How to Care for Thuja Green Giant in Spring

In the garden it makes sense to establish a season routine, so that plant care happens at the times when it can have the most impact. Thuja Green Giant, grown as a hedge or screen, or as a specimen tree, is low-maintenance and easy-care, but some basic activities can make the difference between good and great. So let’s see what should be done for it at this time, as your garden is waking up, and new growth is everywhere. These things are especially helpful for new plants, perhaps ones put in last year, or planted over the winter.

Fertilizer

A good fertilizer program is the best way to get the maximum growth this plant is capable of. If you planted Thuja Green Giant, then you probably wanted something that would grow quickly, and create the hedge or screen you wanted, in the least possible time. You can help that out by using a suitable fertilizer for your situation.

Young plants benefit from liquid fertilizers. These carry the nutrients already dissolved in water, so they are immediately available for the roots to take up. They are especially useful for the limited root volume of new plants, and their rapid availability means a quick response from the plants. These fertilizers are available either as concentrated liquids or as powders. Whichever you use, follow the directions carefully, as too much can make for big problems, with browning foliage and even death a possibility. Used correctly they are safe and efficient. Once mixed with water at the right concentration, water onto the roots, making sure you cover the whole root zone, which is a couple of feet or more in each direction.

Liquid fertilizers can take a while to apply, especially on a long hedge, although hose-end applicators make it a lot easier and quicker. For more established hedges granular fertilizers, which are sprinkled onto the ground over the root zone, are much easier to use, and have the advantage of lasting much longer. While liquid fertilizers need re-applying every two weeks to a month, granular fertilizers need on only two or three applications a year. In fact, if you go for the modern slow-release forms, once a year, in spring, is all you need. These are more expensive, but the saving in time and remembering to re-apply is worth it. Fertilizer spikes are not so effective, as they do no give even coverage. They can be useful for a single plant, but overall their cost and reduced efficiency is hard to justify.

Increasingly, gardeners are choosing organic sources for fertilizer, to avoid using harsh chemicals. There is a also a greater understanding of the need to activate natural processes in the soil, which improve it, and increase nutrient flows to your plants. This is often achieved by boosting the levels of soil microbes, adding those that can be missing, or specific forms to tackle the fertilizer sources being used.

Whatever type of fertilizer method you use, make sure you choose something designed for evergreens. These always have a high first number in the formula printed on the box, something like 12-3-5. The exact numbers are not important, but the balance is. Look for a high first number, which is nitrogen, for green leaves, and ideally the last number – potash – will be a little more than the middle number, which is phosphorus. Potash makes plants more resistant to cold, heat and pests.

Watering

In many places spring is a time of rain, and extra watering is the last thing you think off, but in some areas a dry spring is always possible, so be ready to water if the soil dries. Because this is such an important time for growth, where much of the year’s growth can happen in a few weeks, any dryness is going to stop that.

If, in your area, you need to water your hedge very often, installing an irrigation line is a great time saver. The simplest and best is a leaky pipe, which weeps water from all over the surface. You need a pipe double the length of your hedge. Weave it in and out of the plants, laying it over the soil area, not right up against the trunks. Then use a regular hose to connect it to a tap. Let it run for several hours, so that the water soaks right in. An easy idea is to use a simple timer valve on the tap. This is then programmed for the length of time you need to run it, and you can also set it to run once or twice a week, if you don’t have substantial rainfall. If you have a built-in irrigation system you can connect it to that, as a zone.

Always check the soil moisture directly, by touching it, or using a moisture meter. Even after a lot of rain it can be dry around a hedge, because the dense foliage prevents the rain penetrating. This is especially true with heavy but brief thunderstorms.

Trimming

A spring trim is always a good idea – for a hedge of any age. Start with an inspection and removing any dead stems or damaged branches. For new plantings it is important to trim lightly, even if the hedge hasn’t reached where you want it yet. This builds a dense structure, and it makes for a much better and longer-lived hedge. Just take the ends of the branches several times a year. You will hardly slow down the growth at all, but the result will be a terrific hedge. For established hedges, wait until the new growth has completely covered the hedge before trimming.

When you trim, pay close attention to keeping the front of the hedge sloping inwards a little. Never trim so that the top is wider than the bottom. This basic principle will give you a terrific long-lived hedge that always looks great.

For screening, trimming may not be necessary, but it still pays to go over the trees once a year, cutting back any branches that are outside the main structure, and even giving the whole screen a light trim. You may not want to reduce the size, but trimming will increase the density, and make for a more beautiful screen.

 

Attention to these basics will give you perfect Thuja Green Giant plants – however you are growing them. It simple, doesn’t take a lot of time, and pays you back in beauty and utility.

Green Giant or Emerald Green – What is the Difference?

That screen or hedge you plant is an important part of your garden, and something that is going to be with you for many years. Making the right choices, planting it correctly, growing it up, and maintaining it, are all steps along the road to the perfect hedge – beautiful, functional and easy to care for. Hedge plants might all look green, but they are all different, and making the right choice is the first step on the road to that perfect planting. The top two evergreen trees for hedging are certainly Thuja Green Giant, and Emerald Green Arborvitae, so which should you choose? Let’s answer some of the basic questions often asked about these plants, to help you make the right choice for your particular situation.

What is the Difference Between Green Giant and Emerald Green?

Let’s start with how they are the same. Both these trees are evergreen conifers belonging to the group botanists call Thuja. They are part of the cypress family, and a small group, with just five members. All of them are trees of different sizes, and all have scaly green leaves that cling to fan-shaped small branches, creating a dense structure. Older trees develop small cones – which is why they are conifers. They are called cedars, arborvitae, or thujas – all these are the same trees.

Of those 5 species, three are native to North America, and two to Asia. Their connection dates back to the time before the Pacific Ocean pushed those two continents apart. Emerald Green is a form of the Eastern White Cedar, Thuja occidentalis. This tree saved the lives of the early settlers, when native Americans showed them how to make a tea from the foliage that prevented the development of scurvy in the wintertime. Those grateful settlers called it the Tree of Life – which translated into Latin is ‘arbor vitae’ – the origin of that common name.  Although an American tree, it was a Danish nurseryman who found the form he called ‘Smaragd’. That was in 1950, and the great virtue of this plant was that it stayed green all winter, instead of turning bronzy-green they way most of these plants do. That is why grateful American gardeners nicknamed it Emerald Green.

