Arborvitae Growth Rate and Drought-Tolerance

Arborvitae hedge
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Arborvitae is a popular plant for hedges and borders, due to its trim, vertical shape and its evergreen foliage, which stays in place year-round. But gardeners usually approach plant selection with a wish list, such as:

  • Low-maintenance or drought-tolerant
  • Grows to a specific height and/or width
  • Fast growth rate

In general, different arborvitae shrubs score pretty well on one or more of these criteria, but no type is exceptional on all three counts. So if your heart is set on arborvitae for a specific application, you can likely find a plant that will suit your needs, but your best choice may involve some compromise.

'North Pole' Arborvitae

'North Pole' arborvitae displays unexpectedly good drought-tolerance in the northeast and other northern climates in the U.S. You have to water it to get it established, but after that, you can water it based on how much you'd like it to grow. Depriving it of irrigation can restrict its size to about 4 feet in height. Otherwise, it can reach 10 to 15 feet tall. Overall, its growth rate is nothing out of the ordinary.

'Green Giant' Arborvitae

Generally, arborvitae is not an exceptionally fast-growing shrub, and insufficient watering slows them down even more. 'Green Giant' is an exception in terms of growth rate (it is a fast-growing arborvitae), but its growth is much more than most home gardeners are looking for. 'Green Giant' shrubs can climb to a towering height of 50 to 60 feet at maturity, with a spread of 12 to 20 feet. Furthermore, it's growth can be as fast as 3 feet per year.

'Green Giant' isn't the only biggie in this family. An even taller species, T. plicata, can grow to 50 to 75 feet high and 15 to 25 feet wide, earning it the common name "giant arborvitae." Other cultivars that can rightly be called giants are the 'Zebrina,' which can hit 30 feet in height, and 'Hetz Wintergreen,' a fast-growing variety that top out at 30 feet high and 8 feet wide.

'Emerald Green' Arbovitae

Arborvitae, in general, are not known for rapid growth, 'Green Giant' and a few others notwithstanding. If you're hoping to grow a tall hedge or privacy screen as quickly as possible, one option is to buy established 'Emerald Green' arborvitae, which can reach 12 to 14 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet at maturity.

Golden Arborvitae

Not all types of arborvitae are tall and narrow in shape and a plain, old green in color. T. occidentalis 'Golden Globe' bucks the trend on both counts, having a round shape and displaying foliage of a light golden color. It grows to be 3 feet high by 3 feet wide. There is even a weeping kind, T. occidentalis 'Pendula,' but this requires staking. Other types of golden arborvitae include:

  • T. occidentalis 'Filip's Magic Moment' has yellowish-green foliage and reaches a maximum height of 8 feet and width of 3 feet. As a young plant, before it begins to sprout, it looks like a globe arborvitae.
  • T. orientalis 'Aurea Nana' (also called "Berckman's golden arborvitae") is less cold-hardy than most arborvitae (it's hardy to zone 6). 'Nana' in a cultivar name indicates dwarf status; this shrub matures to about 6 feet in height, with a slightly smaller width.
  • T. occidentalis 'Rheingold' is known for its rich, golden foliage. It also stays a modest size, at 5 feet high and a slightly smaller spread.