Saturday, February 13, 2010

Dark American Arborvitae

(picture borrowed from the Paul Parent Garden Club)

Hello again,

Good gardening friend Paul Parent of the Paul Parent Garden Club ( sends out a great newsletter every week with pertinent gardening topics. I encourage you to go to his website ( to sign up for his newsletter. Paul can also be heard every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 10 AM at his website or at WBACH (104.7 FM) every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 9 AM.

Here is some of what Paul had to say this past week:

"The Arborvitae is one of the most popular evergreen shrubs/trees used in the landscape today. It is sometimes referred to as the "white cedar," but it is not in the cedar family. Look around your neighborhood; you might be surprised to see that many of the homes on your street have arborvitaes in their yards. These evergreen plants are used on the end of homes to soften the foundation lines. They are planted in rows to create a natural fence or barrier for privacy between homes. They are planted along the road for noise barrier from the traffic, on open property as a wind break--and occasionally one is planted all by itself in the yard.

Arborvitae are upright growing, rather stiff-looking and almost pyramidal in shape. These evergreen plants are dark green during the spring to fall; their color fades to brown-green during the winter. When exposed to winter sun and wind, the color change will be more noticeable but when spring arrives the new growth will give the plant a new look. It will grow in most soils from the sandy loam of Cape Cod to the clay of Maine. When traveling in wooded areas of New England, look for this plant; it is growing wild in stony soil or even marshy areas. It is a native tree as much as the white pine and the Canadian hemlock. The early explorers called this plant the "tree of life" because the foliage is rich with vitamin C and used to prevent and treat scurvy. Not quite the taste of a fresh Florida orange--but it did the trick.

When planting, make a big hole and backfill with lots of organic matter like compost, peat moss and animal manure. Give it a good start and it will thrive for you. For hedge planting, place plants six feet apart and keep them six feet away from the neighbor's property line or your neighbors will prune them for you. Water weekly the first year to keep to soil moist for quick root development. I suggest that you use a product called Soil Moist when planting in the hole. Soil Moist will expand in the soil and hold 200 times more water than peat moss, making it easier for you when watering. Fertilize spring and fall the first few years to encourage strong-growing plants. When established, feed in the spring--after pruning to control size if needed. Holly-Tone or Plant Growth Activator both have mycorrhizae microbes that will accelerate the plant's growth.

In the spring you will see yellow cones on the plant; when mature in the fall, the cones will turn brown. They will be in clusters on the new growth and stand out against the dark green foliage. In the summer it is not uncommon to see yellow foliage in the center of the plant. This foliage turns yellow due to lack of sunshine, because the plant is very dense. Do not worry--just think of this natural event as a cleaning of the older foliage, like the leaves falling from your maple trees in the fall. New growth in the spring will replace it and keep it dense.

When you select the plants, look for plants that have one or two main stems. If you plant arborvitaes with multiple stems in open areas and you get heavy wet snow or ice, the plant will split apart with the weight on the branches. Once they grow together, they will brace themselves together and are less susceptible to damage. The 'Dark American' will grow to 20 to 30 feet tall, but can be pruned to grow to just about any height. Look for the 'Techny,' which grows 10 to 15 feet tall, and the 'Green Giant,' at 30 to 40 feet tall and deer resistant. Deer are the number one pest problem so if you have deer, be practical and plant something else"

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
February 13, 2010

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