The story of Green Giant is more complex, and also happened in Europe, at the same Danish nursery – D. T. Poulsen. In the 1930s they found a plant that they believed was a hybrid between a Japanese Thuja (Thuja standishii) and a Western Redcedar (Thuja plicata), they had growing near each other. These two plants grow on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean, so they could only meet when brought together in a garden. Because of world events it was only in the 1960s that a specimen arrived in America, and only in the early 1990s that nurserymen noticed this plant and realize what a great hedging and screening plant it would make. It had never been named, but the name ‘Green Giant’ seemed very appropriate, so that is what it became.

Which One Should I Grow?

Interesting as all that is, the big question for most gardeners is, ‘Which one should I choose?’, so let’s try to answer that question.

Which One Grows Fastest?

On this question there is no doubt. While Emerald Green is certainly a steady grower, adding as much as 12 inches a year once established, under good growing conditions, Green Giant puts that to shame. Like other plants that are hybrids, it is very vigorous, and can grow 3 feet a year when young. Over several years it will add several more feet to its height than Emerald Green will. So if it was simply a matter of growth-rate, Thuja Green Giant is undoubtedly the winner. In fact, there is nothing else that grows so fast, or creates a barrier so quickly.

Which Grows Biggest?

Size does matter – with hedges too. If you are looking for a tall screen or hedge, over 10 feet tall, then you should go with Thuja Green Giant. If left unclipped it will reach 30 in as many years, and it will be 12 feet wide if grown in the open. That is a big plant, so if you are planning not to clip, be sure you have the room for it, and allow enough space for its width too. No point in planning a ‘no trimming’ screen and then having to trim because it has grown all over your driveway!

For smaller hedges, screens and specimen plants, choose Emerald Green Arborvitae, because it only grows 12 to 14 feet tall, and 3 or 4 feet wide.

Where Do They Grow Best?

If you live in the colder parts of the country – zones 2, 3, and 4, the Emerald Green Arborvitae is your obvious choice. It is completely hardy to minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit, without even needing winter protection. Green Giant might survive, with some injury, in zone 4, but beyond that it is ‘no contest’. Colder areas are just not suitable for that plant. Emerald Green will also grow well up to zone 7, so for smaller hedges in areas where you could grow Green Giant, you might decide that Emerald Green is your better choice.

In the warmer zone 6, 7, 8 and even 9, then Green Giant Arborvitae is the obvious choice – and the only one in zones 8 and 9.

Will Deer Eat Them?

It is impossible to be definitive about deer – when they are hungry enough they will eat just about anything. But Green Giant has been found to be deer resistant in many parts of the country, while Emerald Green is much more likely to be eaten. If deer are a problem where you live, the answer is obvious.

What Kind of Soil Do They Like?

Here too there are some clear differences. Both these plants do well in most kinds of soil, but Emerald Green, because it is a form of the eastern white cedar, will grow well even in wet, partly flooded areas, or any soil with poor drainage. If you have wet soil, and are zone 7 or lower, then Emerald Green is the better choice. If the soil is well-drained, then Green Giant Arborvitae will grow well, in anything from sandy soil to clay.

Which Makes the Best Hedge?

The answer here is simple – both. What matters in creating a smooth, flat-fronted hedge – which is what most people like to see – is spacing. Since Emerald Green is only about 4 feet wide when mature, in a single row you need to plant them just 2 or 3 feet apart, otherwise they will never grow together properly. With Green Giant, you can space them 3 to 5 feet apart, and still grow the perfect hedge. That difference means you need fewer plants, and the cost of a hedge will be lower.

 

So there is the answer – it depends. . . Now you have plenty of information to make your decision – so you are much more likely to make the right one.

The Beginners Guide to Thuja Green Giant

You have probably heard the name, and likely seen the plant, but if you are an absolute beginner, just starting out with your first garden, then you might be wondering what all the fuss is about, and why so many people have so much to say about this plant. It’s green, right? – and it must be big?

If you just took over a garden, or have a brand new one to plant, then Thuja Green Giant is almost certainly your best friend. This plant is an evergreen – it stays green all winter – and it is a conifer, that is, it doesn’t have flowers, but instead has structures called cones. This means that it is related to pine trees, which you probably recognize, although it looks very different. It has tiny leaves that cling to the stems, so it looks like divided green branches, all growing together.

Why is Thuja Green Giant the Top Choice Evergreen?

The main reason is its speed of growth – 3 feet a year is common in the early years, and it will put on at least 10 feet in the first 7 years – and that is proven by research. That is faster than any other evergreen tree. Period. Other reasons are how tough this tree is in many different climates, soils, and growing conditions. It has no significant pests or diseases, and deer usually leave it alone too. What’s not to like in all that?

What Is Thuja Green Giant Like?

Thuja Green Giant forms an upright, green bush that is always a rich, healthy green color, through all the seasons. That is why gardeners like to use it for hedges and screens, because it always blocks whatever it is you want to block – neighbors, a highway, another home, or an ugly view. It naturally grows upright, and it stays green right to the ground for many years, which is great, because it will keep blocking that view at eye-level. That doesn’t mean it stay small, as it can eventually grow 30 feet tall and 12 feet wide – and it won’t take long to do it. The first thing to remember is that if you are planting this tree and don’t plan to trim it, make sure it has room to grow. Plant it at least 6 feet away from walls, fences, existing plants, and your house. Don’t plant it beneath a window, there are lots of other dwarf evergreens for spots like that.

Thuja Green Giant will stay dense and upright, if you trim it, or if you don’t. Untrimmed it will grow taller, but you can make a very good maintenance-free barrier from it with no trimming, just so long as you have enough room for it to grow to full size.

Where Will Thuja Green Giant Grow?

Thuja Green Giant grows anywhere from zone 5 to zone 9. If you don’t know your growing zone, you can enter your postcode on this Department of Agriculture site and quickly find out. If it turns out you live in a colder zone than 5, use Emerald Green Arborvitae instead – it looks similar and is hardy in the coldest places.

As for soil, don’t worry, this tree will grow in just about any kind of soil, if it is not constantly wet. Even in wet places, if you plant your trees on a ridge of soil, they will usually adapt and thrive.

