Five Black Friday Ideas for Your Hedge

The holiday shopping season has arrived, with Black Friday to kick it off. Lots of bargains around, and a great time to buy gifts for family members. If you have a garden, chances are you have a hedge – Thuja Green Giant perhaps, or some other evergreen. If you do, then it is almost certain that the person in your household who takes care of that hedge – trimming, feeding, watering during dry periods – would love something to make those chores go faster, and be done better. Are they battling with old trimmers, perhaps trailing an electric cord with multiple duct-tape repairs? Or still using that rickety old ladder? Shame! Start browsing the bargains to find some new, modern tools and equipment to help them do a better job more easily. If you are reading this, and you are that person, then give yourself a treat – you deserve it.

5 Black Friday Bargains for Your Hedge

  • Cordless Trimmers – no more trailing cords, or noisy gas engines, with the new generation of rechargeable batteries
  • Pruning Ladders – a three-legged ladder is a revelation for hedge trimming
  • Hand Pruners – useful for thicker branches, and a million jobs around the garden
  • A Load of Organic Mulch – perfect for conserving moisture and feeding your hedge (and the rest of your garden too)
  • Trade in your old hedge for a new one – Thuja Green Giant remains the number one top seller

Buy a Cordless Trimmer

If you are tired of trailing yards of electric cord around your yard, or trimming a hedge surrounded by gasoline fumes and noise from an engine, then there is good news for you. Advances in battery technology mean that light-weight rechargeable lithium batteries are now perfect for hedge trimmers. If you don’t believe it, look at the professionals in your area trimming and hedges, and the chances are you will see them with battery trimmers. If it’s good enough for them, what are you waiting for? Look for Black Friday bargains in the trimmer department and go for real portability without heavy equipment. Smaller trimmers have the battery build into them, but if you have a lot of hedges to trim, consider a backpack battery. It will give you all the hours you need to get the job done, and it makes the weight totally manageable. Consider too that many battery trimmers are part of systems that include blowers, edgers, and other tools, all interchangeable. You can do all your garden chores quickly and efficiently with a single battery system.

We reviewed cordless trimmers recently, so take a look for more details. Once you switch you will never look back.

Climb the Ladder of the Professionals

The great secret of hedge trimming is the existence of three-legged ladders. Even many pros don’t use them, but these amazing ladders are certainly used by the best gardeners, not just to trim their Thuja Green Giant hedge, but for trimming all there smaller trees, clipped specimens, and for picking fruit too. If you have anything bigger than the smallest garden, these ladders are a necessity. Instead of a pair of legs at the back there is just one. The front steps usually flare out at the bottom for extra stability. That single leg can easily be slipped inside a hedge, letting you climb up and be close to the face. This is especially useful for trimming the top, where it makes it so much easier, especially if you don’t have really long trimmers.

More correctly called ‘tripod ladders’ or ‘orchard ladders’, these are available from several suppliers across the country. It is also much easier to put up a tripod ladder than a regular step ladder, because they are so much easier to make stable on uneven ground, or on slopes. Save your step ladder for indoors, or on flat terraces, and use a tripod ladder around the garden. We looked in more detail at these in a recent blog. Take a look and make the change – you won’t regret it for a moment. Indeed, you will wonder how you ever got by without one.

Hand Pruners – a simple but vital tool

Every gardener needs a good pair of pruners. Tucked into a back pocket, or in a sheath on your belt, you will always be pulling them out for that broken branch you come across, or for big pruning jobs. When trimming a hedge they are helpful for any thicker branches, or to tidy broken pieces, or to catch stray bits. Since you will be using them regularly, avoid bargains, and track down something worthwhile. Always use the type called ‘by-pass’ pruners. These have a single sharp curved blade that slides by a blunt, solid blade. Other kinds with a flat-edged blade landing on a flat second blade work fine when brand new, but the slightest chip or dent and they will tear the bark, instead of making a clean cut.

The classic gardener’s brand is Felco – made in Switzerland for pruning grape vines, but now the grand cru of pruners for gardens too. Perhaps a Black Friday bargain to be found, but worth every dollar, whatever you have to pay. Blades and other parts are easily replaced, so they last for decades, even with constant use.

Mulch – the garden Miracle Food

Honestly, we don’t know if mulch suppliers have Black Friday bargains, but hey, they are probably open to negotiation. In any case, a load of bulk mulch is the perfect gift for any hedge grower, or any gardener. Call local topsoil suppliers, who will usually have a supply of rich, organic mulch – from a local mushroom farm, dairy or stables most likely. If not, they may have municipal compost, or composted bark as a last, but still worthwhile, resort.

Mulch over the roots of your hedge – keep it a few inches away from the stems, and off the foliage – will conserve moisture during summer and keep the roots cool. It will also slowly break down into the ground, adding nutrients and materials that bind together the soil particles, improving drainage and air penetration into the soil. All these things are guaranteed to improve your soil, and so improve your plants, no matter what kind of soil you grow on. Use mulch all over your garden. If you are not already a convert, you soon will be!

Replace your old hedge with Thuja Green Giant

Don’t forget that plant suppliers have Black Friday too, and you can bet there are special offers on the number-one selling hedging plant, Thuja Green Giant. Renowned for its fast growth – three feet a year or more when young – and its resistance to deer, salt-spray, and drought, you can’t go wrong anywhere from zone 5 to zone 9 with it.  Allow 3 to 5 feet apart, depending on how quickly you need it to fill in. Measure what you need, and order now while the bargains last.

Are Your Evergreens Ready for Winter? 5 Simple Steps

As the first snow begins to fall in the north, it is time to prepare your evergreens for winter, so they emerge in spring fresh and healthy, not dry and sad. It just takes a few simple steps, but the difference can be enormous.

5 Simple Steps to Help Evergreens Survive Winter

  • Water them deeply and well – the first and most important step
  • Mulch the root zone – it reduces soil freezing, and keeps the soil moist too
  • Spray with anti-desiccant – these sprays create a water-proof barrier to evaporation
  • Consider netting – it prevents breakage, reduces wind damage, and beats burlap hands-down
  • Feed with potash – it toughens the leaves against the cold

What’s the Problem?

Even the toughest evergreens – especially in their early years – benefit from some attention in late fall. Most gardeners have experienced a spring when some of their evergreens came out of winter brown and crisp. They might have re-grown, but they rarely recover completely, and if it is a hedge, the result can be devastating.

