Spring Clean Your Evergreens

The days are noticeably lengthening, and where you live the snow may already be melting or gone, and the first signs of spring are in the air. Gardeners everywhere are creeping out from their winter hideaways and getting their gardens ready for another season. Among all that preparation, our evergreens, big and small, specimens, screens or hedges, need some attention too. Let’s look at some of the problems winter may have left, and what steps to take, so that your evergreens can thrive and give you their best.

Winter Damage

There are three distinct kinds of winter injury seen on evergreens. First there is physical damage caused by snow, ice and high winds. Branches may have broken off, sections of hedge may have collapsed, or once-compact branches are now dislodged and hang out from the bushes. Each of these things need individual consideration.

The most serious is broken branches, and these need careful assessment. If a branch has broken off completely, then all that can be done is to trim the stump back. Often bark is torn off too, and although not ideal, that will often heal in time. Many people do not realize that limbs of most evergreens won’t re-sprout, unlike most broad-leaf trees and shrubs. As a result, if the section of limb that is left attached to the tree has no significant growth on it, it must be pruned back to the limb it comes from. Only Yew trees can re-sprout from bare branches. Cut back to the slightly thickened ring at the base of a branch, where it meets the larger limb. This ‘collar’ will help heal the wound. Don’t cut back flush with the trunk, and don’t leave a stump. If there is torn bark, trim it off neatly, and trim the edges with a sharp knife back to where the bark is well-attached. This will encourage good healing.

The second kind of winter damage seen on evergreens is winter burn. This shows as brown foliage, and it is visible as soon as the weather warms a little. It is the result of lack of water at the roots, combined with exposure to cold, dry winter winds. If you see it, wait a while, as new growth may emerge from hidden buds. If the area has not greened-up by mid-summer you will have to remove the entire limb that has died. If you have this kind of winter burn, the best protection is to soak your evergreens deeply in late fall, just before the ground freezes. If the winter is dry, without snow cover, you might need to soak again later in the season as well. Mulching will keep the soil around the roots a little warmer, so cover the root-zone in fall, and it will make a significant difference. Use netting, not burlap, and definitely not plastic, to wrap your trees and so reduce water loss.

Finally, salt damage from road salt is all too common in colder areas. This can happen with drifting salt spray from roads, and also from salt water running into the root ball when heavily-salted paths and driveways melt in spring. In both situations the salt sucks water out of the foliage or roots, causing severe browning and death. Try to use gravel and sand on areas adjacent to hedges and evergreens when clearing your driveways, rather than salt. Your plants will thank you for it. For drifting salt, erect a burlap screen a foot or two away from the hedge, to trap the salty spray before it reaches the foliage. Tight wrapping will just hold salty water on the foliage, and only increase the damage.

Spring Pruning and Trimming

Spring is a good season for trimming, as the new growth will quickly make your plants and hedges look fresh and new. A common mistake when trimming evergreens is to create a ‘comb over’ effect by trimming upwards only. This encourages long branches, which are exactly the type that become dislodged from a hedge or trimmed bush during storms. The goal should be shorter, more-or-less horizontal branches, with bushy ends that create the face of the hedge. If you have an older hedge that has been grown the wrong way, you can reduce or even eliminate these upward branches over several seasons, by trimming a few hard back each spring. Cut them back as much as you can, but always leave some leafy branches on them. The gap created will fill in from the surrounding foliage. Take a few out each spring, and soon you will have a much better structure to your hedge.

If you are starting with new plants, always use the trimmers in all directions – up, down and sideways – to prevent these long vertical branches developing. To get the necessary dense branching close to the main trunks, start trimming early. A very common mistake is to wait until plants reach the desired height before starting to trim them. Instead, trim as soon as they produce new growth, shortly after planting. You will not significantly reduce the time it takes to reach the size you want them to be, and you will have much better, longer-lasting hedges and trimmed specimens.