This tough tree grows best in full sun, but it will also grow well in partial shade – that is, either a place that gets a few hours of sun a day, or that is in light shade from deciduous trees or buildings.

How do I Make a Hedge or Screen with Thuja Green Giant?

For a hedge that will be solid in just a few years, space them 3 feet apart. If you are not in too much of a hurry you can space them up to 5 feet apart. Whatever you choose, space them evenly. For an untrimmed screen, space them at least 5 feet apart, and you can increase that to as much as 10 feet, if you don’t need a solid barrier in a hurry. Remember to allow room for them to grow wider, so allow at least 3 feet for a trimmed hedge, or 6 feet for an untrimmed screen, away from a path or driveway, or your property boundary.

How Do I Plant Thuja Green Giant?

If you are not used to planting trees, don’t worry – it’s easy. Prepare the ground first, by digging the ground deeply, by hand or with a roto-tiller. If you are planting just one or two trees, then dig an area about 3 feet across, a spade deep, and plant in the center of that. For a hedge or screen, it is best to dig a full row, but you can just make individual holes instead. If you use a roto-tiller go over the ground several times to till it as deeply as you can. If there are a lot of weeds, try to rake out as many roots as you can. It is best if you can add some organic material at the same time, digging it well into the soil. There are lots of suitable materials – garden compost, rotted animal manures like cow, sheep or horse, mushroom compost if it is available where you live, and peat moss or rotted leaves are good too. Use a plant starter fertilizer as well, to activate the soil and give your new trees the nutrients they need to get off to a good start.

When it comes time to plant, water your plants well the night before, and dig the holes. If you prepared the soil well, the hole only needs to be as deep as the depth of the pot. Slide the pot off the roots and take a look. If there are roots wrapping around and around inside the pot, take a sharp knife and cut from top to bottom an inch deep, through those roots at three places around the pot, and also make a cross across the bottom. Now place the tree into the hole, adding firm soil beneath it until it is at the same level as it was in the pot. Put back some of the soil, and firm it down with your feet around the root ball. Fill the hole to the top with water. Let it drain away and then put back the rest of the soil, firming it down again around the roots. Water again if the surrounding soil is dry, and you are all done.

How do I Take Care of Thuja Green Giant?

Caring for this tough tree is easy. For the first year or two, remember to water once a week all season, stopping when all the leaves are off the trees. In warm areas, if winter is dry, water from time to time. After those early years, if you water regularly you will get lots of growth, but established plants will survive all but the most extended drought. Trim or don’t trim – the choice is yours. Now that was easy.

Thuja Green Giant and the ‘Hedge or Fence?’ Debate

Probably the most fundamental aspect of a garden is its boundaries. These may be along the property line, or they may be internal divisions, separating one part of the garden from another. For some gardeners they are just the beginning, to be followed by trees, shrubs, beds, and a complex garden design. For others, just a lawn and a shade tree are all that needs adding, once that important privacy is found.

When it comes to those boundaries, there is an on-going debate about how to make it – should I erect a fence, or should I plant a hedge? As well, if a hedge is chosen, then what plant should it be? Both fences and hedges have their cheer-leaders, and there are pros and cons for both, so let’s consider them, to help you make the best decision for yourself.

The Benefits of Fences

Probably the major reason many choose a fence is that once done, its done. That is to say, it’s finished the day it goes in. Full height, solid barrier, there is nothing more to do. Installation is often quick, using a post-hole driller, and panels attach quickly too. A day or two, and a professional will have it all done. Even if you save money by doing it yourself, it probably will only take a couple of weekends, perhaps with the help of some friends, and the job is done.

If you choose a suitable material, perhaps good-quality vinyl, or coated metal, then you can be looking at 10 or 20 years without any maintenance. Wooden fences have a shorter life, and they are cheaper too, unless you choose high-end lumber for it.

Fences are a good choice for a smaller space, particularly if you don’t have much space between your property and your neighbors, since it takes up very little room. It looks neat, and it won’t intrude on your neighbor’s property, even if it is right on the property line.

Problems with Fences

A large factor against fences is cost – the generally cost significantly more than a hedge to install, and cheaper options usually need more frequent maintenance, and deteriorate more quickly too. $20 to $40 a foot, installed, can easily be the cost of a fence, which is significantly more than planting a hedge.

A second problem is height. While a fence may be a reasonable choice at 4 to 6 feet, a 15-foot fence is a daunting proposition, and very expensive too. A hedge of that size, while perhaps tricky to trim if you need to, is perfectly feasible.

Thirdly, some communities require planning permission for fences, but not for hedges. That permission often comes with height limitations, and it may require the consent of a neighbor too, which can be a problem if you want that barrier because of a problem neighbor!

Benefits of Hedges

Beauty is one of the primary benefits of a hedge – in most cases, once a fence is installed people try to hide it with plants anyway, so why not just use plants from the get-go? That lush wall of green is a garden feature in its own right, and many people take pride in their hedges in a way they never would with their fence.

Then there is the quality of the screening. While a hedge creates a visual barrier, it does little else. A living hedge filters out noise, dust, air pollution and wind, while a fence can often increase wind speed, and doesn’t reduce noise very much either. This is an especially important benefit if you live along a highway, where a hedge really can bring tranquility, and create a micro-climate for gardening behind it. In summer a hedge even has a cooling effect, as moisture evaporates from the foliage, cooling the air as it does so.

Remember that 10 to 20-year life for a fence? It sounds good at the beginning, but as they say, time flies, and you could be ready to sell your property just when that fence needs replacing. A broken-down fence is a big negative to buyers, and you might find yourself having to invest in a new one. A hedge, on the other hand, will just be getting into its stride, and will look great after 20 years, if it has been well-maintained.

Another benefit of a hedge is to wildlife. Your hedge is a miniature wild-life sanctuary. Even if the hedge doesn’t provide food directly, it gives nesting sites and protection to birds, which in turn bring you song and excitement.

Problems with Hedges

The main problem most people see with hedges is the time it takes to grow, and its maintenance. It’s true that you must wait a while for a hedge to establish, fill-in and reach the height you want, and this is where a fast-growing evergreen like Thuja Green Giant gets into the picture. It has been proven to be the fastest plant on roots, yet it forms a solid, durable and long-lived barrier. In good conditions, and during the early years of establishment, a hedge of Thuja Green Giant can add three to five feet of growth in a single year. So it really won’t be long at all before you have a good visual barrier, and in a few years you will be looking at a beautiful barrier.

