A Hidden Path to Easy Hedge Trimming

When it comes to hedges, Thuja Green Giant stands alone. Faster growing, hardy and disease-resistant, with perfect green foliage every day of the year, it is the premium choice for hedging. Like all hedges, to keep it neat and trim, and to keep it green right to the ground, it needs regular trimming. In some gardens this can be a problem, because you have shrubs and flowers planted in front of the hedge. This effect – of flowers in front of a perfect trimmed wall of green, is a garden classic, but making it work is not so easy. Walking through beds to trim a hedge, and putting up ladders, can cause a lot of damage to flowers and more delicate bushes, and collecting the trimmings can cause even more damage. Also, the trimming goes more slowly, and can become frustrating.

As well, the roots of the hedge spread out sideway beyond the hedge, and they love to grow in the rich soil we prepare for our flower beds, and the mulch we put around roses and flowering shrubs. This means that the shrubs and flowers grow less vigorously, as the hedge takes water and nutrients away from them. In addition, the shadow of the hedge causes the plants to lean away from it, towards the light.

The Hidden Path

What to do? This problem has been around as long as hedges have been made, and in the past there was a simple solution, which seems to have been lost. So lost is it that you won’t find a single image of this on the internet, or a description of how to build it. Sometimes in exploring older gardens you might come across this trick, but you probably won’t have noticed it unless you explore ‘behind the scenes’. Maybe the absence of images is because in big gardens, even the owners weren’t aware of this trick, put in by the gardeners, because you really can’t see it when you stand in front of the beds. Visitors won’t see it either.

What is this secret way to enjoy the beauty of flowers, roses and shrubs displayed against the perfect green backdrop of a lush, trimmed hedge? It’s easy . . . a hidden path. Yes, by simply running a narrow path between the hedge and the bed, you have instant access for trimming, without trampling on anything, and with the space to easily put up a ladder. When you come to clean up, the trimmings are easy to rake up from a hard surface, and the whole job goes faster. The path also creates distance between the hedge and the bed, reducing root invasion from the hedge, and allowing the plants to grow straight and strong, not weakly and leaning over towards the light.

Making a Hidden Path

What you are going to do is run a pathway right up against the hedge, and put a bed on the other side of the path. Sounds simple? That’s because it is. The path should be narrow – usually no more than 3 feet wide, and it’s construction can be very simple too, since it really isn’t seen from the garden itself. If you use a ladder to trim your hedge, make sure the path is wide enough to be able to stand it up parallel to the hedge, and wide enough to get a wheel-barrow along. Narrow is good, as it makes the path harder to see.

For a surface, you can use almost anything. Perhaps you have some left-over pavers, or some simple concrete slabs. You don’t even need a paved surface. Spread some gravel over the soil and run a vibrator over it all so the gravel beds-down into the soil surface. Don’t use mulch or anything like that – you want a surface you can easily rake to get up the hedge trimmings.

This walkway can be put in at any time, but it is best to do it when you develop the bed in front of the hedge. If the hedge is newly-planted, or young, remember to allow some space for it to expand to its final width. That is another thing – the walkway gives you an automatic line to trim the hedge perfectly flat and even. Make sure you lay the path straight to get that result.

There is also a secret to making this pathway less visible. Build a low wall – perhaps 6 or 8 inches tall – along the bed side. Again, this can be made of almost anything. Eight-inch planks of pressure-treated lumber nailed to short stakes works well and is low-cost. When you prepare in the bed, and finish off the surface before planting, grade it backwards so that it ends up the height of the low wall. You don’t want to see the wall from the front of the bed. Now, when you stand in front, most of the path will be hidden by the slope of the bed. This slope also improves the drainage in the bed. You will get good concealment once the plants in the bed grow. Be sure to plant right up to the back edge of the bed, so that some plants overhang the path a little. Once they have grown a little, the path will be invisible.

Easy Hedge Trimming

Now, instead of the time-consuming chore of picking your way among shrubs and flowers, trying not to damage them, you have complete, easy access to the hedge, for both trimming and cleaning up. The job will go quickly, with no hassles, and your flowers will be completely untouched. Reviving this lost trick will make your life so much simpler, and your garden so much more enjoyable.

Is Thuja Green Giant the Right Choice for Me?