The clue to the problem lies in the name – ‘evergreen’ – because it’s the way these trees keep their leaves all winter that causes the problem. It’s not that the leaves aren’t hardy enough to survive the cold. No, the problem is water. When the soil freezes it becomes much harder for these trees to draw up the water they need to keep their leaves moist. The low humidity and cold winds of winter cause water to be lost from the leaves, even though these plants have tough, waxy coatings on those leaves. If the lost water cannot be replaced, the leaves slowly dry out, and die. They may not change color until spring, looking green as winter ends, but the damage has been done.

Water your evergreens

The first and most important solution is watering – late, just before the ground freezes. No matter how wet fall has been, beneath the foliage, and especially where trees around your home are protected by the eaves, the soil can be dry. The more water in the soil, the less likely it is that all of it will freeze. If there is some free water left, your trees can much more easily replace what they lose from their leaves. Winter burn, as that dead foliage is called, will be prevented. This is especially important when trees are young, because the roots will not have spread far, or very deep, so they are dependent on a small volume of soil for their water needs.

So leave a hose running slowly for a few hours near the base of each tree, or if you have a hedge put down a ‘leaky pipe’ hose and soak the whole length. Slow soaking is much better than using a sprinkler, or hand watering, because the water goes deep, and the soil will be completely wetted, not just moist on the top.

Mulch the root-zone

Once the soil is wet, let’s keep it that way. A couple of inches of mulch – perhaps shredded bark, or even chopped leaves from your trees – will reduce evaporation and keep the soil damp. Put it down within a few days of that soaking, keeping it off the foliage, and a few inches from the trunk. Cover a wide area, so that all the root zone is protected. There is a less obvious value to this too. By insulating the soil surface you trap the existing warmth in the soil, and reduce both the time it stays frozen, and how deep it goes. In a mild winter you may prevent freezing altogether, which is an ideal outcome. That mulch can be left in place to conserve moisture next year too, and just topped-up each fall. If you use something rich, like compost, it will also feed your trees, and improve the properties of the soil over time.

Spray with anti-desiccant

It is amazing how few gardeners use a product that professionals in cold areas use extensively. Anti-desiccant sprays create a thin, invisible plastic film over the foliage, which reduces water-loss dramatically. They are widely used by landscapers after planting all sorts of trees, as well as for winter protection. Pick some up at your garden center, and spray while the temperatures are above freezing, but as close as you can to that first hard freeze or snow fall. Once dry – which takes just a few hours – they resist rain, but they can in time wash off. If you have a lot of winter rain, and there is a warmer period at some point in the winter, then spray again if you can. If you are not familiar with anti-desiccants, give them a try. You will be amazed at the protection these products give, on both conifers and broad-leaf evergreens like Rhododendrons, Holly, and Cherry Laurel.

Consider netting

In cold areas there is a long tradition of wrapping evergreens in burlap for the winter, but there is a much better alternative available, in the shape of netting. Black or dark -green, with ½ inch squares, it is invisible from a few yards away. It doesn’t destroy the look of your yard, but it keeps the branches together, and stops them breaking under the weight of snow or ice. Surprisingly, it also reduces desiccation injury, because by holding the branches more tightly together it slows down the passage of the wind through the branches – a double benefit. In spring there is no rush to remove it, while burlap can cause fatal heating-up and premature sprouting, both of which are damaging. Just try and remove the netting before new growth begins, otherwise it can become tangled, and harder to remove safely.

Feed with potash

Potash, the element potassium, is known to improve winter survival, and bring evergreens through the winter in good shape. Starting as early as October, feeding your evergreens with a fertilizer high in potash (the last number in the fertilizer formula), but low in nitrogen (the first number in the formula), will help the foliage hold moisture, and thicken the walls of the cells against cold damage. You should be able to find these fertilizers labelled for hedges and evergreens in fall, and they do a great job of giving an extra level of protection.

 

You may not need to do all these things, depending on your plants, and where you live. But they are all great ways of protecting your evergreens from the ravages of winter – a little care goes a long way.

Where Did I go Wrong with My Hedge?

Hedges – especially evergreen ones – are a vital structural part of many gardens. They define the boundary of our space, marking property lines and giving screening from the street, neighbors, and open spaces. Besides the practical benefit of screening, in terms of warmer gardens with less wind, there is value in the sense of enclosure they bring, and the definition they give to the space.

All these things motivate us to put in hedges, but while our intentions and dreams may be good, things don’t always work out the way we thought they would. As you look at your garden, taking stock and wondering if you should make changes, do you look away when your eyes reach the hedges? Are you embarrassed by them? Do they annoy you, thinking of the investment that didn’t pan out, and instead left you with something unsightly?

There are several common faults seen in hedges, and if you have them perhaps something can be done to save the day and turn that unsightly hedge into something attractive. Or maybe not. . . Deciding if your hedge can be saved, or if you should replace it, is the subject of this blog, and we will look at the different things you might see, their causes (so you don’t repeat your mistakes), and what, if anything, can be done. This will give you valuable insights in guiding you to the best next step.

Common Hedge Faults

There are several ‘symptoms’ of bad hedges, so let’s start with diagnosis:

  • Doesn’t reach the ground – this is usually because the lower branches have died, since most hedging plants are green to the ground when they are new. Over time the lowest branches first stop growing, and then die. You may have had to cut them off, and perhaps you hoped the trunks would sprout again, but of course they didn’t.
  • The lowest parts are thin and sparse – this is the precursor to the first problem and connected to it. Once you start to see little growth down below, which is easy to notice when you are trimming, and don’t need to trim the bottom 3 or 4 feet, then you are heading into a future with a hedge that is bare at the bottom, letting wind, animals and children wander through, and defeating he purpose of your hedge.
  • The top is overhanging – as you walk by your hedge, you (or passers-by) collide with the upper parts, because it leans outwards. Besides the nuisance issue, if you live where there is significant snowfall, a broad top is much more likely to collapse under the accumulated weight of snow and destroy the hedge completely.
  • There are gaps where branches or plants have died – this can leave ugly spaces, and really make a hedge look bad. This might be caused by disease, and its tempting to blame such outside forces, but in reality plants often die from overcrowding, and if a branch dies and leaves a big hole, there is something wrong with your trimming technique.

Why is this happening to me?

How do these faults come about, and how, with my spanking-new hedge, can I prevent them from happening again? These symptoms can be traced back to two issues – poor planting and poor trimming. Let’s look at each one.

