Arborvitaes are workhorses in the landscape
Some plants just aren't given their due. They are not demanding prima donnas, but rather workhorses growing without ultimatums. Arborvitaes fall (or grow) in this group.
Some serve as hedges; others provide privacy. Some stand out as large specimens in the landscape; others as accents in the perennial border. They are just as willing to create a wind block as they are playing their part in a foundation scheme.
Arborvitaes are easy to grow. Plant them in a spot in full sun to light shade protected from winter winds. Although they prefer average, well-drained soil, they can tolerate our clay soils if amended with compost. Water them regularly during their first season in the garden.
They cannot, however, endure drought. Spread mulch a few inches deep over the root zone to help keep the soil moist and be prepared to water during dry times.
Arborvitaes do not require pruning but can be shaped into hedges or to control their size. Early spring before new growth begins is the best time to prune.
In fall, the foliage toward the center of the plant may turn brown and drop. This is part of the natural aging process similar to leaves falling from deciduous trees and is rarely a cause for concern.
Thuja occidentalis, commonly called American arborvitae, is native to eastern North America. Tall, pyramidal trees grow 40 feet tall or more, but there are many cultivars sized for our landscapes. Emerald Green (also sold as Smaragd) is often chosen for suburban landscapes. It grows up to 15 feet tall and 5 feet wide. It retains its emerald green color throughout the winter.
I prefer Techny. It is similar in size to Emerald Green, but grows faster and displays a looser, more natural appearance. Technito is a small chip off the Techny block. It tops out at 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Use Technito in large urns flanking a grand entrance or as an accent in a shrub border.
American arborvitaes are also available in rounded forms. Woodwardii grows 5 to 8 feet tall and wide. Golden Globe is also globe-shaped but smaller -- 4 by 4 -- and, as its name implies, offers golden yellow foliage. Hertz Midget is even smaller with dark green foliage.
Thuja plicata, commonly called western red cedar, is native to the Pacific Northwest, extremely long lived and fast growing -- up to 200 feet tall in its natural habitat. They are more shade tolerant than American arborvitaes.
Green Giant grows as much as 3 to 4 feet per year until it tops out around 40 feet tall. It can quickly screen unwanted views or form a windbreak.
Whipcord is a unique variety. Cord-like branches emerge from the center of the shrub and arch out like sprays of water from a fountain. It grows slowly to a mature size of 4 to 5 tall and wide. Whipcord is also found grafted on a standard. It resembles a tree right out of the imagination of Dr. Seuss.
• Diana Stoll is a horticulturist and the garden center manager at The Planter's Palette, 28W571 Roosevelt Road, Winfield. She blogs at gardenwithdiana.com.