Tom and I have zero regrets about buying a lake cottage in 2020. It’s where our family does summer.
But, we have two campsites right next to us so we never know who the neighbor is going to be as it changes weekly.
It could be a couple who are RV’ing. It could also be a youth group leader who invites his 40+ kiddos out for a loud and late bonfire. You just never know the situation until it happens.
Privacy is serious! In the above photo, you can see that dreaded fire pit looming feet away from our property line. Yikes!
Nothing is less relaxing than trying to take a siesta with 20-30 people yacking and snacking feet away from your hammock. I’ll pass on the impromptu family reunion too.
While the saying “good fences make good neighbors” holds true the association to which we belong doesn’t allow “real” fences on properties. Wood, metal, or vinyl fences are banned.
No matter how cute, if we put up a vinyl or wooden fence we’d be asked to remove it according to the “rules.” But if we put up a plant “fence” no one will question us. Plants, trees, and shrubs are never offensive.
Tom and I thought long and hard and realized a row of arborvitaes might solve all our problems!
Here’s how to plant arborvitaes to create the “green” privacy fence of your dreams!
Planting a row of arborvitae bushes provides a security hedge and a beautiful “green” screen. Easy-to-grow evergreen arborvitae bushes and trees come in a wide variety of sizes and colors.
Arborvitaes are one of five species of coniferous trees from the genus, or family, thuja.
While we grow diminutive thuja in pots on our front porch, we wanted tall and lean for our fence.
These arborvitaes are destined to grow over 5 feet tall and will serve that purpose. Arborvitaes needle-like leaves grow in the same plane, revealing a flat texture along the edge of the tree in a single direction giving them that ornamental look.
What about quality? I’m always preaching quality on this blog because I do believe this: you get what you pay for in life.
Pay a little more and get a lot more. Buy a plastic Adirondack chair for $25 and it’s curbside within a year. Invest in HDPE lumber and get an Adirondack chair for life!
The same philosophy applies to plants. Paying more for a higher quality plant might mean your tree isn’t dead in a year.
Tom disagrees. Hence, these arborvitaes were purchased from a big box store that shall not be named. Okay, fine, we got them at Home Depot for $30 each and that is an excellent price. It can’t be denied!
We purchased four to start with in order to keep the project under $125. My prediction is that one out of four will be dead within the year. We will see! I’ll keep you posted!
Why do you need trees and shrubs?
Trees and shrubs set the stage for any garden because they are the most permanent living elements of the landscape. They establish the “bones” of outdoor design.
Arborvitaes are living garden fixtures and are vital for providing mass, texture, and shade, and for functioning as sound barriers, windbreaks, and natural privacy screens.
When you purchase from a nursery, shrubs are trees are in one of three basic forms:
3.) soil-bound roots wrapped in burlap
There’s no right or wrong here and you buy what plant is best for you.
Each type has individual planting requirements. As a rule of “green” thumb, all need a generous hole at roughly 2 1/2 to 3 times wider than the root spread and 1 and 1/2 times as deep as the container or root ball.
A tree is a woody perennial that stands on its own, has a single trunk, and grows to a height of at least 12 feet at maturity.
Shrubs are also woody perennials, generally smaller than trees, with several trunks or stems. Many shrubs can be trained to grow as single-trunk plants so that they look like trees.
Some shrubs if slightly tender for their climate, will die back to the ground in winter. But they will emerge the following spring totally fine.
Loosening that root ball when planting arborvitaes!
The plants we purchased were root bound. In other words, they had been sitting in the Home Depot Nursery too long.
Loosen the root ball by carefully untangling the root strings gently with your hands. This makes it easier for the tree/shrub’s roots to find the new soil and acclimate to the new environment.
Be mindful of needing an extra hand or two to lift that root ball if it’s heavy. Plants should never be held by branches or trunks.
When planting, spread the roots inside the hole, and cut away any broken bits or roots near the base of the trunk that might strangle the plant.
It is also vital to remove all container material, including that dang pressed-fiber pot meant to rot away in the soil after planting.
Those pots take forever to break down and end up suffocating the roots before the container has time to decay.
With balled and burlapped plants, the twine should be cut and the burlap peeled about 1/3 back around the plant.