Spacing

Putting your plants in the ground so you get a reasonable screen quickly, but don’t overcrowd them, is vital to a healthy, working hedge. There is a great temptation to plant those nice young plants almost touching, so that they will become a solid wall almost immediately. Tempting as this is, it is a big mistake. By planting closely together you increase competition between the young plants. They struggle to grow upwards, seeking the light, and two things can happen. First, the lower branches never develop properly, and soon die, leaving the bottom area bare. Secondly, slightly weaker plants become weaker and weaker, until they die, leaving a gap in what is by this point a substantial hedge. You can see how initial spacing errors relate to hedges that are thin or open at the base, and also to hedges that develop gaps.

Correct spacing varies, depending on which species of hedging plant you use. For larger plants like Thuja Green Giant, three feet or more is a good starting point. In theory, with a 12-foot spread, they could go 10 feet apart and still make a solid wall, but that would take time, and they would have to be allowed to grow fat too, creating a hedge that takes up too much room. So 3 or 4 feet is about right, although if you plant a staggered double row (a good idea by the way) then 5 or 6 feet apart in the rows would be spot-on.

Trimming

Most other problems come from trimming incorrectly, especially allowing the top to become wider than the bottom. It takes discipline to prevent this, as it is natural for a plant to spread outwards as it grows up. You should always be taking more from the top, trying to keep it as thin as possible, when you trim. If you just take the same amount off all over, a wide-top hedge is the result. Keeping the top thin prevents obstruction, allows more light to reach the bottom, and that narrow top is much better at shedding snow and not accumulating so much that it breaks open.

The second issue is trimming upwards only. You should trim in all directions, so that the branches have short, tufted ends, not long strands growing up. If a branch dies – and they do, even on the healthiest hedge – then it only leaves a small hole if you have horizontal branching. That quickly fills in and doesn’t leave the 6-foot gap a long, upward-growing branch will leave. Again, you can see how these errors create the symptoms we began with.

Can I Fix It?

So how many of these problems can be fixed?  A lot depends on the age of your hedge, and how advanced the problem is. If you are just seeing the lower part thinning out, and the top is only leaning outwards a little, then some tough trimming, combined with fertilizer and watering, will often bring things back. Remember though, that with the exception of yew trees, conifer evergreens cannot be cut back into bare wood, so there is a limit to how much you can reduce that top. If it is very wide, and an experimental cut shows only bare wood, then it is too late – start planning a replacement.

Gaps can sometimes be successfully filled in. Use the largest plants you can handle, and dig the biggest hole you can. This is difficult if the plants are close together, and you might be better-off removing another plant, just so that you can install a decent replacement. Pay extra attention to that newly-planted bush, and water it well, using liquid fertilizer. It will take a while to develop enough to hold its own against existing plants. Again, of you have lots of gaps, and a generally dilapidated hedge, a complete replacement may be the best long-term option.

How to Plant Thuja Green Giant

Thuja Green Giant is deservedly popular. Fast-growing, drought and salt-spray resistant, generally avoided by deer and free of pests – what more can we ask of an evergreen? You may be planting a screen, or a more formal hedge, or using it as upright specimens around the garden. Whatever your need, its easy to see why this plant remains consistently popular across a large swathe of the country. Good results though, come from good beginnings, and with Thuja Green Giant – and of course with most plants – that good beginning is the planting procedure. If you are new to plants, or indeed if you have some experience but could always learn more, let’s look at the steps and stages of planting, so that your trees get off to the best possible start.

Ground Preparation

Even the best plant can only grow as well as the soil it is in. While it is probably possible in many gardens to just stick it in the ground and walk away, the best results – especially rapid growth and good establishment – depend on planting into prepared soil.

There is no particular secret to good soil preparation, and no matter what type of soil you have, the key steps are digging and enrichment. In a natural soil nutrients and finer particles are carried downwards by drainage water, so that the upper layers have fewer nutrients than lower down. Just as in farming, digging and turning the soil is a vital first step in improving the quality of your soil. For smaller areas, or just to plant one or two trees, hand digging with a spade will do a great job in a reasonable time.

For a larger area, renting or borrowing a roto-tiller will save a lot of work. Get the biggest machine you can handle, and that will fit into the area you are working with. The biggest issue with using roto-tillers is to get the necessary depth. The soil needs preparing up to 12 inches deep, or at least to the depth of a full-sized spade, and a roto-tiller can easily skip across the surface, making the area look great – until you discover that it has only gone down a couple of inches. The trick is to go over the area a couple of times at least, until it buries itself as deep into the ground as it can go. Then you know you have done the job.

Adding Organic Material

Find a source of rich organic material. This could be garden compost, rotted farm manure (cow, sheep or horse), spend compost from a mushroom farm, well-rotted leaves, or perhaps some other local alternative. Although peat moss has been widely used in the past, it isn’t really a top choice, and the environmental damage done by harvesting peat is another negative – but if it is all you can find, so be it.

After a quick first pass with the tiller, spread a layer at least 2 inches deep, up to 6 inches deep, and till it into the ground as you work the tiller deeper. The great thing about organic material is that it improves all kinds of soil. With sandy soil you will see an improvement in water retention and nutrients, while in a clay soil the same material increases drainage and allows more air into the earth, speeding up nutrient release. For a hedge, prepare an area about 3 feet wide, and a circle of similar diameter for an individual tree. It is better to create a continuous bed of prepared soil for a hedge or screen, rather than just make individual spots for each plant. In average garden soil you don’t need to add other nutrients, but in poor soil it pays to use a starter fertilizer as well, raked into the ground after tilling it.

Correct Spacing

When planting hedges and screens, the temptation is always to put the plants close together, to get instant coverage. This is a mistake, since crowded plants can’t develop properly, and will compete with each other. This easily results in some plants dying, and in all the plants growing tall but spindly. You won’t get the broad, dense hedge you are looking for, and the lower branches will soon die, leaving you with a collection of bare stems with leaves on the top. For Thuja Green Giant, allow at least 3 feet between each plant for a hedge, and up to 8 feet for a screen. This plant will become 12 feet wide in 10 or 15 years, so it will soon fill such relatively small spaces. By allowing enough space you keep the plants green and thick right to the ground, which is almost always what we want to see. Remember too to allow at least 3 feet back from a fence, wall or property line. You want to keep your trees on your side of that line, so they remain yours and don’t spread onto your neighbor’s land.