Fertilize Your Plants

If you want to grow your evergreens organically, mulch in late spring with some rich, well-rotted organic material, like compost or animal manures. This will provide all the nutrients needed for healthy growth. If you want to maximize growth, then use a chemical fertilizer high in the element nitrogen, which is needed for leaf and shoot growth. Lawn food works just fine and saves money on a large hedge. Just make sure it has no weed-killer in it. Alternatively, use a blended fertilizer labelled for evergreens. Choose a water-soluble form for young plants, and a granular type for mature plants.

Weed Control

Don’t let weeds grow up against your evergreens, especially young ones. Not only do they compete for water and nutrients, they will reduce growth in that all-important lower area, by shading, and the bottom of your hedge will become thin and bare. Spring is an excellent time to go along and dig up perennial weeds, as the roots are often easier to remove at this time. It is worth the extra time it takes to dig down and take out all the root you can, rather than just pulling the tops off. Mulch will help control weeds, as well as reducing water-loss and providing nutrients. Don’t underestimate the value of rich organic mulches around the garden, they should form the basis of your growing techniques.

Take A Well-earned Rest

After you have dealt with all this, you will need a break, but you can take it knowing that your plants are off to a great start for another season.

Which Way Up Do I Plant Thuja Green Giant?

There is a very old joke among landscapers, about the new worker sent to lay some sod. The boss gets a desperate phone call, and the nervous worker asks, “Which way up does it go?” The jaded boss answers in a tired voice, “Green side up, fella.” I am thinking about this joke, because I know that when you are around plants all your life, you can easily forget that new gardeners often need the most basic help, with things that more experienced people simply take for granted. So here, for those of you completely new to gardening, some basic tips that will help you get your new Thuja Green Giant hedge or screen into the ground, and successfully on its way to become that green wall of your dreams. Most of these things are also useful for planting just about anything, so pay attention at the back of the room there!

The Basics of Planting Thuja Green Giant

  • Prepare the ground well – soil preparation is the key to success
  • Measure carefully – even spacing makes the best look
  • Plant at the same depth – don’t bury the root ball deeply
  • Water before and during planting – even if it looks damp already
  • Keep up the watering – once a week for the first season

Ground Preparation

Thuja Green Giant is a tough, vigorous plant, that is for sure. But even it needs a good foundation to give you its best. That means putting some effort into preparing the planting area thoroughly. Digging a hole just big enough for the pot is no going to cut it, especially if you plant into hard, heavy soil. What happens above the ground has to be matched below the ground, and you can’t have a big green plant without lots and lots of deep, brown roots. So get a rototiller and some rich organic material and turn it all into the planting area in a strip 3 feet wide. You don’t need to dig out all the old vegetation, just run a mower set low over it, and turn in the grass clippings too. It is very worthwhile, though, to remove the tough roots of perennial weeds, as you don’t want them coming back, which they will if they are left in the ground. As the tiller loosens them and turns them up, pick or rake them from the soil – you will be glad you did. An alternative approach is to spray the strip you plan to dig with a total herbicide, like Roundup, a week before digging. Even if the plants still look green, they will die even if disturbed, and you can simply turn them into the ground along with the compost or manure.

Measure Carefully

Nothing looks worse than a hedge or screen with uneven spacing between the plants, and not in a straight line. So when you are ready to plant, pull a string tightly between two sticks driven into the ground. Have the string right on the ground and use a tape to mark where each plant is to go. A can of spray paint is an effective way to make a mark where to dig and saves you messing around with stakes. Be accurate, as even a few inches difference will be visible to the eye – after you plant – which of course will mean the messy job of moving plants around, and you don’t want to do that.

Plant at the Same Depth

This is a very important one. Dig your planting hole just deep enough to hold the root ball. Slide the plant out of the pot and with a sharp knife make three cuts an inch deep from top to bottom around the root ball. This is done to prevent the roots spiraling around the stem and strangling it as it grows. Now take a stick and lay it across the planting hole. Place the roots in the hole so that the top of the root-ball is level with the stick. If necessary remove a little more soil, or firmly pack extra soil under the roots until you get the right level. Trust me, this is really, really important.

