Planning Your Thuja Green Giant Hedge

Ah, so you have decided to put in a hedge or screen of Thuja Green Giant. Good choice! Not only is this the fastest-growing evergreen available, it is also one of the most adaptable to climate and soil. It is hardy to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit, so it will grow happily in zone 5. If you live in colder zones, then a better choice is the Emerald Green Arborvitae, which grows well in chilly zones 3 and 4 – it’s not too late to change your choice!

Besides being cold-resistant, Thuja Green Giant also thrives in heat, and in addition it is both humidity and drought resistant. Wherever you live, from the humid South to the drier Mid-West and Texas, this tough plant will grow through all the warmer zones, including zone 9. That means that unless you live in the southern part of Florida, or around San Diego, California, you can relax. Your Green Giant Hedge is going to grow vigorously and well, wherever you live.

As for soil, it really doesn’t matter much at all. You have sandy soil? Fine. Clay soil? No problem. Something in-between? Nothing to worry about at all. Even if your soil is often wet, that won’t matter either. The only limitation is constantly wet and flooded soil, which does not suit Thuja Green Giant. One idea if you have a wet area, is to build a ridge of soil about 3 feet wide, with a ditch on either side. If you plant along the top of the ridge, the extra drainage you have created will often make it possible to grow this very forgiving plant even in a wet location.

How Many Thuja Green Giant for a Hedge?

So now, having made the right choice, the first question is, “How many plants do I need?” Answering this question is easy – just follow these steps:

  • Measure the Distance – first you need to measure the area you want to run the hedge along. Do this carefully with a tape, as you want to get it right.
  • Decide the Spacing – don’t make the mistake of planting too close. Plan to space at 3 feet apart for a quick-filling hedge, or up to 5 feet if you have a little more patience, or want to save on the number of plants.
  • Double or Single Row? – if you have room, and want a really dense hedge or screen, then a staggered double row is the right choice. It doesn’t take many extra plants, as they are spaced more widely in the rows. For the equivalent of a 3-foot single row, space the double rows 2 feet apart and the plants 5 ½ feet apart in the rows. For the equivalent of a 5-foot spacing, plan on putting the rows 3 feet apart, and the plants 8 feet apart.
  • Divide the Distance by the Spacing You Chose – do this division, double that result for a double row, and you have your answer. If it contains a fraction, just go up or down to the nearest number.

What Else Do You Need?

To improve the soil, you will need some organic material. Garden compost or animal manures are best, but well-rotted leaves are good too, and peat moss is fine if that is what you have. You need the length of your hedge as cubic feet or material. That means for a 30-foot hedge you need 30 cubic feet of compost. Some extra never hurts.

You also need some mulching material, such as shredded bark, to cover the soil when you are finished planting your trees. You need the same amount as the amount of organic material needed for digging into the soil. You might also use some fertilizer for evergreens as well, especially if you have sandy soil, but adding organic material is always better than relying on fertilizer alone.

For preparing the soil, a spade is good if you are strong and fit, and the hedge is not too long. Otherwise book a rental on the biggest rototiller they have. A big tiller will make the job easy, and also dig deep, which is important. You can easily do a long strip in a one-day rental.

A length of porous irrigation pipe twice the length of your hedge is an excellent addition too, as it will make watering so much easier. Maybe you need a length of regular hose to connect the porous pipe to the nearest tap as well.

Oh, one final thing. You will need a length of sturdy string to run down the hedge to get all the plants straight, and you will also need that tape you used to measure the length for your hedge and calculate how many plants you needed.

Now You are Ready to Go

It’s time now to order your plants, find out when they should arrive, and mark down a day or two to plant your hedge. You won’t need any stakes – Thuja Green Giant is too tough to need anything like that. Be prepared to water once or twice a week during the first season, and after that you can sit back and watch your hedge grow. Remember to start trimming while the hedge is still young and developing – don’t wait until it reaches the final height you want it to be. This final tip is the secret to the densest and sturdiest hedge you have ever seen.

Thuja Green Giant and Deer

Like most children, when I was young I loved deer. In books and cartoons they are always portrayed as shy and sweet. It was only when I took up gardening that I learned the truth – deer are not the gardener’s friend. They are aggressive in looking for food, and bold enough to venture into gardens, especially early in the morning, or at dusk, when no-one is around, or when they are hidden by the growing shadows.