Correct Planting

When it comes to the actual planting procedure, remember to water the pots thoroughly the night before, and the ground too if it is dry. Never plant dry pots into dry soil. Dig holes into your prepared ground just a little wider than the pots, and the same depth. For a hedge, it is easier to get the spacing right if you take out a trench, rather than individual holes. That way you can line everything up, adjust the spacing to get it all even, and then plant – the result will be much better from the get-go.

Once you have the holes dug, slide the plants out of the plastic pots. To encourage the roots to spread outwards, and to prevent future problems with roots circling around and strangling the trunk, you need to open up the root ball. The simplest way is to take a sharp knife and make three or four long cuts, from top to bottom, one-inch deep down the sides. If most of the roots seem concentrated at the bottom, instead make a cross-cut on the bottom of the root-ball, again about one-inch deep. This might sound drastic, but your plants will thank you for it in the years to come.

Place the root-ball in the hole and adjust the depth so that the top is at the same level as it was in the pot. If your soil drains slowly, raise it up a couple of inches. In very poorly-draining soil, it is a good idea to build a low mound along the planting row, about 8 inches above the surrounding area, and plant onto that. This can really make a difference.

Once you have the trees in place, replace about two-thirds of the soil, and firm it down around the root-ball. Then fill each hole to the top with water and wait for it to drain away. This is far better than watering after you plant, as the water is down around the roots where you want it. Once the water has drained away, replace the rest of the soil and firm it gently. Remove any tags, string or stakes, and rake the soil level. If you are planting in spring or summer, putting a mulch over the roots is a good way to conserve moisture and encourage growth. You can use some of the same material you added to the soil. A layer 2 inches deep, kept a few inches away from the stems and off the foliage, will do the trick. Renew this every spring, or every second spring.

That’s it. You are done. Your plants of Thuja Green Giant are off to the perfect start. Now all you need to do is stand back and watch them grow.

Thuja Green Giant – Still the Top-choice Evergreen

Revolutions don’t happy often in the world of gardening, but back in the 1990s there was one – the arrival of Thuja Green Giant. The timing couldn’t have been better, because all across the country there were old hedges that needed replacing. Most of them were of an older fast-growing evergreen, Leyland Cypress, that had been very popular indeed following its introduction in the 1970s, as the hedging and screening plant everyone was planting. Those hedges were 30-years old or more, and many were beginning to suffer from disease, and becoming overgrown.

So when nurserymen saw Thuja Green Giant growing at the National Arboretum in Washington, DC, they were enthusiastic. The trees they saw had grown to 30 feet in about 30 years – much faster growth than any other evergreen, and they were impressive, dense, upright specimens about 12 feet across. No wonder those growers were impressed. They set to work propagating plants, and letting customers know that this plant was ideal to replace those old hedges, or for planting new ones.

Today, 20 years later, it is clear that their faith in this tree was not misplaced. It remains the number-one choice, and there are millions of satisfied gardeners all across the country who have used it to bring privacy and beauty to their gardens. So is this the tree for you? Here are some simple questions to ask yourself to find out.

How Big a Hedge do I Want?

All hedging plants are not equal in size – even if they look that way at the nursery. So the first thing is to calculate how tall a hedge you need. It always makes sense to go with the shortest possible one, to reduce clipping, especially to reduce the need to be up tall ladders and on scaffolding. Why grow a 15-foot hedge, when a 10-foot one would have done the trick? There are mathematical ways of calculating this, but the easiest way is to use a tall rod – some bamboo poles tied together for example, and with a helper holding it, see how tall a hedge you need to give you privacy or block that unsightly view. Hold up different heights until you can see coverage from the critical spots in your garden, or from those ground-floor windows. If it is upstairs windows you want privacy in, a hedge will rarely work, unless it is very tall, and therefore hard to manage.

If course, if you have plenty of room, you don’t need to clip, especially with a sturdy plant like Thuja Green Giant, and then the sky is the limit. Even then, consider shade. In winter a tall hedge can cast a 50-foot shadow, and that may not be what you want, so that is another reason why excess height is not desirable.

If you end up wanting a hedge less than 6 feet tall, then consider a smaller evergreen, like Emerald Green Arborvitae. This is also a to-choice if you live in zone 4 or cooler, as this native tree is extremely hardy, and grows well even up in Canada. If you live in zone 5 or warmer, and want a hedge taller than that, then Thuja Green Giant is your go-to plant. In very dry areas, if you don’t have much or any irrigation, then look to upright Junipers instead, as they are renowned for drought-resistance.

What is My Garden Like?

Thuja Green Giant is a tough plant, and it will grow almost anywhere. But it does have some needs, so check the parameters of the area you are planning to plant in. Is it sunny most of the time, or shady, perhaps beneath trees? For good growth with Thuja Green Giant, you want at least 6 hours of direct sunlight between spring and fall, and of course the more there is, the denser your plants will grow. If the area is beneath trees, then consider a more shade-tolerant hedge plant, like Yew, Holly, or, for smaller hedges, Boxwood.

The second consideration is the soil. Is the area always wet, even a week after rain? Wet, boggy conditions are not suitable, so again, another choice, is needed. The Dawn Redwood is the perfect evergreen for wet places, although it does become bare in winter. An alternative approach is to raise up the soil for your hedge into a low mound, at least 6 inches above the level of the surroundings, and 3 feet wide. As you throw up the soil, you also automatically create a drainage ditch around the mound, which will carry away the water that drains from the soil. Planted on a mound like this, Thuja Green Giant will thrive, using the wetter soil around it in dry periods.

The only consideration with your soil is its type. Is it sandy, loamy or clay? Although a lot is sometimes made of soil types, and certainly some plants prefer one or the other, Thuja Green Giant is not fussy, which is another reason for its wide-spread popularity. It will grow in most soils, and the good news is that by digging plenty of organic material into the ground before planting, you can improve any soil type. It improves sandy soil by retaining water, and it increases the drainage and air-penetration in clay soils too. A mulch over the roots – keep it away from the stems and off the foliage – will retain moisture in summer and keep your soil in better condition too, as it slowly rots down into the ground. In zone 5, mulch in spring, once the soil has warmed a little, but in warmer areas it can be done in fall or through winter. Most soils benefit from good soil preparation, which is much more useful in the garden than a ‘green thumb’.