The other thing often raised is maintenance. People think they have ‘black thumbs’, not green ones, and they will soon kill their new hedge. Others have busy lives and they are not sure if they have the time needed. The good news is that a plant like Thuja Green Giant is very easy to grow. If you put down a simple irrigation line when planting, you can easily take care of watering. With modern slow-release fertilizers, feeding a hedge is a once a year quick job, and with Thuja Green Giant pests and diseases are never a problem – even deer usually leave it alone.

As for trimming, if you have a larger garden that doesn’t even need doing at all. Thuja Green Giant has a naturally dense, upright growth pattern, and forms a solid barrier without any trimming needed. Sure, it will not be that immaculate wall of green, but it is still lovely and green, and does everything a more formal hedge can do.

If you do choose to trim, the exercise is great, and you can always hire professionals to do it – consider the money you saved from that expensive fence.

Make Your Choice

There are lots of things to consider, and of course the choice is yours to make. But consider that there is something special about working with living plants, that an inanimate fence can never provide. Of all the hedging plants you can choose, Thuja Green Giant ticks more boxes than any other – which of course is why it is the number one evergreen across most of the country.

4 Signs it’s Time to Replant your Hedge – and how to make the new one last longer

Hedges are a basic garden feature. They create privacy and a sense of enclosure, providing protection for people and plants from cold winds. So we want them to look good, but often they don’t. Sometimes a careful trim will bring them back, but sometimes an older hedge is too far gone to be saved. How to tell the difference?

A hedge should last at least 30 years, and some gardens have hedges 100 years old or more. Partly it depends on the plants used – if they can be trimmed hard back they can have a longer life – but it also depends on the maintenance given, and how the hedge was developed when young.

Here are some things to look for that will tell you if time is up for your hedge, or if it can be salvaged. If you do put in a new hedge, some of these problems can be prevented, so your new hedge will ook good for longer than the old one did.

4 Signs it’s Time to Replant your Hedge

  • Dead areas – if you have a lot of dead in a hedge, it’s probably time to replace it
  • Gaps where plants have died – it is always hard to fill these gaps in mature hedges – sounds like time to replant
  • Bare at the base – once a hedge thins at the bottom, there is no recovery. Replanting time
  • Grown too wide – sooner or later paths and drives can be obstructed. For most hedge plants, that means it needs replacing

Dead areas

There is dead, and then there is dead. If you have brown areas on the face of your hedge, take a closer look and see why. Is the brown all attached to one branch, or is it scattered? Has a plant died, so that all its interlaced branches are now brown? Are there signs of insect damage, or disease? Black, brown or reddish spots on the leaves, or growths on the stems, can indicate a disease. Bagworms will attack some hedge plants, and their nests made of twigs will be visible hanging on the branches.

If a whole plant, or several, have died, then once you take it out you will have gaps, which we will talk about lower down. If it is just branches, then often you can remove these, and the surrounding live parts will grow into the spaces in a couple of years or less, depending on their size. Obviously smaller spaces fill more quickly, and you can protect against big gaps from branches dying by trimming in all directions, not just upwards, so that the branches grow out horizontally, not in long sweeps up the hedge.

Gaps where plants have died

If you have had to remove a dead plant, or perhaps you have an older hedge that has already lost plants, these can sometimes be replaced with new ones. To get back to a perfect, uniform surface you need to know what the plants are, which can be tricky, but if you plant something similar the color and texture difference might just be ‘interesting’ – it depends on what kind of person you are. Plants beginning to die out could be a sign of an old hedge, so it can often be better to replant from scratch than keep trying to fill in gaps.

There are two key things for filling gaps – use good-sized plants and dig planting holes that are as big as possible. Set the new plants inside the hedge, so that they can grow out and fill in the space. Don’t plant them on the edge, or they can never grow properly.

When you are planting a new hedge, buy a few extra plants and put them in another part of the garden. Trim them when you trim the hedge. Then if you lose a plant or two from your hedge, you can use these spare plants. They will match perfectly, be the same age, already have some density and structure, and be used to your garden. It makes sense.

Bare at the base

This is a classic problem with hedges that have been trimmed badly. There really is no simple solution on an established hedge, so if you need that coverage and privacy it is time to plant a new hedge. This problem develops when a hedge is trimmed evenly all over. The top always grows faster than the bottom, so if you trim evenly it is inevitable that the top grows wider. Then it shades the bottom and steals food reserves, weakening the growth further. Soon the lower branches are dead, and the growth of your hedge migrates to the top.

With your new hedge, don’t make the same mistake. The face of a hedge should slope slightly inwards, so that light, water and nutrients reach the lower branches. To achieve this, you need to trim more from the upper parts than from lower down. That’s all it takes, it’s simple, but often not understood by novice trimmers.

Too wide

Over time, hedges grow. It is not possible to keep them to zero growth, although we can get close to it with regular trimming. The less often you trim, the quicker they will grow wide. Suddenly you find your car brushing against the hedge along the drive, or you can’t walk down the path anymore. Beds in front of the hedge become engulfed, and neighbors complain they can’t get down the sidewalk.

It depends on the type of plant used to make your hedge, but with most evergreens, particularly conifers, like Thuja Green Giant, Leyland Cypress, or Emerald Green Arborvitae, cannot be cut back into branches with no leaves on them. That is why regular trimming – little and often – is the best. If you have a wide hedge, you can cut back as hard as you can, always leaving some green, and then repeat that once it thickens up. This way you can certainly get back a foot or so. If the problem is bigger than that, this is another signal to replant – you will be amazed how much garden space you recover!

Some plants, like most broad-leaf evergreens, and conifers like yew trees, can be cut back to bare wood and they will re-sprout. This is why we sometimes see yew hedges that are hundreds of years old. The technique to reduce the spread of plants like this is simple. Cut back one side very hard, leaving the other side alone. In a year or two the cut-back side with have re-sprouted and be lush and green. Now you can do the other side. The whole process takes 3 to 4 years, but its still quicker than replanting. Pity it doesn’t work for everything! For other plants that have outgrown their allotted space, the only solution is to plant a nice new hedge.

