Arborvitae Growth Rate and Drought-Tolerance

How Different Varieties Stack Up

Arborvitae windbreak trees
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Arborvitae is a popular evergreen plant for hedges and borders, especially the types that sport a trim, vertical shape. But gardeners usually approach plant selection with a wish list of plant characteristics. For example, in addition to wanting a plant of a particular color, you may want a plant that:

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, including the possibility of going over your budget for landscaping.

North Pole and Techny Arborvitae

Arborvitae is generally intolerant of drought, but North Pole arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis Art Boe) displays unexpectedly good drought-tolerance in the Northeast and other northern climates in the United States. 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, with a spread of half that. Otherwise, it can reach 10 to 15 feet tall x 5 to 7 feet wide. Overall, its growth rate is average.

Techny (Thuja occidentalis Techny) is another arborvitae with a moderate growth rate that surprises with its drought tolerance. It reaches 10 to 15 feet tall x 6 to 10 feet wide

Green Giant Arborvitae

Generally, arborvitae is not an exceptionally fast-growing shrub, and insufficient watering slows it down even more. Green Giant (T. plicata x T. standishii) is an exception, being one of the faster-growing arborvitaes, 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, their growth can be as fast as 3 feet per year.

Green Giant is not the only biggie in this family. An even taller species, T. plicata, can quickly 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 fast-growing Zebrina, which can hit 30 feet in height (8 to 12 feet wide), and Hetz Wintergreen, a fast-growing variety that tops out at 30 feet high and 8 feet wide.

Emerald Green Arborvitae

Since arborvitae generally does not grow very fast (Green Giant and a few others notwithstanding), you may have to compromise on cost. 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 (Thuja occidentalis Smaragd) plants, which can reach 12 to 14 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide at maturity. But because they are already tall, you will be paying dearly for them.

Globe Arborvitae

But not everybody wants a tall, narrow kind of arborvitae and/or a plant with a fast growth rate. Some landscaping situations call for a plant that is more compact and with a growth rate that is slow to moderate. Luckily, there are types of arborvitae that can fit the bill. This is especially true of the various kinds of "globe arborvitae" (so named for their spherical shape or hassock shape), which include:

  • Danica globe arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis Danica): 2 feet x 2 feet; becomes blue-green in winter.
  • Woodward globe arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis Woodwardii): 4 to 10 feet tall, 8 to 15 feet wide

Golden Arborvitae

Not all types of arborvitae are a plain, old green in color, either. T. occidentalis Golden Globe bucks the trend, 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. And there are other types of golden arborvitae:

  • 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 is hardy only to planting zone 6, whereas many kinds are hardy to zone 2). 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, with a slightly smaller spread.