Thuja Green Giant is Versatile

When you consider how adaptable this vigorous plant is, it’s no wonder it is the top-choice year after year. Although it has now been around for decades, there is no sign of it losing its place at the top of the popularity polls. So once you have checked your needs, the chances are good that this plant can satisfy them. With its rapid growth, it won’t be long before that hedge of your dreams is a reality.

Thuja Green Giant – Not Just a Hedging Plant

While Thuja Green Giant is widely grown for hedges and screening, and justifiably so, given its rapid growth-rate and dense, upright structure, the use of this plant in gardens shouldn’t stop there. Fast-growing evergreens have a wealth of uses, so it’s time to take a closer look at what can be done with this versatile plant to solve a variety of garden design issues. Let’s get started.

Thuja Green Giant as Specimen Trees

There is something majestic and calming about a column of evergreen foliage. There is a range of plants that do this, but for many of them the wait is long until they become effective. Not with Thuja Green Giant. With proven growth of 3 feet a year in younger plants, it won’t be long at all until you have a bold green column making a statement in your garden. These fingers of green are ideal for adding a touch of geometry to your garden. Plant a pair on either side of your driveway, for example, or to flank a gate. Run an avenue beside a long driveway and bring a majestic feel to coming home. If you have a portico entrance, or large front doors, then it will look even more impressive framed by green columns on either side. Mark the corners of your patio with an upright exclamation point of green and add calming balance to your garden.

These upright features are important in any garden, formal or informal, because they create a sense of structure. It is easy to plant a lot of trees and shrubs on your property, but you don’t want them to become just a forest. Thoughtfully-placed accents show that this is a garden, not just a collection of plants. If you have a large lawn, you might have planted several trees on it. The natural tendency is to use shade or flowering trees, and that is the way to go, but adding some upright evergreens creates a fully picture, and makes the trees look even more impressive.

Another valuable place to put one or more specimens of Thuja Green Giant is in the corners of your property. These can be difficult spots to landscape well, but evergreens will create a more enclosed look that enhances the ‘garden’ feel. In small to medium-sized gardens, one will probably be enough in a corner, given that they will soon be 12 feet wide. But in larger gardens a group will most likely be needed.

Spacing Groups of Thuja Green Giant

The rule for grouping plants is simple, and is taken from Asian gardens, where even numbers other than two are considered unlucky, and everything is done in odd numbers. It might be more a case of ‘look’ than ‘luck’, but anyway, this rule is a good one. If you plant a group of more than one, even two is rarely right, but three just looks so much better. For larger areas – and Thuja Green Giant can quickly fill even a large dead spot, go to five or even seven plants.

The spacing between plants is critical to making groups work properly. The most common mistake is putting them too close. It just seems impossible that these compact little guys could even get so big they merge into a formless mass. They do – very quickly. While we exploit this for a hedge or screen, with groups of specimens we want an outcome that respects each plants individuality. You can reckon that in most gardens Thuja Green Giant will reach a spread of 12 feet. So plants spaced that far apart will take maybe twenty years to touch. When we stand back and look at a group of plants we see the upper part, and to create a group there has to be some unification. This means that 12-foot centers are going to be too far apart, at least for a very long time. 8 to 10 feet is usually the ideal spacing for this plant when forming a cluster. If you make groupings of more than three plants, plant one or two a little further apart – so in a group of five, three might be on 8-foot centers, and the remaining two on 10-foot. This might sound trifling, but it is on this attention to detail that distinctive gardens are created. If the plants begin to merge lower down, but remain as separate fingers up above, that is the ideal outcome. The goal is to look ‘natural’, so strict geometry is out – unless you are doing the Italian Renaissance in your garden.

For that avenue mentioned earlier, the spacing needs to be more, so that each tree stays as a distinct individual. 20-foot centers would be a minimum, which means six pairs along a 100-foot driveway. “Wait – that can’t be right!” did you just say? Yes, it is – you need a pair at each end, and four pairs to divide the 100 feet evenly into twenty-foot intervals. Draw a diagram if you don’t believe it.

Thuja Green Giant in Tubs

Although usually planted directly in the ground, Thuja Green Giant is in fact a plant that is perfect to fill big tubs with low-maintenance green. Not only do they grow fast, but they stay naturally tight, although there is nothing wrong with clipping to get a more formal, conical shape from your plants.

Since this is a large plant, bigger containers are needed. Half-barrels, or 24-inch planters, are the right size for trees that are going to be in those planters for a long time. Make sure they have large drainage holes, and try to source potting soil for outdoor planters, not houseplants. These soils contain composted bark or other coarser materials that don’t break down quickly, so the soil is more resistant to rain, and continues to drain well. A spring application of a slow-release fertilizer for evergreens is all it takes to keep your trees growing well. Thuja Green Giant is relatively drought resistant, so established plants in pots take a while to suffer if you don’t water, but it is best not to let that happen. Once the top few inches are dry, give them a deep soak until water flows from the drainage holes. Then leave them to become dryer again before re-watering. This is necessary to prevent root diseases.

These tubs can be placed on a terrace, around a pool, in the corners of a parking area, or just about anywhere you have paved surfaces. The benefit of evergreens is that they don’t start dropping leaves each fall, or flower petals either, so maintenance of the area is not impacted significantly.

 

However you use Thuja Green Giant around your garden, you will be amazed at the versatility and adaptability of this plant, and how easily it brings structure and form to any garden. Hedges are not the end of the uses for this plant – they are just the beginning.

Winter-proof Your Hedges

Although in most areas fall is still in full swing, winter is indeed just around the corner. Some years it comes gradually, and other times it arrives out of nowhere. Which ever it is this year, now is the time to get ready for it. If you live in warm zones, that might mean very little, but in colder areas, where winter damage from cold, ice, snow or salt is common, some preparation now will make all the difference. You can avoid burnt foliage and broken branches with a few simple steps – done in fall.

Winter-proof Your Hedges

  • Trim in fall – a tight trim before the cold arrives will protect it from breakage
  • Apply fall fertilizers – choose a mix that is blended for fall application
  • Water well through the fall – even if rain has fallen, soaking the roots protects against winter burn
  • Protect against salt damage – burlap screens take some time and effort to erect, but they do the job better than anything else.
Trim in fall to protect your hedge in winter

The worst thing for a hedge is to go into the rigors of winter needing a hair-cut. An overgrown hedge will collect snow and ice, and branches will be caught by the wind more easily. The weight of that snow, and the twisting of the wind, caused broken branches and collapsed hedges. So get that trimming done well before winter comes, but after the growth has started to slow down. In cold areas that means late September or early October. In warmer areas any time in October is usually going to be suitable. The goal is to leave a few weeks for your hedge to harden after trimming, and perhaps produce a little fresh growth, and if you trim late that new growth will not have ripened enough to prevent it burning.