Ladders for Hedge Trimming – Tripod or Orchard Ladders

In last week’s blog we took a look at safe hedge trimming, an important subject for those who value their safety – and who doesn’t? In passing we mentioned ladders, and specifically tripod ladders, a professional tool that should be in every garden. Since it got only a brief mention, it seemed that ladders, so necessary for trimming tall hedges and evergreens, was a subject that needed more discussion. So here we go. . .

What’s Wrong with My Regular Ladder?

You probably already have a conventional step-ladder, and if you do use it in the garden you will probably already be aware of the limitations. Unlike a floor, gardens are often uneven or sloping, so it’s difficult to place a step-ladder on the ground without it wobbling. Perhaps you end up placing boards or bricks under the too-short leg(s), but this is an accident waiting to happen, and unstable support is the cause of many falls from ladders. If your hedge runs alongside steps, it is particularly difficult if not impossible to get a ladder on that section, so cutting is made much more difficult.

The second problem is getting at the hedge. With four legs you must place the ladder parallel to the hedge, so you are standing facing sideways, instead of face-on. This makes it more difficult, and dangerous, to reach the top and trim it thoroughly. A relatively easy job becomes frustrating or downright impossible.

If like most gardeners you have faced these difficulties, you probably thought they were just something you had to live with, unless you were willing to work with adjustable platforms, which are large, slow to erect and take down, hard to move and often impossible in confined spaces.

Three-legged Ladders Make a Lot of Sense

The answer has been around for centuries, but oddly it is largely unknown to American gardeners. In Europe, the United Kingdom and Japan the solution is well-known, but in the USA many gardeners struggle along with their step-ladders, not realizing there is a simple answer – cut off one of the legs.

No, not from your step-ladder, Homer. The third leg must be centered at the back, and it is often adjustable in length too. Three-legged ladders solve both of the main problems with using a regular step-ladder in the garden – unevenness of the ground and facing the hedge.

These ladders are called ‘tripod ladders’, or sometimes ‘orchard ladders’, because they are also very useful for fruit-picking and general tree pruning, as well as trimming topiary and clipping any kind of evergreen or tall bush. Working around the garden is so much easier with one, and everyone is amazed by their versatility and usefulness, compared to struggling with a conventional step-ladder.

With just three legs, as long as the front two are on a level surface, the third one can be anywhere. The third leg can be leaned out at any angle, so for a down-hill slope pull it closer, and for an uphill-one lean it further away. The step section can be kept with the steps horizontal with that simple adjustment. Even easier, many models have an adjustable height on the tripod leg, so by shortening or lengthening it you keep the steps horizontal, no matter where you need to place the foot of the third leg. So uneven surfaces are no longer a problem – you can even use it along garden steps.

Even more useful is the ease with which you can slide the tripod leg inside your hedges, making it possible to climb up and face the hedge straight on. Not only is that a much safer working position, it gives you more reach onto the top, and further back. The top step is now right against the hedge, and you can use the trimmers to their maximum extent. Until you try it, you can hardly believe how much easier this is. There is only one situation where facing the hedge can be difficult, and that is on a steep slope, where the two front legs are not level enough for safety, however that is partly compensated for by the design.

What is a Tripod Ladder Like?

The front of a tripod ladder is designed for safety in the garden. Instead of sides that are parallel, they flare out, so the lowest steps are much wider than the upper ones. This creates a very stable tripod-effect and means that when you lean to one side or another, you are much safer, and there is much less chance of the ladder tipping sideways, even if it has a bit of a lean to left or right. So minor unevenness of the ground under the step legs is not the problem it can be for a conventional ladder. For a steeper slope you do need to face the ladder up or down the slope.

The third leg attaches with a hinge just below the top of the ladder, and it can be angled outward without any restraints. This raises the only safety concern. If you have smooth stone or paved surfaces in front of your hedges, then the legs can slide more easily. If the ladder has an adjustable third leg, so that you can keep the angle constant no matter if the ground falls or rises, then the leg will be chained for safety. Some manufactures supply non-slip feet for use on hard surfaces, and these are definitely worth having – and remembering to put on when needed.

Tripod ladders are available in height between 5 and 16 feet, usually in one-foot increments. Not all manufacturers will cover the full range. Some have a wider platform on that all-important ‘third step from the top’ which is the safe place to stand when working from a ladder. This is very helpful too, for extra stability and safety. On the third step from the top you can work with both arms free, without danger of tipping over.Go higher and you can fall, like tipping over a balcony with a too-low railing.

So Where Can I Buy a Tripod Ladder?

If you Google them you will see lots for sale in the United Kingdom, but they can be found in America too. A major US supplier is Hasegawa, with distributors on both coasts. An American manufacturer is Stokes Ladders, who also have a network of distributors. There are others too. Finding a ladder is not going to be much of a problem for you, wherever you live. If you are a serious gardener, you will wonder how you ever lived without one.

Trim Your Hedges Safely

With the weather warming up, the first trim of hedges, screens and specimen evergreens is on the calendar for many gardeners. Gardening is a great activity, and it is good exercise too, but there are hidden risks. Accidents are much more common than often thought, and although mowing lawns is the most dangerous activity, falls and cuts are alarmingly common too. Trimming hedges and evergreens involves ladders and sharp tools, so it pays to know what you are doing and to take care. Strangely, professionals are trained and often certified to use equipment and tools that home gardeners simply pick up at a hardware and start using with no understanding of the risks, or how to work safely. Don’t add yourself to the accident statistics.

Keep tools safe for use

Hedge trimmers are potentially dangerous, so make sure you know how to use them safely. The first step is to read the manual and pay attention to the specific safety features of your machine. All three types of trimmers – electric, gasoline and battery – have their own potential problems, and if you aren’t aware of them accidents are more likely.

  • Keep equipment maintained and sharp – clean your machine after use. Prepare it properly for winter storage. Lubricate as needed. Have the blades sharpened regularly. Depending on your machine, you may be able to learn how to do that correctly yourself, or you can take it to a professional. Sharp tools are no only safer, as they are less likely to snag, but they make clean cuts, so your hedge will look better too.
  • Check all cords and plugs – never use an electric trimmer with a damaged cord, or loose plugs. Even in a short-circuit doesn’t kill you, the shock can throw you off a ladder.
  • Never work with electricity in damp weather – if you live in an area where damp and rainy weather is common, a gasoline or battery machine may be a better choice.
  • Switch off when moving around – unplug your trimmer if it doesn’t have a safety lock. Stop a gasoline engine. Walking around or climbing ladders with a running machine is an accident waiting to happen.
  • Store in a secure place – children are fascinated by tools. Make sure they can’t get at the trimmer by storing it in a locker or locked shed.

