Wassup with arborvitae this summer?

In place several years, the entire row of arbs bit the dust this summer.

This will be a really short article, but it might answer a question for you:  Why am I seeing a bunch of dead arborvitae (cedars) this year?

While driving around town, I’ve been struck by the number of plantings of multiple arborvitae that are dead.  I’ve shown two here, but I’ve seen several others.  Not one dead in the row – but the entire row.

The short and sweet answer is, lack of moisture.

Thuja occidentalis (Eastern and American Arborvitae, a.k.a. white cedar), the more common arborvitae species in the Upper Midwest is a water-loving native evergreen shrub.  Take a trip “up north” and you will find cedars growing wild along river sites.

According to ornamentals expert Dr. Michael Dirr, the Eastern arborvitae

These arborvitae shrubs have been sucked dry by nearby trees in a droughty summer.

“should be grown in areas with considerable atmosphere moisture as well as soil moisture.”  Once established it will take considerable drought, he says.

People like arborvitae because they are soft to the touch, and don’t have poky needles like juniper; they have a nice texture and if the right cultivar is planted in the right site you won’t need to prune them.

But they really perform best where they get adequate moisture, or at least aren’t overly exposed.

The plantings I’ve photographed are either VERY out in the open alongside a street and were never ever watered, or they are competing with these tall trees.  They had been in place more than two years, but obviously they were closer to the edge than the owners realized.

When the entire row dies all at once, it’s pretty clear that growing conditions – rather than the slower spread of disease or insects – is to blame.

And they won’t be coming back.

The lesson to learn is that there are better shrubs for hot sunny locations, and even woody plants that look OK should be watered once or twice during a drought.  If only to protect your investment.

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