Use Plenty of Water

More plants die after planting from a lack of water than for any other reason. Don’t let those be yours, and water every pot thoroughly the evening before planting day. Even if the ground is damp, and yes, even if it is raining frogs, water each plant as you put it in the ground. Here is a method of watering that not only gets water deep down, but it very importantly consolidates the ground around the roots, and brings the roots closely into contact with the soil. This means the new roots can grow out quickly, and the root-ball can absorb water from the surrounding soil. A plant that is loose in the ground can become completely dry, even in damp soil, and die. Make sure that doesn’t happen to you. Here is what to do. Don’t wait until you have finished planting, before watering, but do each plant as you go along the row. Put back about two-thirds of the soil. Use your boots to push that soil firmly around the root ball, and then add plenty of water. Fill the planting hole to the top. Once the water drains away, put back the rest of the soil. More water is only needed if the soil you dug into was quite dry.

Keep Watering

Once you have your new Thuja Green Giant plants in the ground, its time to water regularly. Once a week, or more often in very hot, dry weather, water deeply right onto the root-ball of each plant, letting the water soak down and into the surrounding soil. Soaker hoses are an effective way to do this without having to stand with a hose pipe. Run a soaker hose along the length of your planting, making sure it lies just a few inches from the stems, or even loop it around them loosely. Then run the hose for several hours, until all the soil is thoroughly watered. You can attach a timer to the tap which will take over this job or attach it to an existing irrigation system. The second year you can restrict watering to dry periods, and after that, unless you have extended droughts, you probably won’t need to water very much at all.

 

These simple steps will establish your plants and make your hedge or screen a great success in just a few years. There is no secret to planting, just a few basic rules that make the difference between success and failure. Now you are set on the road that leads straight to success.

Plant Thuja Green Giant This Spring

The days are getting longer, and depending on where you live, there may already be signs of spring around – some early blossoms on hardy trees, or bulbs pushing through the ground. With spring coming, our minds turn to our gardens, and top on the list for many is planting trees and shrubs. If you are developing or renewing your garden, then planting a hedge or screen could easily be top of your list, and in that case, you are probably thinking about Thuja Green Giant, because it is the most popular evergreen in the country for hedges and screens, in all but the coldest or driest areas.

Is Spring a Good Planting Season?

There are two prime seasons for planting – spring and fall. Both have their good and bad points, but for evergreens in most of the country, spring is the best time. Evergreens keep their leaves through winter – and so they continue to lose water from them in winter too. This means that newly-planted trees can get into difficulty in winter, because their roots have not yet reached into deeper soil, where they can get plenty of water to satisfy the leaves, even when much of the ground is frozen solid. Evergreens planted in fall are already at a disadvantage, especially in cold areas.

The main advantage to spring planting is that your new plants have a whole growing season ahead of them before the onset of winter. They will be much better established, and the risk of winter damage is greatly reduced.

The one drawback to spring planting is cold wet soil, which encourages disease and slows rooting. The best indicator that your soil is warm enough for planting is signs of new growth on your plants – not just the occasional early-starter, but the majority of plants. In warmer, active soil, your new Thuja Green Giant will get off to a flying start and start to show signs of growth almost immediately. Delay your planting until you see that the soil is warm enough.

What is the Value of Soil Preparation?

While waiting for your new plants to arrive, put some time into soil preparation. There is nothing you can do that with a bigger pay-back, or that will make a bigger difference to the speed of growth, general health, and longevity of your plants. Well-prepared soil encourages rapid, deep rooting, and leads to quicker establishment. It also provides the nutrients and soil volume needed to maximize growth. If you want to see 3 feet of growth each year, for those vital first few years, then good soil preparation is the essential first step.

Soil preparation for planting has two main goals. The first is to open up the soil, especially the deeper layers, to exploring roots. The bigger the volume of soil available, the greater the amount of nutrients and water that will be available. It’s like growing a plant in a pot. If the pot is small, the plant’s growth will be stunted. If you make a small planting hole in hard ground, then the roots cannot spread, just like being in a pot.

