Tree Spotlight: Arborvitae

Arborvitae (Thuja) may be Long Island’s most popular privacy tree. However, people of centuries ago had a much more important use for these tall evergreens. The foliage of these fragrant trees was brewed into medicinal tea. Latin for ‘Tree of Life’, Arborvitae was given its name for saving early sailors from scurvy.


These evergreen trees are native to North America and Asia and have been bred into many varieties for use as hedgerows and living fences. At maturity in the wild, they can get 50 feet tall, but most hybrids sold at the nursery for homeowners only grow to 20 or 30 feet tall.

Arborvitae likes full sun and is tolerant of most soil types and has few pest issues. The biggest problems they develop are browning and yellowing of needles and winter damage from snow and ice. Heavy snow weighs down flexible branches and the result is flopping and cracked stems that need to be tied and pruned come spring. As they get older, they become ragged-looking for these reasons. Unlike some other trees and shrubs, if removing too much of the foliage from an Arborvitae, it will be permanent and the branches in that area will die. It will not fill in with green growth or grow back from the older trunk wood or branches.

If you have an Arborvitae hedge, it’s wise to keep it lightly sheared and repaired annually to keep it healthy and tidy looking. Contact your local certified arborist for help keeping your Arborvitaes healthy.