Putting in a hedge is a big decision. Besides the cost, there is the work of preparing the ground, planting, caring for the plants during the vital first season, and then trimming and training until it matures. That hedge will be with you for a long time, and it will be a big part of what you see in your garden. It makes sense to think it through and get it right. Thuja Green Giant is a very popular hedge plant – currently perhaps the most popular of all, across a large part of the country. It grows well in many different locations and climate zones, and it is tough, fast-growing and reliable. That doesn’t mean it is necessarily what you want for your particular circumstances, so let’s go through some of the things you should consider when making your decision.

Where Do You Live?

Thuja Green Giant is a hardy evergreen that will grow where winter temperatures fall to as much as minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit, or Zone 5. If you live in a colder zone, such as Zones 3 or 4, then this is not the plant you want. Instead, make your hedge with the Emerald Green Arborvitae, which is hardy to minus 40, so stands just about anything the American climate can throw at it. If you live in the coldest states, that plant should definitely be your hedge choice.

Also, if you live in a very hot area, where access to water is limited, and you will probably not be able to water your hedge very much or at all, the consider using the Italian Cypress for your hedge. This tree is very drought and heat resistant, and has attractive dark-green foliage that trims well into a beautiful hedge.

How Soon Do You Want a Hedge?

If speed is what you are looking for, then with Thuja Green Giant you have absolutely come to the right place. Trials at the University of Arkansas, pitting many different hedging plants against each other, proved scientifically that this is the fastest hedge plant on the planet. They started with very small plants, and in 7 years they were 10 feet tall and dense too. They only gave some water, and with a full fertilizer program, you can beat that with your hedge by a year or maybe two. So for the fastest mature hedge possible, Green Giant is definitely the number one choice.

What is Your Soil Like?

Thuja Green Giant will grow well in all kinds of soil, from sand to clay, and in acid or alkaline soils. So, it really doesn’t matter much what kind of soil you have. There is just one thing to think about, and that is if your soil stays wet most of the time. Soils that are always wet contain no air, and air is essential for healthy roots on your Green Giant hedge. Wet soil is not suitable for growing this plant, and your hedge will not do well.

There are several things you can do in this situation. Emerald Green Arborvitae is much more water-tolerant, and wild forms often grow naturally in wetlands. That makes it is a good alternative, as long as you are not in a very hot area. Bald Cypress, Taxodium distichum, is excellent in wet areas in the hottest states, but it does lose its leaves in winter. Alternatively, since Thuja Green Giant is such a good choice for so many other reasons, consider two possibilities:

  1. If your soil is often wet, build a low mound, 8 to 12 inches tall, by removing soil from either side of the hedge-line. That also creates a shallow ditch on either side for water to collect in. The mound will stay drier, and this will usually allow the plants to grow well and thrive.
  2. If the soil is always very wet and even flooded, then you can install drainage along the hedge-line. Bury a drainage pipe on either side of the hedge-line, and take the pipe to a spot where the water can drain away, such as a lower-lying area.

How Much Sun Will It Get?

Here we usually have no problems, because Thuja Green Giant will grow well in full sun, and in shade down to about 50% brightness. So if you have some shade, or shade for only part of the day, then you have no worries, and your new hedge will thrive. If the area is permanently in shade, then consider planting Skip Laurel, Prunus laurocerasus, which is a handsome evergreen shrub with glossy oval leaves. It is fast-growing and easily trimmed to any height you need. In colder areas, Canadian Hemlock, Tsuga canadensis, makes a wonderful hedge in full shade, with soft foliage and a gentle beauty.

Do You Live by the Ocean?

Here the news is all good. Thuja Green Giant is resistant to ocean salt drift, and since it is also happy in sandy soil, it will grow well at the coast in all but the most exposed locations. Salt-heavy winds blowing in will not bother it at all – which is also true of salt drifting from highways in winter, so it’s great to know you have made the right choice.

Do You Have Deer Visiting?

We all love Bambi, but not so much when he comes visiting in winter, feeling hungry. Lots of hedging plants are eaten by deer, so you have good reason to worry. The good news is that Thuja Green Giant is one of the top plants for deer-resistance, and although deer can be unpredictable, you can be confident that you will not have a problem with them if you choose this hedge plant.


So now you have a better idea if you are making the right choice, and you can feel more confident that you will enjoy seeing a great hedge develop quickly on your property, giving you privacy, tranquility and shelter.