The second goal of soil preparation is soil improvement. This has indirect benefits to the plant, as a major improvement we look for is drainage and aeration. This means that water moves more quickly out of the soil, but it doesn’t mean the soil becomes drier faster. That sounds like a contradiction, but it isn’t. In between the solid parts of the soil, made up of minerals and clay, are spaces. Large spaces allow water to flow out under the pull of gravity. Smaller spaces hold water under the pull of capillary action – that effect that pulls water up a narrow glass tube you probably learned about in school. An ‘improved’ soil has large spaces added, so more water flows out, to be replaced by air and oxygen that the roots need for growth. The smaller spaces are still there, and they continue to hold water for the plant to use. As well, the material you add works like a sponge, holding water, but not blocking drainage.

Also, improving air and water movement stimulates the micro-organisms that turn organic material into plant nutrients, so more are available, and your plants grow better. Some sources of organic material are richer in potential nutrients than others, and a richer material – such as animal manure – will feed those micro-organisms much better, and so make more nutrients available. But even low nutrient materials, like peat moss, will do a lot for your soil. You can always add more nutrients directly if needed, by using a fertilizer.

Soil Preparation for Thuja Green Giant

The best way to improve any soil, from dusty sand to heavy clay, is with organic material. You can use almost anything, from rotted animal manure to peat moss, but don’t use woody material that has not been thoroughly composted. The best material is coarse and textured, because we want a material that will first of all last in the soil, and secondly create big spaces. Very fine materials decompose too quickly, so the effect is short-lived. Ask around your neighborhood and see what is available locally. Stop at the best garden you see and ask them. Gardeners love to help each other! Your local garden center is also a good place to ask for advice.

If there is lawn on the area you are planting, set your mower very low and cut as short as you can. You don’t need to remove the old grass. Your local garden center should have ‘starter fertilizer’ for hedges and evergreens. Find one that is granules, not a liquid, and use that as directed on the bag. An alternative is superphosphate or bone meal. Whatever organic material you are using, spread a layer at least 2 inches deep over the ground. If you are planting a hedge or screen, spread these materials along the area in a strip at least 3 feet wide.

Now rent the biggest roto-tiller you can find (and handle) and go to it. Go over the ground two or three times, until you are as deep as you can go, and everything is mixed up. It is best to do this a while before planting, and if it rains in between, all the better. You will also need to rake the area level, and walk over it a few times, to even out the soil, so you don’t get area sinking after you plant.

Now You’re Set to Go!

That’s it – you are ready to plant. We will make that the subject of a blog in a few weeks, when we are closer to the best season. You can prepare the ground as soon as it isn’t frozen, so that job can be done and out of the way, while you wait for your plants to arrive.

If your soil is poor, then a product that adds micro-organisms and stimulates root growth can be a great extra to use. These are usually added as you plant, rather than during soil preparation, but they can be ordered from many suppliers along with your plants.

7 Answers About Thuja Green Giant

Spring is just around the corner now, and many people are thinking about hedges and screening plants. That means thinking about Thuja Green Giant, the biggest selling and most popular screening evergreen there is. Before making that investment of money and time, everyone has questions about this plant. Let’s look at the most frequent questions and give some much-needed answers to them.

7 Questions About Thuja Green Giant

  • How fast does it grow?
  • How big will it grow?
  • Is it eaten by deer?
  • Where will it grow?
  • How far apart is it planted?
  • Where did it come from?
  • How do I care for new plants?

How fast does it grow?

No one wants to wait forever to see a mature hedge, or have a screen do its job of screening an ugly view or protecting you from prying eyes. So the first question on everyone’s mind about Thuja Green Giant is just exactly how fast does it grow? Everyone will tell you ‘fast-growing’, ‘quick-growing’, ‘super-fast grower’, but what does all that really mean? Of course it’s hard to be definitive, since every garden is different, in a different growing zone. Soil varies, and so does the input of the grower. But still, there must be some objective data out there – someone must have run a trial and compared Thuja Green Giant to other popular hedging plants. Well they did. At the University of Arkansas, when this plant was still new on the scene, the plant department cleared a field, and planted a selection of trees and shrubs commonly used for screens and hedges. The started with small plants given them by local nurseries, and after planting, gave them some fertilizer, and watered them during dry spells. Otherwise, they did nothing special. Each year the researchers measured the plants and kept notes.