Hedging plants like Thuja Green Giant are very fast growing – the fastest evergreen around – so even if you trimmed in summer the chances are that there will be significant new growth on your hedge. Get out and give it a trim – you will really see the benefits next spring.

Two things to look out for. First, many people cut hedges by moving the trimmers upwards only, not downwards. This is a mistake, since it encourages long stems growing up the face of the hedge, and these are easily dislodged by wind and snow, leaving big empty spaces. Instead, always trim in all directions, so that the branches are more horizontal, with short ends branching out. This way, not only is the hedge structured in a more stable way, if a branch does die it leaves a smaller hole that fills in more quickly.

The second thing is the top. If you regularly have heavy snow, a rounded top will shed it better than a flat one – which admittedly does look more formal. If you do insist on a flat top, taper the sides in a bit more than normal, so that the top is as narrow as possible. Less snow will build up, and the chances of breakage are greatly reduced.

Put down a fall fertilizer

We usually think of fertilizer as something to put down in spring and summer, to stimulate lots of growth. Usually we don’t want growth in fall, as it will be soft and easily damaged by the cold. But there are other essential nutrients for plants – potassium in this case – which don’t stimulate growth, and instead increase cold resistance, and disease resistance too. Visit your local garden center and look for fertilizers labelled for fall, for evergreens. These have a lot of potassium, and not much nitrogen. Apply them straight after trimming, and they will toughen up your hedge to face the onslaught of winter.

Some of these fall fertilizers go even further. If you see a high nitrogen content on them, this is because the nitrogen is in a form that needs warm temperatures (over 40 degrees) to work. So they sit all winter, and kick in when spring arrives. This means no need to fertilize your hedges until early summer, so that is one job saved from what is a very busy season – a real bonus.

Keep up the water supply

Perhaps the single most important thing to do for your evergreens in fall is water them. This applies not just to hedges, and not just to newly-planted evergreen trees and shrubs, but to all of them, especially ones that you have seen burned in winter before. Often evergreens in foundation planting around the house have problems because the eaves reduce rainfall, and the ground is often dry.

Because these plants still have leaves, they lose water to the air all winter long. Cold winter air is very dry, and so they lose more than in summer. If the soil is dry they may not be able to keep up, and so the foliage dries out. There is a more subtle reason as well. If you live where the ground freezes hard, then plants can’t pull water from it easily – like trying to drink by sucking an ice-cube – but without a warm mouth. The more water in the soil, the less it freezes, and some water tends to stay in liquid form between the soil clumps. By soaking the ground a few times in fall – early on and then just as the ground is starting to freeze up, you make it easier for the plants to take up water, and so avoid winter burn, which is really a desiccation injury.

Protect your hedge from salt

Salt spray from roads and run-off from driveways causes a lot of damage to evergreens. Thuja Green Giant is one evergreen that has pretty good salt resistance, but others are not so good. The best way to protect from run-off is to stop using salt on your driveway. Switch to sand, which gives good traction without damaging your garden.

For highway salt, erect a burlap screen between the hedge and the road, higher than the hedge, to catch what drifts over the top. The secret is to put it a couple of feet in front of the hedge, with a space between, and NOT right on the hedge, as you see done so often in areas with deep winters. That way the burlap catches the salt, and stops it reaching the hedge. Letting the burlap touch of course simply holds the salt right on the foliage – worse than doing nothing at all. Screens also slow down the wind, and they protect from desiccation injury as well.

How to Fix Common Problems with Evergreen Hedges

Sometimes things in the garden don’t work out as we thought they would. With hedges, that vision of a lush green wall framing our garden and bringing privacy doesn’t materialize – instead we have poor growth, gaps, thinning out, and other issues that arise. We want to fix them – and also understand where we went wrong. Some fixes are easy, others perhaps not, so this can also be a cautionary tale on how to avoid things going wrong.

‘My hedge looks pale and thin’

Instead of thick, bright-green foliage on your Thuja Green Giant, or other evergreens, they are growing slowly, and the leaves look pale, perhaps with some of the older pieces looking yellow. There are two possible reasons for this – lack of nutrients or lack of water – or both. Evergreens need plenty of nitrogen, and if your soil is sandy and lacking in organic material, then there will not be enough available. As well, if your plants have been dry for some time, perhaps due to drought, or because you haven’t watered them, they are not absorbing water. The pathway for nutrients is via water, so if there is very little water uptake, even if you have fertilized, and have rich soil, the minerals are not making their way into your plants – which are in survival mode, trying to cope with dryness by going dormant.

This one is an easy fix. First, establish a regular watering pattern. This will be a lot easier if you install a simple ‘leaky pipe’ trickle hose along the base of your hedge. Wind it in and out between the plants, so you cover the area well. Attach this to a regular hosepipe, and let it run for several hours, so that the water makes its way down to the roots. To restore your hedge, do this weekly for a couple of months, and then it will only be needed when the soil is dry. If this is a newly-planted hedge, then you should keep up the weekly watering into the fall on a weekly schedule. An easy way to do this chore automatically is to attach a timer to the outdoor faucet. These are inexpensive, and can be programmed to come on automatically, without the expensive of a full irrigation system.

If the problem is poor soil, then the best fix is to improve your soil when planting. Add plenty of rich organic material, like compost or rotted manures, when digging the area over before planting. If you didn’t do this, there is still hope. Start with concentrated fertilizer – it could be something organic like fish meal or fish emulsion, or alfalfa pellets, or a synthetic fertilizer. The quickest fix is with a liquid fertilizer – look for a high first number, perhaps around 20, in the fertilizer formula. This should be watered thoroughly into the ground over the root area, and you can also spray it at half-strength directly onto the foliage. Repeat 2 weeks later, and again a month later. You should see a big improvement. Once you have restored growth, start using fertilizer regularly, in spring and through the summer. Once your plants are healthy again you can switch to a granular fertilizer, which is much easier to apply. There are also slow-release formulations that only need one application a year – an even bigger time saver.