Put Color into Your Thuja Hedge

Everybody loves their Thuja Green Giant hedge. It is always lush and green, creating a perfect backdrop to the rest of your garden. But what if your hedge could be its own garden? Imagine a hedge where flowers emerged from the green wall, or colored sections broke up the long wall of green in interesting and novel ways. Seems like a dream? Not really. There are some simple things you can do that turn your hedge into something more than a backdrop, and make it an integral part of the ever-changing picture of flowers and foliage that make gardens so lovely. Interested? Then read on. . .

Basic Ways to Color Your Hedge

The idea of mixing plants together in a hedge is not new, but it is seen more in Europe than America. It is an interesting and attractive way to create a colorful and changing hedge that becomes a garden feature, not a background to the other features. These hedges are often called Tapestry Hedges, and the idea is to plant different hedging plants among the main plants of your hedge. So, when you come to lay out your Thuja Green Giant Hedge, replace some of the plants with something else, with a different color and texture of foliage. This can be subtle, using shades of green, or more pronounced, using stronger colors of blue, gold or red. If privacy is a big consideration, then you will want to stick to evergreens, but if not, then deciduous plants are possible choices. Using deciduous plants also opens up the possibility of having sections of your hedge bloom with flower-color too.

It is best and simplest to put in these different plants when you plant the hedge. They can be alternated, as was done with the hedge in the picture at the top of this piece, or they can be random substitutions, even with several different plants. Once you have established a hedge it becomes more difficult, but as long as the plants are not too large to move, and it is spring or fall when you do it, then you can remove some existing plants to develop a new area, and then fill the gaps with new trees of a different type.

Here are some ideas for plants to consider:

  • Different Shades of Green and Texture
    • Italian Cypress – rich dark green foliage on a tough, drought-resistant plant
    • Spartan Juniper – a tough and sturdy grower with a deeper green color
    • Holly – evergreen for privacy, and often used alone as a hedge, varieties such as the American Holly, or the Nelly Stevens Holly, will grow through the Thuja, mottling it with shiny rich-green areas
  • Blue Highlights
    • Blue Spruce – always reliable, many people don’t realize that spruce can be turned into a formal hedge. This perennial favorite is very cold-hardy, as well as heat-resistant
    • Blue Italian Cypress – this rare variation on the Italian Cypress has a blue tone to its foliage that will heighten the contrast with the Thuja
    • Blue Spanish Fir – a wonderful rich blue color that will really stand out
    • Arizona Cypress – also blue, this cypress tree thrives under adverse conditions, just like Thuja Green Giant does 
  • Golden Highlights
    • Gold Spanish Fir – you will love how the golden needles on this tree sparkle among the green of your Thuja hedge
  • Red Highlights
    • Smoke Tree – we have to move into deciduous plants to get red, but the result will be worth it. With its spreading habit, just where the red ends up will be unpredictable, adding to the fun 
  • Flowering Plants
    • Yoshino Flowering Cherry – as this tree grows, spring will suddenly bring pink flowers garlanding the face of your hedge – wonderful!
    • Cleveland Pear – as tough as the Thuja you mix it with, and bringing white flowers in early spring to the green wall around your garden

Other Possibilities for Color in Your Hedge

If you already have a mature hedge, so can’t insert other hedge plants, it doesn’t mean you are out of luck. Fast-growing climbing plants can be tucked in the spaces between the trunks of the hedge, and they will soon climb up and burst into bloom. The best choices are plants that flower on new shoots, because then they can be cut down to the ground in fall to allow for easy hedge trimming at that time, or in spring before the climbers get going. Fast-growing annual climbers will twine through a hedge, flower, and then can be removed in fall. Many climbers have brilliant flower colors, and purples, reds, pinks and golds are all possibilities.

When doing this, it is important to dig a good-sized planting hole, and use plenty of water and fertilizer for the climbers, otherwise they will not be able to compete with the roots of the hedge for nutrients and water. Depending on the layout of your garden, you can also plant them a few feet from the hedge and lead them up to it on a short pole.

Here are some climbing plant that will grow tall in one season and flower profusely:

  • Clematis – these well-known climbers have some varieties, like the ever-popular ‘Jackmanii’ (rich purple flowers), that will bloom on new growth each year. They can take 2 or 3 seasons to become established and perform at their best, but their large, flat flowers really look spectacular. Cut them to the ground each fall.
  • Morning Glory – if you grow these from seed, by summer they will already be blooming, and can be pulled down in fall for pruning the hedge
  • Cypress Vine – in warmer areas this vine (Ipomoea quamoclit) will grow as a perennial, but young plants from seed will grow large and bloom with brilliant red flowers in the space of a single season. The similar Cardinal Climber (Ipomoea sloteri) is more vigorous for a tall hedge
  • Canary Creeper – for fascinating golden blooms on your hedge, plant this annual climber (Tropaeolum peregrinum). It has interesting rounded leaves, but the real beauty lies in the clusters of flaring flowers in bright yellow

Is Thuja Green Giant the Right Plant for Me?

