitae’ means ‘tree of life’. Early settlers were helped to survive the rigors of winter and poor diet when native Americans showed them how to make a tea from the leaves of this tree. It is rich in vitamin C and prevents scurvy. This tree is widely used in colder parts of the country for hedges, and there are many different garden forms.
The form called ‘Yellow Ribbon’ was found in the early 1980s, in Holland. H.J. van de Laar was a noted researcher and expert on garden plants, based in Boskoop, the center of commercial horticulture in Holland. He spotted a branch with yellow foliage growing on a regular plant of the eastern arborvitae, and he rooted it. After testing it for stability, the plant was released to gardeners by F.A. Ruizdal & Son Nursery, in the Dutch village of Wavereen.
Our trees are produced by rooting stem pieces from healthy trees traceable back to that original branch, because this beautiful foliage cannot be reproduced by seed. The demand for colorful evergreens for cold climates always exceeds the available stock, so order now, as our supply of the Yellow Ribbon Arborvitae is limited.