‘The bottom part of my hedge is looking thin’

Once a hedge has grown to its full size, the lower parts can weaken and thin out. In extreme cases the whole bottom section for several feet may die, leaving your hedge on bare trunks. Yet that lower part is usually where we want it to be thick and green. What to do?

This problem is most often seen on the north-facing side of a hedge, and there are two possible causes. It might be you have planted shrubs in front, and as they grow they are making a lot of shade on the bottom of your hedge. That shade will reduce growth, and it may kill the lower branches. Evergreens like Thuja Green Giant need sun or bright light, and in the shade of shrubs, especially other evergreens, they will abandon their lower branches, and put their energy into the upper growth – which is not what we want in a hedge. The fix for this is simple – trim those plants in front, if necessary removing some – you can transplant them somewhere else in your garden – to let the light in. it is best to leave a pathway at least 3 feet wide between the outer branches of other plants and a hedge.

The second reason could be poor trimming, specifically, letting the top growth become too wide. Look at your hedge from the end. Is the top wider than the bottom? If it is, then the upper part will draw all the energy, leaving the lower branches to starve and weaken. If you catch this problem while the lower parts are still reasonably healthy you can turn it around. Start trimming more from the top, in stages, until you have a slight inward slope on the face of your hedge. Remember that you can’t trim evergreens back to bare branches and expect then to re-shoot. With a few exceptions, like yew trees, they won’t. So you need to cut back in stages, always leaving some green. If the problem is not too extreme you will be able to reverse this error. Of course if you are starting a new hedge, don’t let it happen in the first place, and always lean the face of the hedge backwards a little, to let light to the bottom, and inhibit the upper growth from taking over.

Sadly, once that lower part is dead, you won’t be able to bring it back. Planting small plants along the bottom sometimes works, but it often doesn’t. It is almost always better in the long run to start again with a new hedge.

‘Every spring my hedge is brown’

There are three reasons this might happen. The first and most obvious is that you have chosen plants not hardy enough for your location. Thuja Green Giant is hardy to zone 5, but not colder. Other evergreens will take colder conditions, while others need more warmth. Always match your choice of plants to your location.

The second possible reason is salt damage. If your hedge is along a roadway that is salted, then drifting salt can burn the foliage. Thuja Green Giant is tolerant of some salt spray, but other evergreens for hedges are not. The best solution, if this is a regular problem, is to erect a burlap screen a couple of feet in front of your hedge, to catch the spray. Don’t let it touch the hedge, otherwise the salt will just sit there, and the damage can be worse.

The third reason is lack of moisture at the roots. If neither of those first two reasons seems to be the problem, then soak your hedge well shortly before the soil begins to freeze up. Apply a mulch over the roots as well. This will keep the ground from freezing so hard, and your hedge plants will not desiccate in the cold, dry, winter winds.

Fall Fertilizer for Thuja Green Giant and Other Evergreens

In almost every garden situation, evergreens benefit from a fertilizer program. This is especially true when you are developing a screen or hedge – there you want maximum growth in height, but density too, not just tall, skinny shoots. It is also true for specimen plants, which we want to always look their best, with rich green foliage and healthy growth. Even mature plantings benefit from fertilizer programs, which keep them healthy, and encourage rejuvenation, especially following trimming. Plants that are regularly trimmed must constantly replace the growth removed, so their nutritional needs are much greater than in plants that are just left to grow. This explains why feeding the lawn is the most common fertilizer activity among gardeners – all those clippings must be replaced.

Fertilizer doesn’t replace caring for your soil

Always look at your fertilizer use as a supplement to your overall soil care, not a replacement for it. Good soil preparation before planting, and maintenance of soil fertility afterwards, are the key to good gardening. It is perfectly true that such management is all you really need – Mother Nature has been gardening that way for millions of years. They key to good soil preparation and maintenance is organic material – rotted plants, and the waste from animals. Garden compost, farm and stable manure, the by-products of seed oil production (corn, soya, etc.) – all these are good sources for garden use. Materials like peat moss, for all their availability, are low on the list of suitable materials, but if that is all you can find, it is better than nothing.

Not only should you add plenty of organic material when preparing the area for evergreen planting, but established plantings should be mulched with these kinds of materials regularly. How regularly depends on your soil. Sandy soils need it every year or two, loam soils every 3 or4 years, and heavier soils perhaps every 5 years. Heavy clay does benefit from plenty of organic material, because it improved drainage, but it is not truly needed very much as fertilizer in those very rich soils.

What’s so special about fall?

But we digress. . . so to return to our subject, what is special about fall when it comes to fertilizing evergreens like Thuja Green Giant, Arborvitae, Cypress, or other evergreens? While deciduous plants solve many of the problems of winter by just shedding their leaves and going to sleep, evergreens keep their foliage, so they can face more problems as a result. Evergreen foliage has evolved to protect itself from severe cold, but in garden situations the very act of gardening changes the plants – particularly when we accelerate growth. The high levels of nitrogen applied in spring and summer create larger cells in the foliage, with thinner walls. It doesn’t make much difference if you use chemical or organic sources of nitrogen either. Anything that accelerates growth will do this.

Those thinner walls are easier for insect pests to feed through, and for diseases to penetrate, and even more importantly in fall, those thinner walls are more easily damaged by cold. The sap inside the leaf is thinner too, so it freezes to make large ice crystals, which in turn rupture the cell walls, killing that part of the plant.

This means that in fall we want to reduce the amount of nitrogen in the fertilizer for our hedges and evergreens. This is the first number in the fertilizer formula, and while in an evergreen fertilizer for spring and summer you will see a high number, in fall mixes it should be smaller.

Special fall mixes that prepare for spring

Now there is a complexity that steps in at this point. Some more sophisticated formulations of chemical fertilizers use special sources of nitrogen that are only released when the soil temperatures are above about 45 degrees. These are sometimes used in fall fertilizers, so if you look at high-end products promoted for fall use, that first number can be surprisingly high. Don’t be concerned. The purpose in using these materials is to get an early start in spring – as soon as the soil warms that nitrogen will be released, and you don’t need to make an early fertilizer application. So you are saved a job at a busy time of year – a great idea, yes?