Use Tools Safely

Just as important as keeping the tools themselves safe, is using them safely. Never be in a hurry – that’s when accidents happen. Take your time, get into the correct positions to work, operate tools safely, and wear safety equipment.

  • Wear safety goggles and gloves – flying particles and dust can get into your eyes. That happening suddenly can distract you and cause an accident, and of course the particle in your eye is already an accident. Wear gloves that give you a better grip and protect your hands. If up a ladder, wear a hard hat – professionals do it, and you can too. A hat with an integrated face shield is more comfortable than goggles.
  • Keep your feet safe – don’t work in bare feet or flipflops. When standing on the ground you can carelessly lower the tip of moving trimmers to your feet. Wear sturdy outdoor shoes – you will have a better grip on the ground, and less chance of slipping too.
  • Always keep both hands on the trimmer – this is a big one. Trimmers have a grip for the second hand – use it all the time. Not only does it allow you to balance the weight, reducing strain, but you can’t accidently get your free hand in the blade if you don’t have a hand free. If you need to stretch out single-handed to trim, move your position instead.
  • Never touch the blade while plugged in – never, ever carry a trimmer by the blade. Never try to remove something jammed in it without first unplugging or turning off.
  • Only cut thin branches – if it has been a while since you trimmed, some of the branches you need to cut may be too thick. Don’t try to hold one end with one hand, while operating the trimmer with the other, as a way to cut it. Carry hand pruners – in a holster – and use them to cut anything too thick for an easy cut with the trimmers.

Working at height

Standing on the ground and trimming is one thing – working off ladders or platforms is another thing altogether.

  • Stay on the ground – the safest approach is to invest in extendible trimmers with enough height to trim from the ground. If the blade can be tilted at an angle you can even trim the top from the ground. As well as being much safer, it is a lot faster and easier working from the ground, so you save time and effort too.
  • Use a tripod ladder – If you need to use a ladder, regular step-ladders are not ideal. Tripod ladders, also called orchard ladders, with flared bases and a single back leg, are much safer. The flared base reduces the chance of tipping, and the single leg allows you to put the ladder facing the hedge, instead of sideways. The tripod leg fits right inside the hedge. This is a much easier working position, especially for trimming the top. If you have trees to prune too, you will find that so much easier with a tripod ladder. These are the choice of professionals, but strangely rarely used by home gardeners.
  • Stop the feet sinking in the ground – on soft ground the feet of a ladder can easily sink in. If that happens when you are up it, the ladder can easily tip. Have a board of a suitable size to place underneath the feet. Not only will that prevent sinking, it will give you a more stable base. Have a few small pieces with you to level it as necessary. Tripod ladders don’t have an anchor on the third leg, and usually don’t need support – they are designed for soft surfaces, and they can be dangerous if used on asphalt or pathways. Have a regular step-ladder as well for those situations.
  • Never climb an unstable ladder – always keep the base of a ladder horizontal. If it is crooked it will tip with your weight on top. Falls are a major gardening accident, and they can be serious if not fatal.

All these things are common sense, but it is amazing how often people get themselves into dangerous situations. Bravado and taking risks seems to be a ‘guy thing’, but staying alive, with all your fingers attached, is a ‘guy thing’ too!

Putting a Trench Under a Hedge

One of the most frustrating events for any gardener proud of their hedge is when they learn that a service such as water, drainage, sewage, electricity or cables must be laid under that hedge that has been developed and perfected over many years. Carefully watered, trimmed, fertilized and perhaps treated for threatening pests. There are many reasons why these services need to be installed. It could be a new service, or the renovation of an old one, or the replacement of one system with another – for example new fiber optics. There is no way to avoid it – they must pass underground directly beneath that lovely, established hedge. What a shame! You are now faced, you think, with years of re-building, because the usual approach to running a trench under a hedge is to dig out two or three of the plants, to make enough room for trenching equipment to pass through. In this blog we will look at a newer technique that makes it possible to run conduit, drains and other services underneath a hedge without disturbing the plants. Let’s take a look.

The Standard Approach

Once the service is then installed, and the soil replaced, there are two options. Some people try to put back the original plants, but in an established hedge those plants will have a very specific shape, the result of years of trimming, and even lining them up correctly again can be difficult. Much more important, it is very hard to remove an established tree in a hedge with a good root-ball. The roots are just too entwined with the trees on either side, and the tree has been in place too long to achieve this without a couple of years preparation. Consequently, an inadequate root-ball is prepared, the tree is often treated poorly while it waits for re-planting, and often allowed to dry out accidently. In most cases these trees that are confidently put back simply decline over a period of months, or even a year or two, before finally dying. They almost never restore the hedge or eliminate that nasty gap.

The second alternative is to put in new plants. This is usually a far better option. If the hedge is not too tall, and large replacement plants are used, in a few years they can grow in well and hide the space. But it does take a few years. If this is a 10-foot tall hedge, or more, you can easily be looking at upwards of five years for even a large plant to fill in well.

Getting a Good Match

There is another issue too. Are you sure you know exactly the plant species and variety that was used for this hedge? If you don’t, then the new plants will not perform in the same way. The color will be different. They will start and end growth at the beginning and end of the season at separate times. They will have a different growth habit, and a different visual texture. Rather than the smooth, continuous texture and color we look for in a hedge, it will look like a patch-job, always different. If you cannot get a reasonably close identification of the plant used, then you may not even get close to matching at all, and as the trees mature you will have a totally different look in that area.

An Alternative Approach

All in all, none of these options look too promising, and they all involve a lot of handling of large plants, expense, and lots of time – with no certain outcome. What to do? Luckily there is a relatively new tool on the market, often already in the possession of landscapers and arborists who do transplanting. It’s called an Air Spade.

An air spade is a simple piece of equipment. It’s a hollow lance perhaps 6 feet long, with a spray nozzle on the end. The other end has a trigger control and is connected to an air compressor through a hose. To be effective pressures of 90 pounds per square inch, and air-flow of 200 to 300 cubic feet per minute are used, but the secret is in the nozzle, which is designed to deliver an almost laser-like air blast, the cuts into the soil.

