How to Plant Arborvitea


Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) is a tree native to northeastern North America. This conifer likes moist soil and grows to reach 40 to 50 feet tall. Arborvitae forms a natural pyramid shape with dense branches. Juvenile forms of this tree resemble shrubs with flattened, needlelike foliage. Propagation takes place mainly through branch cuttings, which quickly take root. Arborvitae trees are used as landscaping trees, shrubs, hedges, windbreaks, cover for wildlife and container trees. This evergreen tree survives in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3 to 7.

Step 1

Remove grass, weeds, brush and debris from the planting area in a 5-foot-diameter circle. Choose a site with lots of sunshine. Arborvitae trees will tolerate light shade but will grow spindly if placed in too much shade.

Step 2

Loosen the soil to twice the depth of the root ball, and twice as wide, with a shovel. The arborvitae roots benefit from resting on loose soil. Mix 2 to 4 inches of compost into the soil of the planting area. Add 2 to 3 inches of sand to the soil if the site needs better drainage.

Step 3

Dig a hole as deep as the arborvitae root ball and a few inches wider. Try to keep the soil as loose as possible. Compressing the soil along the sides of the hole will slow root growth.

Step 4

Remove the arborvitae from its container. If the roots are wrapped, cut the wrapping with a sharp knife. If the arborvitae is in a container, tip the tree on its side and gently pull it out. Loosen the roots and spread them out in the hole.

Step 5

Fill the hole halfway full with soil and check to see that the arborvitae is standing straight. Fill the hole with water, which will take care of the roots' watering needs. Finish backfilling the hole with soil and gently firm it in around the roots.

Tips and Warnings

  • The needles on the inside of the arborvitae branches turn brown and drop in the fall. This is a normal annual event and not a sign that the tree is dying.

Things You'll Need

  • Arborvitae tree
  • Shovel
  • Compost
  • Sand
  • Sharp knife
  • Water


  • Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet: Arborvitae for the Home Landscape
  • North Dakota State University: American Arborvitae
  • Oregon State University Extension: Plant Conifer Trees Right
  • Spring Grove: Western Arborvitae
Keywords: Thuja occidentalis planting, planting arborvitae, planting conifer 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.