Arborvitae ‘Emerald Green’ – Proper Plant Use

Plantings · Written by Roger


Emerald Green (a.k.a. ‘Smaragd) is a narrow, compact, pyramidal arborvitae with bright green foliage that grows in tight vertical sprays. It can get to be 15′ high and 4′ wide.

Like most arborvitae Emerald Green prefers full sun.  And although it will tolerate some dryness once established, moist soil is its friend.  I have found the plant becomes susceptible to spider mites when stressed from drought for too long.

The other susceptibility Emerald shares with many other arborvitae is “deer browsing”.  There are other varieties like ‘Green Giant’ to choose from if deer are an issue.  Always check with nurseries and the agricultural extension service in your area on “deer resistant” plants.  This is not a universal science and varies from region to region.

Like many (but not all) arborvitae it can have multiple stems. These stems can splay out under the heavy load of snow and ice. Whenever I plant an arborvitae with multiple stems, I tie a loose loop with ArborTie around the main stems about 3/4 of the way up.

I’ve probably mentioned it before and rest assured I’ll mention it again, “Use the right plant in the right place”. And although there are several considerations when selecting a plant, make your first consideration space requirement. For this you need to know 2 things:

  1. What is the available space a plant has to grow? (Don’t forget neighboring plants grow too!) and
  2. What is the potential mature growth of the plant you’re considering?

In the picture below you can see the limited space between the property line and driveway. Arborvitae ‘Emerald Green’ makes a good choice here because it naturally stays within this space and yet grows tall without any trimming. That’s right, put away your gas or electric powered shears and let this beautiful plant develop on its own. Just look at the tufts of foliage with varying hues of green and the multiple spires on top.

This happens to be a favorite of mine, in part because it’s so useful as a taller plant in tight spaces.  Have you used other plants besides Emerald Green in situations like this?

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    14 Responses to “Arborvitae ‘Emerald Green’ – Proper Plant Use”

    1. Lori Says:

      I planted 74 emerald green arborvitae last August and have notice quite a few have multiple stems from one trunk close to ground which are the same diameter as the trunk (I’m thinking these may be what are called codominant?). Others have multiple stems coming from the roots, some of which look a little weaker than the main trunk. I would like to know if I can remove the weaker looking codominants and stems right at the base from each of these, and more importantly the best time to do it? I would like for them to have the one trunk to give them the best chance when they’re bigger if it snowed, I live in Wales UK and although we don’t have loads of snow we do occasionally have some. Or would it be better to reduce some (not all) of those codominant stems by 50% over a couple of years. I was thinking this spring may be a little early for that although I would like to do this as soon as possible whilst they’re still babies and can repair themselves. I was planning on giving them some slow release osmocote 14-14-14 in March and mulching the area ready to prune them in spring 2017 by then they should be happy in their new home and their roots strong enough for that type of pruning. Any help would be appreciated.

    2. Roger Says:

      Typically Arborvitae ‘Emerald Green’ is a multi-stem plant. But I think it’s smart to take advantage of their young age and do the selective pruning you’re considering.

      I like your plan to wait until spring of 2017, and let the plants establish a bit. At that time I would go ahead and select the strongest vertical stems and prune out the remainder. If you think that’s too drastic for a one-time pruning, then divide the pruning into two seasons like you mentioned.

      Although it’s rare (at least in my experience) to see a “single-stem” Emerald Green, if you see a circumstance where you feel a single stem plant is best, I’d go ahead. Since they’re so young I’m sure they’ll adapt and be fine.

      If you end up with two or three main stems, just plan on using something like the Arbor Tie I mention in the article to mitigate the chance of snow damage.

      The osmocote and mulch is a great idea. Be careful, of course, not to mound mulch up against the trunk bases. But I bet you knew that already. :-)

      It’s so great you’re taking the time to research and do these things for your Arbs. Ultimately you’ll be rewarded with strong, healthy, well-structured plants.

    3. Steve Says:

      Hi there. I currently have emerald greens all around my property and in one section they surround a brick patio on the side of my house. There’s about 10 feet of grass between the arborvitaes and the sidewalk to basically goes to waste. I want to remove the current arborvitaes around the patio and plant new ones that are closer to the sidewalk. That way I can reclaim that “lost” yard space and have a larger general area within the yard. Emerald greens are my preferred option since they don’t get too wide meaning that they wont encroach into my yard (which is small to begin with) and shouldn’t encroach onto the sidewalk. There is a large oak tree along the sidewalk right now so the emerald greens would have to go right up to it/around it but they should still get a good amount of sun. However, the area is in shade for some of the day either due to the tree or my house. Someone suggested green giants since they may tolerate the shade better than the emerald greens.

      However, I am worried that green giants will eventually be way too big for this area (both in height and width). There is also a row of arborvitae between the patio and driveway that’s about 5 feet wide and again, I’m worried that the green giants would be too big.