Deciding on which plant to use as a hedge or screen is a big decision. Its appearance is going to be a major part of the backdrop to your garden, and its success will pave the way for success with the plants protected by it. This means it is worth taking some time to make sure you have made the right decision. Thuja Green Giant is currently the most popular hedging and screening plant, across most of the country. It has earned that position with its toughness, adaptability and speed of growth – all areas where it excels. But that doesn’t mean it is right for everyone, so let’s look at the different parameters that you should consider when making your final choice.

Your Location

What climate zone do you live in? The Green Giant is happy anywhere from zone 5, where winter lows can fall to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit, all the way into zone 9, where winter lows dip just a little below freezing, to plus 20 degrees, and then only for short periods. So if it sounds like you live in that broad belt, you have made the right choice. If you fall outside those zones, then there are better choices open to you. The Emerald Green Arborvitae, a selected form of the Eastern White Cedar, is as hardy as it comes, living happily when winter lows dip to a polar-bear friendly minus 50 degrees. This plant makes a great hedge, and should be your choice for cold areas.

If, at the other extreme, you live where it rarely if ever freezes, and you want an evergreen hedge with the fine texture of Thuja Green Giant, then the Italian Cypress, Cupressus sempervirens, should be your ‘go to’. The hotter the better for that plant, and it needs no cool winter period to keep it healthy, as the Green Giant does. It does thrive best in hot, dry climates, like southern California. In the heat and humidity of southern Florida, an even better choice is the Leyland Cypress, or the Spartan Juniper. Speaking of Junipers, if you live in a very dry area, where watering is going to be a problem, then give some serious thought to the Arizona Cypress, Cupressus arizonica ‘Carolina Sapphire’. This tree produces an extremely drought-tolerant and striking hedge.

Your Soil

Here things are easy. If you have almost any kind of soil, from a very sandy one, all the way through to sticky clay, Thuja Green Giant will perform well. In very dry soil you may need to water more often, and the only problem could be in very wet soils. This great tree is happy in soil that is wet from time to time, but not if it is permanently flooded or always saturated. Over time, this will lead to problems, so if you have this problem where you need a hedge, consider something surprising. Most people know the Bald Cypress, Taxodium distichum, which grows wild in the Everglades, among other places. It can be clipped into a formal hedge easily, and makes a gorgeous, soft-textured screen. It will grow right in shallow water, and flooded soils are just what it loves best. The only disadvantage is that it loses it leaves in winter, leaving instead a dense screen of branches. This is attractive too, but doesn’t give the same level of privacy.

Sun or Shade?

Consider how much sun your plants are going to get. Remember that shade from deciduous trees is not a problem in winter, and in summer, when the sun is high, they cast only a narrow shadow. If your Thuja Green Giant hedge gets sun for half the dy from spring to early fall, then it will be perfectly happy. It will grow well in full sun too of course, so unless you have a deeply shady area where you need a hedge, you will be find with this versatile tree.

Should you find that you do need a hedge for deep shade, there are several choices. For a finer texture, nothing beats the Canadian Hemlock, Tsuga canadensis. This shade-loving evergreen has soft, fine leaves that clip into a superb hedge, even in areas that get no direct sun at all. Other choices include the various Yew Trees, that also make dense hedges in all conditions, from full sun to full shade.

You Need a Fast-Growing Hedge

If this is your need, then you certainly have made the right choice. In trials by the University of Kansas, who weren’t selling anything to anyone, Thuja Green Giant grew faster than any other plant they tested in a large study. From small plants, they grew into upright columns10 feet tall and 5 feet wide in the space of just 7 years. That is remarkable, and means that with a growth rate of 3 feet a year in the early years, most of that growth in height happens in 3 to 4 years. After that your hedge or screen with thicken and fill in, especially if you trim it lightly from Day One. A regular annual trim, or perhaps twice a year if you want a very neat hedge, is all that is needed once you have established the height and thickness you want. The only mistake some people make is to let their hedge just grow and grow, until suddenly they realize it needs more than just a trim. Sadly, if you cut back into wood that has no foliage, those branches will not sprout, and all your work will be wasted. Begin to trim lightly from the first year, including on the sides, and build a dense structure, adding height at ‘only’ a couple of feet a year. The top-quality result you see will show you it was worth it.