This equipment was first developed in the 1980s, but it has only been in the last decade or so that landscapers have begun to use it. The biggest use is for transplanting larger trees and shrubs, which can be done much more effectively with an air spade than by traditional digging. The air spade is used to peel away the soil from the roots, so that almost all of the root system can be exposed, and with a minimal amount of cutting it can be lifted from the ground. This is much lighter than regular dug root balls, so transport is much easier. The roots can then be spread out again in a large hole, the tree staked, and transplanting is successful and easier much more often than by traditional methods.

Trenching with an Air Spade

No, the idea here is not to use an air spade to remove the plants from the hedge, but to use it to dig the trench. That’s right. Air spades are widely used today by utility companies to access services for repair more quickly, and thus more cheaply. They are increasingly being used to dig trenches under street trees too, which brings us back to our original hedge problem.

If the trench for the drains, new sewage system, installing a water supply, etc. is dug with an air-spade, then it is possible to dig right under the hedge, between two trunks, without disturbing the root system very much at all. The picture at the lead of this blog shows you how much root is left after trenching close to trees. The same technique can be used through a hedge. The trees will not be disturbed, and the conduit or drain-pipe is threaded through the trench under the roots, with minimal cutting required. Once the soil is replaced, life continues as normal, as if nothing has happened at all.

So Next Time You Need to Do This. . .

Air spades are widely available today with many contractors and arborists. So if you find yourself needing to run a service through a hedge, tell your contractor you want them to use an air spade, instead of digging a traditional trench. It should not be hard to find a local contractor who has the equipment and staff to do it. No more dead trees and years of waiting for your beautiful hedge to be repaired, usually with limited success. This equipment can also be used for trenching near trees, and it has saved many specimens from serious damage. Let’s protect our hedges and trees, by encouraging contractors to use air spades instead of traditional, destructive trenching equipment.

Filling Gaps in an Established Hedge

Spring is often the time when we find problems with our hedges, where due to damage or death a gap has developed. This can be because one or more branches were broken in winter, perhaps by storms or careless snow-ploughing. A plant or two may have died for unknown reasons, or perhaps due to trimming issues a section looks bare, and the trunks can be seen. The loss of a section big enough to create an actual break in the hedge is a genuine problem, and one that cries out for a solution. Thinning and poorly-developed areas are usually less serious, but still, they create an eye-sore we would rather not see. In either case, a solution is needed, so let’s consider how to solve this all too widespread problem.

What’s the Problem?

Often the first response is just to dig a small hole and put in one or more small plants, expecting them to grow and fill the space. This rarely works. Small plants added in this way will either die in a few months, or sit, hardly growing at all, sometimes for years. The problem persists and just doesn’t go away. The reason is root competition. The established plants in your hedge have vigorous, well-established and deep roots. If you make a hole and loosen the soil, the surrounding plants will respond by immediately sending voracious feeding roots into the loosened soil, filling it quickly, and stealing that extra water and nutrients you are giving the young plants. The babies never have a chance against those vigorous old-timers.

Think Big

The first step in getting your gap filled successfully is to use large plants – the larger the better. Since you only need one or a few, the extra cost of bigger plants is not the same issue it was when you planted the hedge. Indeed, with a new hedge there is a good argument for using slightly smaller, younger plants, as these often establish faster and catch up in a few years with a hedge made of larger plants.

For gap filling, this is not true. A new big tree has a much better chance of resisting the bully tactics of the established plants in the hedge. Buy nice big plants.

Get the Position Right

Our goal in filling those gaps is to make them disappear, and instead replace them with regular hedge. To do that they need to be correctly place. Too far back from the face of the hedge and there will be a recess for years to come. To near the face and they will never be able to develop properly. If your hedge is very wide, which old hedges can be, then you may need to use two plants, one on each side closer to that face, or the gap will be there forever. How far back to set the plants depends on the type of hedge you have. With smaller hedges, made from Emerald Green Arborvitae for example, then 18 inches back is about right. For larger plants, like Thuja Green Giant, 2 feet should work well. The important thing is to have enough room for the new plant to develop good branching structure and a wide face, but not so much room that it takes more than 2 or 3 years to fill in.

Some people try planting small plants at the face of the hedge, trying to fill in bare sections at the bottom. This never works, because there is no width for the new plants to grow into. Every time the hedge is trimmed, the new plants get scalped right back, and eventually die.

Another factor is spacing, if the gap needs more than one plant. If the original spacing is wide – and you can check that by finding the original rooting spots – then you will have a large gap if one plant dies. You will be able to fill that gap quicker if you use two plants where one used to be. However, don’t go closer together than the minimum recommended for the plant species you are using. This is often 3 feet apart. If you pack them closer they will struggle upwards, instead of spreading wide, so you still won’t get that gap filled properly.

Make Room

Once you have decided on the position for the new plant, or group of new plants, you must create a large space for them to grow in. This is vital, but it can also be hard work. The roots of an established hedge are thick and dense, so you need to cut them away with a sharp spade. There is never room for a roto-tiller, so the digging must be done by hand. Tough as it can be, you need to make the biggest space you can for your new plants. Don’t worry about the roots you are removing, there are plenty more where those came from. Anything an inch thick or less is unimportant. Thicker roots should be left in place if possible – just trim the side roots from them. Use sharp pruners to make a clean cut on the severed roots – don’t leave broken, jagged cuts where disease can easily enter the trees.

Make the hole as wide as you can in every direction – 2 feet across or even more, if there is room. Go down at least a foot, and break-up the underlying soil. By the time you remove the pieces of dead root you may not have enough soil to refill the hole. Bring some rich soil from another part of the garden and enrich all the soil with organic material and bone meal or superphosphate – for good root development of the new plants.

Build Walls

If you are placing your new plants into a small space between large, established plants, then those established plants will quickly send out vigorous roots and compete with the new plants. A good strategy in that situation is to create a barrier on two sides of your planting hole, to keep those roots out. Don’t go all the way round, just on the sides against the existing plants. Double thickness plastic sheeting is suitable, or pieces of board, which will last a few years before rotting away. Take the barrier down at least 12 inches, and deeper is better. Make it at least 2 feet wide, and 3 feet is better if you can. Bring it a couple of inches above the final soil level, so roots don’t grow over the top.