      Please let me know what you thoughts are and I can email you with pictures if that’s easier.

      Thank you so much!

    4. Roger Says:

      I did get your pictures — and that’s helpful.

      The Emerald Greens still remain a good choice for “narrow and tall,” which is important on your property. Be aware that they are multi-stem plants, so it’s smart to be proactive and mitigate the chance of them splaying apart as they get older. We use Arbor-tie to make a loop-tie about 1/4 down from the top. We make the loop internally, just grabbing the main stems. If done right you won’t even see it. Don’t make the loop tight — it’s only to support the stems. As the arbs mature you’ll want to monitor the arbor-ties. You’ll probably need to adjust and/or move them up as the trees grow.

      The large tree looks like it’s been pruned aggressively. Is it an oak or maple? My question is: Can that tree be removed? There appears to be another tree nearby along the street. Removing the tree would eliminate the root competition, allow more light, and ensure the new arbs have an optimum condition to grow.

    5. Steve Says:

      Thanks, Roger. The tree can be removed but I don’t want to go through that process as it will be expensive and a frustrating process with the village to get the permits. I prefer to keep the tree in place.

    6. Steve Says:

      Also, the picture which shows the tree pruned aggressively is a few years old. If you look at the picture taken from the sidewalk you’ll be able to see (somewhat) that there’s been more growth lower down on the tree. That may have to be pruned back a bit.

    7. Roger Says:

      I know exactly what you’re talking about with regard to “town approval” for removing the tree. I go through these approval processes all the time with various aspects of our work. And it’s getting more and more difficult with each passing year.

      For the arborvitae you might consider installing a drip irrigation system or a soaker hose, especially for those near the tree. Also, I’d fertilize them at least once a year to help offset the tree’s competition.

    8. Steve Says:

      Thanks, Roger. Would you agree that green giants may be too big for the space? I’m looking for instant privacy and I think that would be easier with dense green emeralds planted close together. Even if green giants are planted close together there would be a big gap towards to top due to their shape.

    9. Roger Says:

      You are correct.
      Emeralds are the better choice — both for present and long-term.

    10. Patrick McNulty Says:

      Hi Roger,
      I have a row of arborvitae in my backyard that are about 6 years old and about 7-8 feet tall. Most of them have about 5-8 leaders. There is one that only has one single, strong leader and it has a nice shape and fullness to it that the others don’t have. Wondering if I can cut down the bushes so they each only have three leaders (as you recommend) at this point in their life. I realize that they will look rather thin and unshapely if I do so but will they fill out over the course of the year? When would be the best time to do this? Or would you recommend that I just arbor tie all of the leaders together and not worry about it? When you arbor tie them do you tie them loosely so there is space between them? And do you leave the tie on year round? Thanks much,

    11. Roger Says:

      That’s quite a few leaders your ‘Emerald Green’ arborvitae have. And it would be helpful to reduce the number.

      You’re right, they will look sparse right after pruning. And it will likely take a couple of growing seasons for them to recover.

      You’ll want to use the arbor tie even if there are only 2 leaders. It’s just a good insurance policy against them separating in bad weather (snow, ice, heavy winds).

      Place the tie about 1/3 down from the top. Tie the loop so that it includes the main leaders. I weave it through the smaller branches so it just grabs the main leaders and cannot be seen from the exterior. You don’t want to draw the stems in towards each other, but just tie the loop so that it preserves the current position of the leaders. Make the tie with enough arbor tie left over so that you can adjust the loop (i.e. make bigger) as the plant grows. I would check the arbor ties every 2 years or so for adjustment. I use Google Calendar for setting dates like this in advance. Any digital calendar will do. :-)

    12. Patrick McNulty Says:

      Thanks so much for getting back to me Roger. Your response is greatly appreciated. I am still amazed every time I get a helpful, generous response like yours on the internet. It is awesome how useful the internet can be (despite other drawbacks to the interweb). Thanks again!

    13. Danette Says:

      Hi Roger,

      I was thinking about planting Emerald Green Arborvitae along my back fence (43 feet long) because my neighbor’s backyard is even with the top of my 5 foot vinyl fence. I have an in ground pool that is 5 feet from the vinyl fence and wanted a dense, fast growing privacy screen. Would Emerald Greens be a good choice, and how close to my fence could I safely plant them?

      Thank you,

    14. Roger Says:

      ‘Emerald Green’ would be a good choice for the narrow space like you describe. I don’t know if I’d classify them as fast growers — but planted properly, fertilized annually and irrigated during dry spells, they’ll develop nicely as a dense screen.

      If the planting space is 5′ wide, I’d “center” the arbs (i.e. at 2.5′). Depending on how solid the vinyl fence is, it’s very likely the arbs will ultimately lose their foliage on the backside facing the fence. This is not necessarily harmful to the plant, and you won’t really see it as the plant should grow full and dense on the poolside. And, of course, the foliage above the fence should be full front and back.

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