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.


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.

Does Thuja Green Giant Attract Pests or Diseases?

The short answer to this question is ‘NO’, but despite the toughness and resistance of this great evergreen, problems can very occasionally develop, some caused by growing conditions and some by specific pests or diseases. Don’t worry, these problems are rare, and most gardeners never see any problems at all with their plants. So that you can be equipped to deal with anything that may seem to be going wrong, it’s time for some advice. So here are some things you may see, and what to do about them.

My new plants look dull and the ends of some of the branches are turning brown

New plants of Thuja Green Giant need plenty of water. When they are first planted they only have roots in the root ball from the pot. Especially if the surrounding soil is a bit dry, those roots won’t be able to take up water and this will first show by the ends of the branches bending over and beginning to turn brown. If the weather is warm you may need to water your plants every second day for the first few weeks after planting. Otherwise water them at least once a week. New plants need plenty of water to establish in your garden, so don’t forget them – they need you!

My plants look yellowish, not bright green, and they aren’t growing

Especially when young, these fast-growing plants need lots of nutrients. They don’t have a big root system yet to get enough from the soil around them. So they can easily run low on essential food elements, grow more slowly and show a characteristic yellowing of the leaves. If you see this, it is time to start fertilizing your plants. For young plants choose a water-soluble fertilizer formulated for evergreen hedges and apply as directed. If your plants are older, then a granular fertilizer will be lower-cost and quicker to apply. Modern slow-release fertilizers cost a little more, but they only need to be applied once a year and they will continue to feed your hedge all season long.

There are strange-looking clusters of dry needles hanging in the tree

These could be bagworms. This is a common pest of some arborvitae trees, and it is occasionally found in Thuja Green Giant. Since this tree is so tough and hardy, they are only very rarely attacked by this insect. If you see what look a bit like hanging greenish or brown ‘cones’ one or two inches long on your plants, then you have bagworms. Inside there is a green caterpillar that will eat the leaves, and can make parts of the bush very bare. If you just have a few, or your plants are young, then simply pick them off and throw them into a bucket of hot, soapy water. The caterpillar makes the bag out of silk and pieces of the plant it has chewed off. Once you remove the bags your trees will quickly grow back. If you have larger bushes, or a lot of bags, then spraying with Bt (pronounced ‘bee-tee’) or Spinosad. Ask at your local garden center for specific brands of these safe, non-toxic sprays made from naturally occurring microbes. These products only kill caterpillars and they will not hurt other insects, animals or humans. Since bagworms usually don’t attack Thuja Green Giant at all, you will probably never see this pest on your hedge.

I have something sticky on my leaves, and black powder on them too

Again, this is a very rare problem, but it can happen. The stickiness comes from sap being taken from the plant by scale insects. The black (or occasionally white) growth is fungus growing on the sugary sap. Neither the sap or the fungus will hurt your plants, but the little scale insects, that look like brown pimples on the stems, do weaken the trees and can cause browning. Luckily Thuja Green Giant grows so fast and so vigorously that scale is rarely a problem. If you see areas like this, usually you can trim them away, clean up carefully, feed and water your trees and they will quickly recover. Only very rarely, perhaps if your trees are growing in poor, dry soil, will scale be bad enough to need spraying. Ask at your garden center for something suitable.

Poor growth, and branches are dying

Although your trees need water, they can have too much of a good thing. If the soil is constantly wet no air gets to the roots, and they die and rot. If your plants are not growing, well, and parts of them turn brown and die, or if a whole plant in your hedge dies, you may have root rot. Once the symptoms show it is hard to do anything, so first make sure you plant in an area with good drainage. If you need to plant in a badly-drained spot, then mound up the soil and plant on that mound. If the plants are a few inches above the soil the roots will get more air. If you have an irrigation system, check that you don’t have a leak, or reduce the watering time. Your plants should get plenty of water, but the soil should become a little dry in between each watering.

In the End

Thuja Green Giant is one the most pest and disease resistant plants you can grow, so if you give them a little basic care with water and fertilizer the chances are very good you will never see any problems at all. Now that you know what to look for, you can take some simple steps to deal with any rare problems that might come along.

Where Did Thuja Green Giant Come From?