Care for the New Plants

Finally, give those new plants extra care. Make sure they are well watered and regularly fertilized, so that they quickly establish and develop.

If you handle it well, filling gaps is possible, and is a lot more satisfactory than starting all over with a new hedge. Mind you, if the damage is extensive, and you have several large gaps, starting afresh is probably the best strategy. Its almost impossible to rebuild a hedge damaged extensively. With the strategies we have outlined here, you should be able to successfully fill in damaged spots, so that in a few years you won’t be able to even find them.

The Vital First Year – Get the Best from Your New Thuja Green Giant

Congratulations. You have certainly made the right choice – this spring you are planting Thuja Green Giant. Maybe you are replacing that old hedge, or putting in a brand new one, to give your garden structure. Perhaps its is going to be a screen, to protect you from a busy road, driving winds, or for privacy. It could be that you have planted some specimens to create large vertical accents, or an avenue along a driveway. Whatever your reason, after careful consideration you have chosen the best, and certainly the fastest-growing, evergreen there is. But even the best can use help to perform at the top of its game.

They say the first year is the most important one for babies, and its also true for plants. That first growing season, from the preparation of the planting area to the last trim of the year, will set your plants up for top growth, good health, and a trouble-free life. There are some basic things you can do that will create that good start, so let’s look at some pointers on giving your Thuja Green Giant a terrific first year.

Handling Your New Plants on Arrival

The year starts with planting, and there are some things you can do that will make it a success. Before even that, if you have received your potted trees, and you are not quite ready to plant them, don’t forget to keep the pots moist. If the weather is warm those plants can use a lot of water, and pots may need watering every couple of days. First, don’t leave them in the packaging, but unpack immediately, including removing any string or wrapping. Once you do that, examine the soil in the pots. The chances are it will be a little dry, as plants ship best in that condition. If it is, give the pots a good deep soaking, until water flows from the bottom of the pots. Put them in a partially shaded spot – afternoon shade and morning sun is ideal – for a few days while they recover from the shipping. If you are holding them longer than that, move them into full sun, leaving a foot or so between each plant – don’t crowd them together. Every second day check the soil in a few pots, chosen at random. Once the top couple of inches are dry, water thoroughly, again making sure the water drains out the bottom of the pots. Repeat as necessary until you can do the planting.

Soil Preparation

Don’t be in a hurry to plant – those trees will be fine in the pots, even for a month or more – just as long as you water them. Preparing the planting area well takes time, so don’t rush it. The critical thing is to create a large and deep area of loosened soil, so that the new plants can send out roots to establish a large root zone for water and nutrient collection. You should dig or rototill at least 12 inches down, in a strip at least 3 feet wide if you are planting a hedge. If you just dig a hole a little bigger than the pot, and plant into that, there is a good chance that the surrounding soil is hard and compacted – an inhospitable environment for roots.

As well, adding organic material is always a good idea – it enriches sandy soil and holds water, while improving drainage in wet, clay soils – it’s a win-win for every soil type when you use organic material in your garden.

Soil Conditioners

Especially if your soil is poor and your garden new, adding beneficial soil organisms as a biological supplement is a good idea. Soil may lack the correct bacteria and fungi to release nutrients from the soil, and these soil conditioners will bring them in. Look for a mixture that has mycorrhizal fungi spores in it. These amazing organisms form symbiotic relationships with plants by interacting with their roots. There are two kinds, and both should be in your conditioner. Ectomorphic mycorrhizals grow in a cylinder around the tiniest roots of your plant. Endomorphic mycorrhizals grow right in between the cells of the roots and spread out into the soil. Both forms collect nutrients from the soil and exchange them with the plants. These organisms can really boost growth, and they are best added at planting time. Incorporate them into the soil that you put back around the root balls when planting.

Root Spreading

If your plants have been well-grown, there will be a strong mass of roots in the pot. When you plant, these roots need encouragement to spread outwards, and even more important, they need to be stopped from circling around the stem, becoming girdling roots that can strangle the expanding trunk of your trees.

Fixing this problem is easy – just take sharp knife and cut from top to bottom of the root ball at three or four points around it, cutting through the outermost layer of roots. Sounds scary? Don’t worry, its arborist certified as the correct and best method, so go ahead – it won’t hurt, promise. Instead it will help your trees develop and establish quickly, and prevent problems developing further in the future.

Correct Planting Depth

When planting your trees, plant them in the ground, not underground. In other words, the final level of the plants should put the top of the root-ball at the surface of the soil, not buried several inches underground. Deep planting is a terrible mistake, that can lead to poor growth and future trunk problems. Put soil underneath the root-ball until it is at the same level as the final soil. Kake sure you firm down the soil underneath, so that the root ball doesn’t sink into the ground – it can happen. If your soil is heavy and often wet, planting on a low mound, perhaps 6 inches above the surrounding soil, will improve the air-supply to the roots – an important requirement for all plants.

Watering

By far the biggest cause of poor growth and plant loss in the first year is watering problems. Remember how those pots needed regular water? Well for a while after planting that is what you have – pot-sized roots sitting in the earth. Those are the only roots that can bring water into the plant, and that small root ball can dry quickly. When planting, it’s important to firm down the soil around the roots – don’t leave air pockets, as these prevent water moving from the soil into the root-ball.

When watering in the first year, water the area where the root-ball is, and a little further out. Its best to let a hose soak each plant at the stem, and them spread the water outwards. If you just look at the soil surface, it may look damp, but the roots themselves can be dry. Usually twice a week for the first month or so, and then once a week for the rest of the year is ideal.

Fertilizer

In that first year, use a liquid hedge fertilizer as directed for the particular one you buy. That is often every two weeks, or once a month. Liquid fertilizers are best in the first year, because the nutrients flow right down to the roots and they are absorbed immediately. Granular and slow-release fertilizers are ideal for later years.

Trimming

Finally, trim an inch or two of your plants as soon as they start growing, and a couple of times through the season. Waiting until they are fully-grown is a big mistake – you want to build good structure right from the start.

 

If you follow these tips, at the end of that first season you will see excellent growth and development. In the second year your trees will really take off, and before you know it you will have some real green giants in your garden.