After seven years they took all their figures and tabulated the results. Thuja Green Giant outgrew every other plant and it had no pests or diseases in the whole time. That tiny little plant had grown to a full ten feet tall – that’s right, almost twice as tall as a person. That might not be the ‘5-feet a year’ you have seen advertised, but that figure is the maximum possible under the most ideal conditions, and no plant will grow that fast year after year. Ten feet is bigger than most hedges you will ever want, and a 10-foot screen will block almost anything anyone wants to block out. So don’t worry, you won’t have to wait long to get the result you are looking for.

How big will it grow?

If you are not planning to trim regularly, then you want to know how tall this plant will grow, or you may find yourself engulfed in green. Thuja Green Giant will grow to at least 30 feet tall, in less than 30 years, and it will be 12 feet wide. If you are not planning to trim, then plant at least 6 feet away from property lines, fences, walls and buildings. Don’t plant in front of windows, or even within 6 feet of either side of a window or doorway. Don’t plant it 2 feet from your driveway or paths either – for obvious reasons.

Is it eaten by deer?

This is always a big concern for people who live in areas where deer come near in winter. They can certainly do a lot of damage in a very short time, and these unpredictable animals are often willing to eat almost anything if they are hungry enough. So its not possible to say that a deer will NEVER eat a Thuja Green Giant, but everyone who has grown it around deer reports that they leave it alone. Deer eat a lot of other plants, including Emerald Green Arborvitae, but the green giant is usually left completely alone.

Where will it grow?

Thuja Green Giant is hardy from zones 5 to 9. That means it will grow well in areas where the normal minimum winter temperature is minus 20 degrees. It also means it will grow in areas where the temperature never falls below freezing. It will do best in areas without very humid and hot summers, and it grows most easily in places with rain during most of the year. If you are in a cold area, like zone 3 or 4, go for Emerald Green Arborvitae. If you are somewhere where rain is rare, especially in summer, Italian Cypress will be more useful to you, with its great drought resistance. Neither of these will grow anywhere near as fast as Thuja Green Giant, but they are excellent substitutes in extreme areas.

How far apart is it planted?

To create a screen or windbreak, space your plants 5 to 10 feet apart in a single row. A double row will give you a denser screen, and for that, make the two rows 5 feet apart, and put the trees 8 to 12 feet apart, staggering them in the rows. For a hedge, space them between 3 and 5 feet apart. For a double row, make the rows 3 feet apart and then put the plants 5 to 8 feet apart in each row. Wider spacings take longer to fill, of course, but by using fewer plants you can save some money.

Where did it come from?

Thuja Green Giant is a cross between Japanese Thuja (Thuja standishii) and Western Redcedar (Thuja plicata), which is a common tree throughout the Pacific Northwest. As a hybrid tree, it combines the best of each species, producing vigorous, rapid growth and making a hardy tree that grows well right across America. It was originally found in a nursery in Denmark belonging to the Poulsen family, in the late 1930s. The Second World War got in the way, and it wasn’t until 1967 that some young plants were sent to the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. In the 90s visiting nurserymen who saw it – by then 30 feet tall – were excited about this fast-growing new tree, and they were given pieces to grow. Don Shadow, who was a nurseryman from Tennessee, was the person who coined the name ‘Green Giant’.

How do I care for new plants?

Once you have planted your new trees, the critical thing in the first year or two is regular watering. You need to encourage your new plants to spread their roots out into the surrounding soil, so that they can draw on water deeper down, and become thoroughly drought resistant. Once a week is not too often during the first year, and if you have a newly planted hedge, and an extended dry period, then twice a week is probably wise. Once established Thuja Green Giant is very tough and reliable and is certainly not a plant that needs much care at all, in the longer term. It’s a smart choice if you would rather spend your time doing something other than caring for plants.

 

Hopefully these answers to this list of frequent questions will help you decide if this is the tree for you. Knowledge is power.