How to Plant Arborvitae


Arborvitae is also known as Eastern cedar. This evergreen is grown as a shrub or full-sized tree. The trees have a natural pyramid shape and reach 40 to 50 feet in height. This erect tree produces spreading branches yellow, blue and green needles. The shedding, scaly bark is brownish-red. Arborvitae is used in landscapes, foundations, hedges, screens, accent pieces, windbreaks and cover for wildlife. Arborvitae grows well in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 2 to 8.

Step 1

Remove the weeds and unwanted plants in a site with moist, well-draining soil and full sun. Arborvitae tolerates light shade, but a site with too much shade will produce a leggy and weak tree, according to the Ohio State University Extension.

Step 2

Loosen the soil with a shovel as deep as the root ball and 5 feet wide. Remove large rocks and break up large dirt clumps.

Step 3

Dig a hole as deep as the root ball is high and at least 1 foot wider. Rough the side up with the edge of the shovel. This is to prevent soil compaction, which stops the roots from expanding and stunts tree growth.

Step 4

Remove the arborvitae from its container. Cut off all tags and strings with a sharp knife. Loosen the roots without damaging them and spread them out.

Step 5

Place the arborvitae in the hole so the top of the root ball is level with the ground. Adjust the height of the tree by removing or adding soil to the hole.

Step 6

Backfill the hole with soil halfway and firm the soil down. Fill the rest of the way with soil and tamp down again. Create a ring around the base of the arborvitae with soil that is 2 inches deep. Fill this reservoir with water. This settles the soil and reduces transplant shock.

Tips and Warnings

  • Do not prune your arborvitae heavily. This evergreen does not recover from severe trimming. Once a bare stem is exposed, it does not grow its needles again.

Things You'll Need

  • Shovel
  • Sharp knife
  • Water


  • Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet: Arborvitae for the Home Landscape
  • North Dakota State University: American Arborvitae (PDF)
  • Ohio State University Extension: Thuja Occidentalis
  • University of Wisconsin-Extension: Evergreens Planting and Care PDF
Keywords: arborvitae, Eastern cedar, planting evergreen trees

About this Author

Karen Carter has spent the last three years working as a technology specialist in the public school system. This position included hardware/software installation, customer support, and writing training manuals. She also spent four years as a newspaper editor/reporter at the Willapa Harbor Herald.