Dense evergreens make perfect living fence

Fences make good neighbors, according to the old saying. This can be particularly true for homeowners living on relatively small lots in urban or suburban neighborhoods or in so-called “cluster home” developments.
“Living fences” of fairly dense shrubs and evergreen trees can disguise existing wood or chain-link fences or even replace them altogether. Cheryl and I planted a stand of Thuja Cedar Green Giants several years ago and they are growing by leaps and bounds, robust and healthy, creating a natural perimeter between our lawn and an expanse of wilder woodland.
Cedar Green Giants can be pruned annually to keep them at a manageable height, but left to their own devices, Cedar Green Giants can reach heights of 30 to 50 feet, growing three to five feet a year. Another benefit is that Cedar Green Giants are without serious pest or disease problems, giving them an advantage over Hemlocks and the disease-prone Leyland Cypress. Plant Cedar Green Giants three to five feet apart and you’ll soon have a natural screen for added privacy and as a sound barrier if traffic noise is an issue.
Another fine choice would be the arborvitae “Emerald Green” with its dense foliage and pyramidal shape. Arborvitae Emerald Green has a very bright green color and appears to have a tinge of gold to it if the sun hits it just right. Arborvitae Emerald Green grows to a height of 10 - 15 feet, with a spread of 3 - 4 feet. Emerald Green displays its bright lustrous green color all year and does not discolor in winter, adding a feeling of life to what might be an otherwise barren landscape. Its very compact and tight growth pattern make it an excellent choice for a screen when spaced 2 - 3 feet apart in the row.
Here’s a reader looking for some guidance with her arborvitae.
QUESTION: “We have a row of emerald green arborvitae across the back of our yard. We use it as a screen between our yard and the neighbors’ yard behind us.
“Starting last year six evergreens in a row started to get all brown, mostly on our side, which faces SE. We have a maple tree shading them some that has really started to grow in the last few years.
“We don't know if it's the shade or nutrients or what, but if they can't grow there, do you have a suggestion as to what would thrive there, and not look so out of place because of being something different in the row?” – Elaine
ANSWER: There are a number of reasons why this could happen to your arborvitae. Here are some of the most common:
Dogs urinating on the plants Spider mites Not mulching enough Wind burn Over fertilizing Not hardening off before winter
As for the last two potential reasons, bear in mind that you should fertilize only one time during the year (with something such as Hollytone) and spring would be the best time to do it.
Do not water regularly after fall frost. Watering should begin to gradually taper off in late summer (such as late August to September depending on your location) so that the plant can harden off for winter. Arborvitae are not drought tolerant so when tapering off, simply stretch the number of days between watering. Should there be no regular rainfall during that period, supplemental watering will be necessary, just less frequently.
From the photographs you e-mailed to me, most of your plants look fine, just the ones on the inside look somewhat stressed. Take a look at the possible list of causes, above, and taking into account your local weather conditions, you should be able to narrow it down.
If you identify and rectify the problem, there should be no need to replace your arborvitae.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to and for resources and additional information, including archived columns, visit
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