Finding plants that deer will ignore is a necessity for gardeners in rural areas – unless you invest in a deer-proof fence, deer netting or an electric fence. White-tailed deer can jump almost 8 feet height, so a small fence is not going to cut it, and larger ones start to run expensive if you have a larger property. A fence is never a guarantee of a deer-free garden, so growing plants that deer don’t like is a better way to start.

The second necessity in many gardens is a hedge. Hedges and screens protect your property from wind and drifting snow, and they give you privacy from neighbors. You may get on very well with your neighbors (or you may not!) but you certainly don’t want them monitoring your every move. This means that putting in a hedge is usually a first priority when you move into a new home. A very popular group of plants for hedging are the arborvitae trees, and among these, the stand-out variety for rapid growth is ‘Green Giant’. This hybrid tree is far and away the most popular hedging choice when speed, height and density are your priorities. So how does this plant stand up against deer?

Bambi meets the Green Giant

This might sound more like the latest movie at the drive-in (I know, I know, there are sadly almost none left anymore) but this is exactly the situation – what happens when that cute little animal meets the big tough tree? The answer to that million-dollar question seems to be – not very much. Although with deer nothing is iron-clad, it seems that arborvitae in general, and ‘Green Giant’ in particular, are not on the tasting menu for deer at all.

Practical experience, supported by an internet search, shows that there is general agreement to put Thuja Green Giant firmly on the list of ‘deer-proof’ plants. Now immediately someone is going to say, “But deer ate my arborvitae!” and I am going to ask them, “What kind do you have?” You see, to you and I, all arborvitae may look similar, but not to a deer. The eastern arborvitae, also called white cedar or Thuja occidentalis, is (sadly) a favorite of deer, and so plants like ‘Emerald Green’ do need protection. On the other hand, western redcedar, Thuja plicata, is not attractive to deer at all. That plant is one of the parents of ‘Green Giant’, so whatever it is in western redcedar that deer don’t like, its offspring has it too.

What kind of deer is That?

Like the arborvitae, not all deer are the same either. There are two basic species in North America, with several local subspecies. The most common is the whitetail deer, Odocoileus virginianus, which lives mostly in the eastern states, but is also found to some degree in every other state except for California, Nevada, and Utah. As their name suggests, whitetail deer are easy to identify, at least when they lift their tail to make their famous ‘white flag’ gesture. The top of the tail is brown with a dark stripe down it, but the underside is pure white, and lifting the tail also reveals a white rump patch. Whitetail deer are able – and usually willing – to live near humans, so they are also the ones most often seen by us. With perhaps 14 million of them around, they can be hard to miss. In winter they gather together in groups – ‘yard up’ – on some part of their range. That is why the two or three you saw all summer suddenly become 50 when the snow starts to fly.

The larger mule deer, Odocoileus hemionus, is mostly found in western states, where it has a couple of subspecies, the Sitka deer in Alaska and the Columbia blacktail along the Pacific coast. They can also be found as far east as Texas. Mule deer spend summer in the mountains, but migrate down into valleys for the winter, when they are more likely to be seen – and come into gardens. They are easily identified by their large ears, like those of a mule, and that of course is why they got their name.

And the Winner Is. . .

So, when we read of plants eaten by deer, we also need to take into account the location – since each species has different feeding preferences – and the time of year. In a severe winter, with thick snow and limited food, just like humans in a famine, deer will eat plants that they otherwise would pass right by. With animals, nothing is guaranteed, but when it comes to putting in plants that deer will usually leave alone, Thuja Green Giant is still the number one choice both among arborvitae, and among just about any other hedging plant. When it comes to giving you the best chance of making a hedge that deer will leave alone, the Green Giant wins every time.

Finally, although a full-scale deer fence may be prohibitive, once you have a nice, dense Green Giant hedge around your property – and that won’t be very long at all – then putting a shorter, cheaper fence tight along the backside of it will keep deer from pushing through. Inside your garden is now going to become truly deer-proof. This leaves you free to grow whatever you want, without having to check it is not on the ‘preferred diet’ list of your local deer – whatever species they happen to be.