You can guard against planting balled and burlapped plants too deeply by establishing the true juncture of the trunk and roots beneath the burlap and situating plants accordingly.
When you have the plant positioned upright, fill the hole with the remaining soil, tamping it to the root-trunk juncture at ground level.
Water immediately and thoroughly, and add mulch.
Adding amendments and planting tips for arborvitaes
Tom carefully researched amendments that are needed when planting arborvitaes. I suspect this is because he’s hesitant to see me proven right when one of these trees dies.
The soil from the hole should be amended by adding one part peat moss to two parts loam; this will help aerate it and retain moisture.
Tom and I also added a bag of aged manure mixed with compost. Last, we threw in a bag of compost.
To plant, shovel the amended soil back into the hole until it is 1/3 full and tamp the dirt down firmly to prevent the tree or shrub from settling too low. This can kill it!
Then place the plant in the hole. Adjust the bottom soil layer until the original soil mark on the trunk aligns with the ground.
Heavy clay or silt soils may “give” more than sandy soils, so plant slightly high with these types when planting arborvitaes.
Once the shrub or tree is settled in the ground, it is best not to prune the top third of the plant as is commonly advised.
Most evergreens actually recover better from transplanting if they are not fertilized immediately. Fertilizing too early can burn the young plant’s root systems that are shallow and not yet developed.
Focus instead on nutrient-rich soil when planting instead of applying fertilizer. It’s never a bad idea to buy a few bags of garden soil to use in conjunction with the soil you already have.
Placing your arborvitae in the perfect place
Shrubs grow more rapidly than trees do, and, if planted too closely together, may require pruning, which will interfere with their natural shape and beauty.
Moreover, trees and shrubs do require careful siting when planting arborvitaes.
Shrubs and trees should be placed away from utility and irrigation lines, and those that drop fruit or seep sap should be kept far away from a seating area or your vehicles.
My parents have several sapping evergreens right over where they park their cars. Not good! The cars are always getting sap gunk on them which trust me, is nearly impossible to get off.
Furthermore, though we are creating a privacy fence and don’t want tons of space between the trees to act as a blockade, we also do want to allow plenty of room for mature height and breadth.
Roots, which may spread beyond three times the distance of the drip line of the outermost branches, tend to form most densely in the top two feet of garden soil.
Adjacent plants will be competing for water, sunlight, and nutrients. You don’t want newly planted arborvitaes fighting like siblings for basic necessities!
Down the road, the roots will extend beyond an area that is practical to maintain, so the plants should already be naturally suited to the soil’s acid level, density, and drainage capacity.
Let’s talk about water and arborvitaes…..
Although arborvitaes enjoy moist soil, they do require adequate drainage and will suffer if over-watered.
Symptoms of excessive water around arborvitae roots are similar to those of drought stress and include foliage discoloration or dieback.
Mornings are a great time to water arborvitae, but if the soil is dry a few inches down, water right away, no matter the time of day.
When arborvitae are first planted they need to be watered daily and the soil kept moist. Think “low and slow” by turning the garden hose on low and watering the root ball very slowly.
A few drops per second for 2-4 hours (depending on how quickly the soil drains) per day for the first 10 days will work well.
As the root system draws into the ground, (that 10-day mark) water every other day.
Three weeks after planting, drop it down to watering every 3-4 days. The topsoil should be dry when you return for your next watering.
By 6 weeks post-planting, you should be watering the arborvitae “low and slow” about once a week.
Prepare for winter by watering regularly all the way through fall.
When a freeze is in the forecast, water thoroughly beforehand, to give the roots the best protection from freezing damage.
Other ways to add vertical interest besides planting arborvitaes…
Other ways to add vertical interest to a garden (ahem…..privacy) aside from planting arborvitaes are to add fences, trellises, and obelisks.
How could a trellis with a beautiful climbing rose offend anyone? But it does block….right?!?
Trellises and obelisks in particular can also be used to create height, dimension, and layers.
I love quick-growing annuals like morning glories, along with perennials including those fabulous climbing roses, clematis, and jasmine to soften the structures and form “living” screens.
Big bonus for the scent of jasmine and rose.
Use vines such as Virginia creeper and clematis that produce seedheads or berries to extend color into the winter.