Thuja Green Giant is the most popular and widely-grown hedging plant off all time. Millions of satisfied gardeners enjoy the benefits of its rapid growth and easy care. Most people take plants for granted, thinking they just ‘are’, but perhaps you have wondered, “Where did this plant come from? Does it grow somewhere in the wild? Did some scientists or nursery-person create it? Is there a connection between its origin and how fast-growing and sturdy it is?” Let’s see if we can answer these questions.

First of all, Thuja Green Giant is not a wild plant – it is the product of gardening itself, which has brought into being thousands and thousands of plants for us to eat and enjoy. Selecting certain plants for their special features is as old as agriculture. If we could only put on our tables plants that can be found growing wild, then we would have to ignore almost every fruit and vegetable we eat. There are plenty of ornamental plants growing in our gardens that can be found growing wild somewhere in the world, but many more that have been created for our enjoyment. Thuja Green Giant is such a plant, with a long and complex history.

The Origins of Thuja Green Giant

About 150 years ago, in 1878, a gardener and amateur botanist called Dorus Poulsen started a nursery to grow and sell plants, in Frijsenborg, Denmark. It soon became famous and very well-regarded, especially for its roses, which Dorus bred himself. He opened several branches across Denmark, and when he died in 1925 his sons continued the business, producing many new plants from their breeding programs. In 1937 they noted a novel Thuja growing, but it is not clear if this was an accidental seedling, or part of some breeding they had done.

History stepped in, World War II broke out, and Europe had more important things to think about than plants. After the war the nursery returned to normal activity, and eventually, in 1967, thirty years after that first chance discovery, the National Arboretum in Washington D.C. received a package of plants from one of the Poulsen nursery branches, in Kvistgaard, Denmark. Included in the shipment were several different Thuja plants, which the Arboretum staff planted out in a nursery area at the arboretum. The speed of growth on one of them was noticed, and that plant started to get some excited reactions when it reached 30 feet tall in 25 years.

When the staff looked back through their records, they quickly found that the book-keeping had been less than perfect. The plant numbering had become confused, and they could not figure out which Danish plant ths was. Suspecting the plant was a hybrid, something that had never been seen before among Thuja plants, three scientists became interested, and with the recent development of DNA analysis, they saw a way to solve the mystery. These three scientists, Susan Martin, from the National Arboretum; Robert Marquard, from the Holden Arboretum in Ohio; and Kim Trip, from the New York Botanic Garden got to work, and succeeded in analyzing the DNA all the plants at the Arboretum, and comparing it to that of the parents of those 1967 plants from Denmark.

A Hybrid Child

The scientists were able to link this mystery giant Thuja to the plant found in 1937 at the Poulsen nursery, and showed that it was indeed a hybrid between two species of Thuja. One parent was the Western Redcedar, Thuja plicata. This forest giant can reach 200 feet in height, and grows wild in Oregon, Washington State and British Columbia. It is the source of the lumber called red cedar, which is ideal for garden construction and furniture, since it is naturally resistant to decay and needs no paint or preservatives.

The second parent was the Japanese Arborvitae, Thuja standishii. This plant grows wild high in the mountains of the Japanese Islands of Honshu and Shikoku. It is also cultivated in Japan for its wood, which is aromatic and waterproof, and is used for sake cups and barrels.

Just what had happened in that nursery in Denmark in the 1930s is not clear, but somehow a trans-pacific hybrid had been created, a plant that had beautiful foliage all year round, grew vigorously and very quickly, and was graceful, upright and worthy of a place in every garden. Botanist already new that crossing together two different species of plants produced what they call ‘hybrid vigor’ – strength, hardiness, speed of growth and resistant to pests that neither parent has. Thuja Green Giant had hybrid vigor in spades.

Thuja Green Giant Takes Off

A nurseryman from Tennessee called Don Shadow was the person who suggested the name ‘Green Giant’, and a major US nursery group called Wayland Gardens decided to multiply and promote this plant to home gardeners. They propagated thousands of young plants of Thuja Green Giant from that original plant, and began a program to describe its benefits to gardeners. This great evergreen lived up to everything promised of it, and by 2004 it was the top-selling plant at Wayland Gardens. Other growers picked it up, and since there was no plant patent on it, everyone could freely reproduce it. In the south-east, many gardens had old hedges planted in the 50s and 60s, which were diseased and needed replacing. So the timing was perfect for the introduction of a new hedging evergreen. Millions of plants were sold to replace those old hedges, and Thuja Green Giant, the child of two trees from different continents, who met on a third, became the most popular and successful hedge plant in America.