5 Steps to the Best Thuja Green Giant Hedge

Thuja Green Giant is the world’s most popular hedging plant – and no wonder. The fastest growing evergreen conifer is also hardy, resistant to heat and cold, and even grows well in coastal areas, where salt-spray can be so damaging to other kinds of hedges. But even the best plant in the world can use a little help to give you its very best, so here are five tips on how to make that happen for you – in your own garden.

5 steps to the Best Thuja Hedge

  1. Prepare the soil well – dig in plenty of organic material and a starter fertilizer
  2. Space plants correctly – for a shorter hedge use a 3-foot spacing. For a taller one go with 5 feet.
  3. Water regularly when young – to get that top growth-rate, water at least once a week
  4. Have a fertilizer program – modern slow-release fertilizers give the best results
  5. Trim your hedge to the ideal shape – start when young, slope the sides inwards slightly, and round the top

Prepare the Soil Well

Dig over the area where your hedge is going to be to a width of at least 3 feet. If it’s a long hedge, using a roto-tiller will save a lot of work, but rent a big one that digs down at least 8 inches, and ideally deeper. Go over the area several times, working the tiller deeper each time. You don’t need to take up the grass – just till it right in. Cover the whole area with some rich organic material to a depth of at least 3 inches after you have tilled once, then till it in again. You can use anything – garden compost, rotted leaves, animal manures, or peat moss – but adding that material will stimulate good root growth and quick development in your newly-planted Green Giants. This is especially important if you have sandy or clay soil – both types are improved by adding organic material. Adding some starter-fertilizer rich in phosphates – that second number in the fertilizer formula (e.g.10-30-5) – will also make a big difference. Dig it into the soil along with the organic material you use.

Space Plants Correctly

Resist the temptation to pack your plants tightly together. They will push up tall, but not develop well lower down. You will end up with a hedge that is thin near the ground. Correct spacing will allow the plants to thicken low down, and give you a dense, solid barrier. 3 to 5 feet apart is ideal for a hedge, with the wider spacing for a hedge over 6 feet tall. If you want an untrimmed screen or barrier, then 6 to 8 feet apart will work well. For an extra dense hedge, use a staggered double row, with the rows 2 or 3 feet apart and the plants 8 feet apart.

Water Regularly When Young

The first two growing seasons are vital to get your plants off to a flying start. Until the roots move out from the root-balls into the surrounding soil, they can dry out even during cool and showery weather. If you can, run a trickle-hose between the plants when you put them in. Now you can connect that to a garden hose and water regularly with ease. If you planted during warm weather, then a thorough soak twice a week is not too much. Otherwise a deep soaking once a week is far better than a quick sprinkle every day or two. Once your trees are established, a tough plant like Thuja Green Giant only need watering during extended dry periods.

Have a Fertilizer Program

Even if you have rich soil, fertilizing your hedge will improve its growth. Whatever method you use, choose a good-quality fertilizer blended for evergreen trees and hedges. These contain high levels of the nitrogen needed for rich-green, plentiful and dense growth. Nitrogen comes first in the fertilizer number (20-10-10). Young plants benefit from regular feeding with a water-soluble fertilizer. After the first year, switch to a granular formulation – it’s much less time-consuming to apply. This should be put down as per the directions, in early spring, shortly before the new growth starts. Make sure you spread the recommended amount evenly over the root-zone, which extends a couple of feet or more outside the hedge. Since these fertilizers still need two or three applications a year for top growth-rates, you might want instead to use a slow-release formulation. These are more expensive, but one application lasts the whole season.

Trim Your Hedge to the Ideal Shape

It is very important to start trimming soon after you plant your Thuja Green Giant. Don’t wait until they reach the final height you had in mind. Regular light trimming from the beginning – just an inch or two each time – will encourage dense branching and a strong hedge. You want to have lots of branches growing outwards to make thick sides, and early trimming will develop those.

Beginners at hedge trimming usually try to remove the same amount all over. Since the top grows faster than the bottom, doing this will give you a hedge that is wide at the top and thinner at the bottom. Instead, trim the top more, so that the sides slope inwards a little. This will let light reach right down to the bottom leaves, and keep them growing well. Your hedge will be thick right to the ground, just the way you want it to be. For a formal look, keep the sides perfectly flat, while sloping inwards slightly. In cold areas trim from spring to early fall only – you don’t want to stimulate new growth that could be damaged by a late frost, or turn brown in winter. If you get a lot of snow in winter, then trimming the top rounded – rather than square – will help shed the snow from the top before its weight splits your hedge. Finally, never wait until you must cut back into branches with no leaves on them. These will never re-sprout and your hedge will be ruined.