Make those cell wall tough and hardy

But usually you will see a low nitrogen number in fall fertilizers. The next number to look at is the last one – the element potassium, also called potash. For a fall fertilizer for your evergreens, like Thuja Green Giant, look for a big number here – 10 or more. Potassium is a slightly strange fertilizer element. It doesn’t take part in building proteins, as nitrogen does, or in making DNA or fats, as phosphates do. In fact, it doesn’t appear in any structural parts of plants (or humans for that matter). It is found, however, in the sap of plant cells, where it plays a vital role. It causes the cells to absorb water – and the nutrients that water contains. It is essential for the plant roots to take up plant foods, and in the cells of the leaves it keeps them full-up with water. This way the leaves stay rigid, stand up and catch the sunlight. Plants low in potassium will often look like they are wilting, even when they have enough water available at the roots.

For plants strength and resistance, potassium is important too. By ‘pumping up’ the cells, pressure is applied to the cell walls. Remember we said they are softer than normal in plants that are fertilized for quick growth? Well potassium in fall reverses that. The pressure of the cell contents on the wall makes it grow thicker (rather like resistance training for people), and restores its protective functions, giving better resistance to cold, wind and diseases. That pressure also sucks in more minerals and sugars, lowering the freezing point of the cell contents, and creating small, mushy ice crystals that won’t break the cell walls. So the cells don’t die.

Take care of the roots too

Finally, all that rapid upper growth can make the top parts of the plant outgrow the roots. Fall is when plants renew their root systems, and roots have a high need for that middle number in fertilizers, phosphate. So look for a reasonable number here – over 10 – so that you feed the roots as well, strengthening and extending them, so that come spring they can deliver everything the top-growth needs.

Fall fertilizer is often overlooked, but as you can see it should be a vital part of your annual program, if you want the very best Thuja Green Giant and other evergreens can give you.

How does Thuja Green Giant Stack Up Against Its Rivals?

You have decided you need a hedge or screen on your property, maybe to give you privacy, to hide an ugly view, to reduce noise and air pollution, or to block cold winds and trap some warmth in your garden. Now comes the choosing part. It’s like deciding on a sofa – lots of choices, and many of them have good features. So how to decide? Let’s look at the major questions you need to ask, when choosing the plants to grow that screen, and see how they stack up against each other.

Evergreen or deciduous?

This is the first question you need to ask yourself. An evergreen hedge might seem the obvious choice – after all, you usually want screening in winter too, but there can be advantages in a deciduous screen. Sometimes the area you want to screen is not used in winter, and a leafless hedge lets through a lot of light, so when the days are short in winter that might be just what you want – perhaps to let more light into your home. Remember that the sun is lower in winter, so a hedge can cast a long shadow over a lot of your garden. But yes, mostly the choice is going to be evergreen, for the privacy it gives, and the beautiful neutral green backdrop it creates in a garden.

Tall or shorter?

Just how tall you want your hedge or screen to be is an important consideration. If you plant something with a maximum height way more than you need, it will need constant trimming, and could in the future become a real menace to you and your neighbors. Thuja Green Giant is a terrific choice for a large hedge or screen but remember it will reach 30 feet tall or more in a relatively short time – as tall as the top of the roof of a two-story house. That is perfect is you need that height, and it will also get there fast, growing 3 feet or even more a year during its early years.

But if you want a hedge around 6 to 8 feet tall, you would be better choosing something else – perhaps Emerald Green Arborvitae, which will only reach 12 or 14 feet even if it is never trimmed. Sure, it will grow more slowly, but since you don’t want it so tall, your hedge will be ready in the same number of years. . .

Where do you live?

Climate has an enormous impact on which plants will grow well for you. Always stay well within your climate zone when choosing something as basic as a screening plant. It is fine to experiment with a shrub or even a small tree that might not be fully hardy for you, but don’t do that with a hedge. Across a very large part of the country Thuja Green Giant grows well – from zone 5 to zone 8 or 9. In colder areas the best bet by far is Emerald Green Arborvitae, which is perfectly hardy in the coldest areas, all the way through zone 3.

The second part of climate – besides winter minimum temperatures – that should be considered is rainfall. Unless you have extensive irrigation available, and that is no longer a very acceptable choice in many communities, you need to consider drought resistance. Thuja Green Giant is considered ‘drought resistant’, that is, established plants will be unaffected by the sort of summer droughts that are relatively normal in the east. When you move into arid states like Utah or Arizona, much longer periods of drought are normal. There much tougher plants are needed. Winter drought, combined with low temperatures, such as in the Dakotas, or even in Minnesota, call for plants that are both hardy and drought resistant. There plants like the Spartan Juniper, hardy to zone 4 and very drought resistant, become top hedge choices. In states with regular extended summer droughts, like California, and with mild winters, hedge plants like the Italian Cypress and the Arizona Cypress are your friends.

How long can you wait?

If you badly need this screen to make your garden habitable, then plants that grow rapidly in their early years are going to be top choices. Here there is no doubt that Thuja Green Giant has the opposition beaten cold. With proven growth rates of more than 3 feet when growing in a field, that can be topped with generous watering and fertilizer in many garden situations. The only potential rival for that top spot is the Leyland Cypress, but that tree has had disease issues in recent decades. In fact, the rise of Thuja Green Giant is directly related to disappointment with Leyland Cypress in warmer southern states in particular.

If you do need that extra height Leyland Cypress can bring – it will reach as much as 60 feet in a few decades – then choose the Murray Cypress, a more disease-resistant variety that was introduced relatively recently. Do be careful with Leyland Cypress though. If you don’t need, and have room for, all the height and bulk, then avoid it for something more modest. Thuja Green Giant is almost a dwarf evergreen against it.

For those drier areas Italian Cypress is not far behind these two, with rates of about 2 feet a year, but Arborvitae generally only grow about a foot, or even less, in a year, so if you don’t need them for winter hardiness, sticking with Thuja Green Giant makes a lot of sense.

What about deer?

This is always a big question, and it’s one that’s hard to answer, because those pesky critters are unpredictable, and what they will eat depends quite a lot on just how hungry they are. Broadly speaking, Thuja Green Giant is mostly ignored by deer, or only touched a little. Arborvitae, on the other hand, are almost always eaten, as is Leyland Cypress. Junipers and Italian Cypress are usually left alone, as they are rather spiny, but not always. . .

 

As you can see, there are lots of things to take into account when choosing your evergreens. For a ‘Three Bears’ garden, that is, “not to hot, not too cold, etc.” Thuja Green Giant stands out as the ‘go to’ choice, but if your situation is more extreme, other choices may be more suitable for your particular circumstances.