Planting an Arborvitae Successfully

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Planting an Arborvitae header, row of privacy hedge trees by TwoPlusCute

Arborvitae (tree of life – such a cool name) are hardy and pretty forgiving trees, making them a friendly choice for novice gardeners like us. To test our hands on, we planted one last Spring and a year later, it is still alive (applause please!) and getting bigger. It is a success!

It was truly easy to plant it once we stopped worrying about perfection and in this post, I will tell you how exactly we went about it and the nasty surprise we came to find while planting our tree.

Planting an Arborvitae for privacy hedge, landscaping, gardening, evergreen, tree. Post by TwoPlusCute

We are trying to continue our Arborvitae privacy fence that protects the northern side of the house and continue it round the eastern side. Calling a landscape company is not in the cards for now and as usual in such situations, DIY was the way to go.

The plus side besides the obvious money saving, is the – also obvious – exercise we got by digging around, pulling old and random vegetation. Which accounted for my very sore back the next day (and not a single pound lost – boo) for a much less impressive result than this landscaping effort. (Now that I typed this, it doesn’t sound much like a “plus” anymore…)

Anyway, our tree was a small 2.5 gallon one, that we bought for under 12 US dollars from a home improvement store. It was a bargain, considering how expensive these plants can be. Digging the small hole for its root system would have been a piece of cake, had it not been for the existing plants that we had to remove – they gave a hell of a fight, I tell you! – and a nasty network of roots that were so strong, I had to cut them away with shears.

Now, the aforementioned root network, is an important part of the story. They looked like this (and if you have a garden, now it’s the time to pay attention):

Planting an Arborvitae tree and finding nasty poison ivy, post by TwoPlusCute

See all the roots that look like dried vines and long twigs? That’s poison ivy, ladies and gentlemen! And it’s crazy strong. Those vines were not coming out willingly.

Since we had no idea that it was poison ivy, we simply kept hacking at it, preparing the area to receive our small tree, contaminating our tools and clothes in the process. This misadventure however, deserves a post of its own and it will get one, with everything we learned and with never seen before photos to help you recognize the itchy ivy.


Planting an Arborvitae Successfully 

(in 5 steps)

1. Back to our Arborvitae, the internet informed me that one plants such trees ideally in fall or – as second choice – early in spring. It was spring and I couldn’t wait (just like I couldn’t wait to paint these before I hang them) to plant the tree.

Planting an Arborvitae for privacy, cleaning the area, by TwoPlusCute


2. First we cleared the area from old plants, grass and rocks. Then we dug a hole as deep as the pot and twice as wide – as per online instructions. In reality, we simply eyed the area and went like “well, this appears to be twice the width, must be good enough”.

3. Before planting, we watered the hole well. Perhaps too well.
(You need to saturate the soil thoroughly and wait for the water to be absorbed, before you plant the tree and water again.)

Planting an Arborvitae with success by TwoPlusCute


4. After waiting for a day for our hole to stop being a…pool (so much for drainage), we added a hefty amount of peat moss (threw it in the hole with careless abandon) and placed the plant inside, taking care to do two things: loosen the roots beforehand and place it a little higher than ground level.

The reason(s) we did that, is because of our non-existing drainage, we wanted the water to run slightly away from the trunk and not accumulate right at the tree base and rot it. Plus, as the tree gets bigger and heavier, it will sink in the ground. By placing it a little higher in the beginning, we countered the future problem of a sunk (and rotted) tree.

Arborvitae for privacy hedge by TwoPlusCute


5. Finally, we filled the hole with more dirt, watered well and covered with newspaper and mulch (it is hard to tell from the photos but the mulch is not touching the bark). The orange tape you see in the previous photo is marking the edge of our lot, in order to avoid trespassing our neighbor’s lot.

We gave the imaginary border a wide berth, roughly calculating the diameter of a grown Arborvitae:

Planting an Arborvitae successfully by TwoPlusCute

Landscaping wise, it looks tiny next to the much older and bigger trees but it was a compromise made for budget. On retrospect, I would have cleaned the area way better, had I knew those dried looking twigs/roots were not dead but the dormant – and dreadful – ivy.

The arborvitae is a very forgiving tree. We watered occasionally for the first week and then let nature take care of it. The last summer was pretty dry and yet the little guy survived just fine as you see:

Arborvitae one year after planting by TwoPlusCute


If you want to make sure it will survive and not rely on good luck and nature’s humidity – like we did – you should be watering well for its first summer. Follow the watering instructions that come with the plant you buy, as there are several different types of Arborvitae.

And if you are looking for a tight privacy fence made of Arborvitae, plant every 3 feet (about 90 cm) apart. Even at 5 feet away, the gaps will eventually close but it will take a longer time.

ps. the little rock at the base of our mini-Arborvitae is…decorative landscaping. Because we do gardening in style over here. =)

Are you ready to do some planting or you find it too much of a hassle?

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11 thoughts on “Planting an Arborvitae Successfully

  • Pingback: Planning a Garden in Colder Climates (AKA Gardening in the Great White North)

  • April 9, 2016 at 3:44 pm

    Poison ivy?! Oh my! I’d like a natural privacy barrier (trees) for our backyard as well. We need quite a few since all there is now is a wood fence. I will keep this tree in mind. But knowing us (we are totally not into gardening-ha!), we’ll hire this out – at least the preparation part. 🙂

    • April 12, 2016 at 10:57 am

      Trust me, if we could, we’d hire it out too, lol. 🙂
      Arborvitae make for a great low maintenance, natural fence if you decide to go that route.

  • April 6, 2016 at 9:07 am

    Great post! I think planting trees is a major hassle, yes, but it’s so worth it. I think all your advice is spot on. We’ve made the mistake before of planting trees too deep and then having to replace them when they promptly died. Live and learn. 🙂

  • April 5, 2016 at 10:51 pm

    We have our fair share of nasty plants over here but I don’t think poison ivy is one of them thankfully. I’m so pleased your lovely tree survived the dry summer – it is a constant struggle for us to get plants surviving our extreme summers.

    • April 6, 2016 at 1:06 pm

      It’s a give and take with climates. You get to have beautiful flowering plants probably all year long. Very thirsty ones but pretty.
      Or am I completely wrong here? 🙂

  • April 5, 2016 at 7:10 pm

    What a great choice for a fence tree to give you privacy. But I’m really sorry to hear about the poison ivy. You’ll definitely have to do a post on that pronto!! Who knows what else is lurking out there… this from a city girl who has lived in the country for the past 20 years… I’ll never get used to it…lol.

    • April 6, 2016 at 1:03 pm

      I can tell you what else is lurking out there: mosquitoes!
      Very vicious ones that make gardening in that corner even more challenging.

      I wish gardening was really just about tomatoes, lol. 🙂

  • April 4, 2016 at 9:48 am

    Wow! You did a great job. I love the idea of natural privacy. Your property will be your own little haven before you know it! Ugh! Poison Ivy! I hope you guys didn’t suffer too much from the rash! Being into native plants, I know it does have it’s place but, it makes
    ya wonder……

    • April 4, 2016 at 12:43 pm

      Thank you Sally. 🙂
      Poor hubby actually got touched by it and suffered for 3 weeks! Native or not, I am doing my best to get rid of that vicious plant.


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