 

If you follow these simple guidelines, you will have the fastest-growing, sturdiest and healthiest hedge around. A little bit of care goes a long way with Thuja Green Giant.

Prepare Your Thuja Hedge for Spring

Although we may still be well inside the ‘winter zone’, spring is not far away, so it is not too early to start planning for the coming season. Thuja Green Giant is a tough, fast-growing and self-reliant plant, but a few simple steps in the early part of the season will give it an extra boost that will see it go from strength to strength as the background of your garden.

Feeding Thuja Green Giant

While this is a plant that thrives even in poor soil, attention to its diet is never a mistake. Rapid-growing plants need plenty of nutrients to achieve peak performance, and your Thuja is no exception. Evergreens need a good supply of nitrogen to make those green leaves, so choose a fertilizer formulated with a large first number in the fertilizer formula. That set of three numbers tells you almost all you need to know, and for hedges it should be something like 15-10-10, or 12-5-8. The exact numbers will vary, but make sure that first one, which stands for nitrogen, is bigger than all the rest. Most fertilizers formulated for hedges will be like that, and which you choose is mostly about personal choice and convenience of application. Water-soluble forms are ideal when your hedge is newly planted, or in its early years. These forms carry the nutrients right down to the roots, where they are quickly absorbed and used for rapid growth. They must however be dilute, because too much will burn the roots, so they do not last long, and need reapplying every few weeks.

As your hedge matures, regular feeding can become a chore, so now it is time to switch to a granular fertilizer, which only needs applying a couple of times a year. A little more expensive, but worth the cost, are slow-release forms, where the fertilizer is encapsulated inside a pellet. This allows a slow, steady flow of nutrients, and one application in early spring is all you need.

Trimming Thuja Green Giant

Late winter is an ideal time to inspect your hedge for any winter damage. If branches have been pushed out at awkward angles, resist the temptation to push them back in, and trim them back instead. Long branches pointing out are telling you that your trimming technique need a little work. When trimming, run the trimmer in all directions across the face of your hedge, so that you don’t encourage a ‘comb-over’ effect. Branches should grow out more or less horizontally, with dense tufted ends, not trail upwards in long stems. These are more prone to breakage and becoming dislodged, and if they break they can leave ugly black holes that take a season or more to fill in.

Trim off any dead tips or smaller dead branches, and do a light trim all over. The most important thing when trimming is to make the face of your hedge lean inwards slightly. The light must reach the lowest branches, so that they continue to grow well, or the base of your hedge will become thin and open over time. Since the upper growth is always more vigorous, this means you will be removing more foliage from higher up. Cutting off the same amount all over will encourage the top to swell outwards, which is not only unsightly, but bad for the hedge too.

If you have had some breakage from snow building up on the top, then start trimming it in a rounded shape. This will shed snow more effectively than the crisp ‘flat-top’, and prevent snow and ice falling inside and pushing branches out of line, or even breaking them.

Salt Damage

Thuja Green Giant is moderately salt tolerant, especially if the salt is air-born, but direct splashing of salt from roads and driveways can cause damage. If you have a lot of brown areas on your hedge, and these may not be visible until the warmer weather arrives, then some screening may be needed. Next fall, run some stakes 2 or 3 feet away from your hedge and pick up a roll of burlap from your local garden center. Attach this to the stakes, so it is well away from the hedge, but between it and the source of salt. The burlap will catch the salty water and protect your hedge. If you put it too close, the wet, salty burlap will touch the hedge and do more damage than good.

Mulching

As summer arrives, water stress is possible, especially on a young hedge, and especially if you can’t easily water it. An organic mulch spread over the root zone in spring will not only provide valuable nutrients, but it will also conserve moisture. The water levels are usually at their highest in early spring, so mulching then will prevent that from evaporating, as well as trapping spring rains. That way the soil will be much damper when the dry weather arrives, and any stress form dryness will be reduced. When young you should water your Thuja Green Giant plants regularly, but an established hedge will survive normal dry conditions without any problems at all.

 

These few simple things will give you a flying start to spring, and by taking care of them as early as possible, you will leave yourself free for other gardening pleasures, while your hedge does its duty as a beautiful background and screen.