Emerald Green (a.k.a. ‘Smaragd) is a narrow, compact, pyramidal arborvitae with bright green foliage that grows in tight vertical sprays. It can get to be 15′ high and 4′-6’ wide.

Like most arborvitae Emerald Green prefers full sun.  And although it will tolerate some dryness once established, moist soil is its friend.  I have found the plant becomes susceptible to spider mites when stressed from drought for too long.

The other susceptibility Emerald shares with many other arborvitae is “deer browsing”.  There are other varieties like ‘Green Giant’ to choose from if deer are an issue.

Always check with nurseries and the agricultural extension service in your area on “deer resistant” plants.  This is not a universal science and varies from region to region.

Like many (but not all) arborvitae Emerald Green can have multiple stems. These stems can splay out under the heavy load of snow and ice.

Whenever I plant an arborvitae with multiple stems, I tie a loose loop with ArborTie around the main stems about 3/4 of the way up.

“Use the right plant in the right place”

And although there are several considerations when selecting a plant, make your first consideration space requirement.

For this you need to know 2 things:

  1. What is the available space a plant has to grow? (Don’t forget neighboring plants grow too!) and
  2. What is the potential mature growth of the plant you’re considering?


In the picture above you can see the limited space between the property line and driveway.

Arborvitae ‘Emerald Green’ makes a good choice here because it naturally stays within this space and yet grows tall without any trimming.

So put away your gas or electric powered shears and let this beautiful plant develop on its own.  Just look at the tufts of foliage with varying hues of green and the multiple spires on top.

This happens to be a favorite of mine, in part because it’s so useful as a taller plant in tight spaces.  

  • Lori
    6:17 AM, 4 February 2016

    I planted 74 emerald green arborvitae last August and have notice quite a few have multiple stems from one trunk close to ground which are the same diameter as the trunk (I’m thinking these may be what are called codominant?). Others have multiple stems coming from the roots, some of which look a little weaker than the main trunk. I would like to know if I can remove the weaker looking codominants and stems right at the base from each of these, and more importantly the best time to do it? I would like for them to have the one trunk to give them the best chance when they’re bigger if it snowed, I live in Wales UK and although we don’t have loads of snow we do occasionally have some. Or would it be better to reduce some (not all) of those codominant stems by 50% over a couple of years. I was thinking this spring may be a little early for that although I would like to do this as soon as possible whilst they’re still babies and can repair themselves. I was planning on giving them some slow release osmocote 14-14-14 in March and mulching the area ready to prune them in spring 2017 by then they should be happy in their new home and their roots strong enough for that type of pruning. Any help would be appreciated.

    • Roger
      9:04 PM, 4 February 2016

      Typically Arborvitae ‘Emerald Green’ is a multi-stem plant. But I think it’s smart to take advantage of their young age and do the selective pruning you’re considering.

      I like your plan to wait until spring of 2017, and let the plants establish a bit. At that time I would go ahead and select the strongest vertical stems and prune out the remainder. If you think that’s too drastic for a one-time pruning, then divide the pruning into two seasons like you mentioned.

      Although it’s rare (at least in my experience) to see a “single-stem” Emerald Green, if you see a circumstance where you feel a single stem plant is best, I’d go ahead. Since they’re so young I’m sure they’ll adapt and be fine.

      If you end up with two or three main stems, just plan on using something like the Arbor Tie I mention in the article to mitigate the chance of snow damage.

      The osmocote and mulch is a great idea. Be careful, of course, not to mound mulch up against the trunk bases. But I bet you knew that already. 🙂

      It’s so great you’re taking the time to research and do these things for your Arbs. Ultimately you’ll be rewarded with strong, healthy, well-structured plants.

  • Steve
    2:26 PM, 27 October 2016

    Hi there. I currently have emerald greens all around my property and in one section they surround a brick patio on the side of my house. There’s about 10 feet of grass between the arborvitaes and the sidewalk to basically goes to waste. I want to remove the current arborvitaes around the patio and plant new ones that are closer to the sidewalk. That way I can reclaim that “lost” yard space and have a larger general area within the yard. Emerald greens are my preferred option since they don’t get too wide meaning that they wont encroach into my yard (which is small to begin with) and shouldn’t encroach onto the sidewalk. There is a large oak tree along the sidewalk right now so the emerald greens would have to go right up to it/around it but they should still get a good amount of sun. However, the area is in shade for some of the day either due to the tree or my house. Someone suggested green giants since they may tolerate the shade better than the emerald greens.

    However, I am worried that green giants will eventually be way too big for this area (both in height and width). There is also a row of arborvitae between the patio and driveway that’s about 5 feet wide and again, I’m worried that the green giants would be too big.

    Please let me know what you thoughts are and I can email you with pictures if that’s easier.

    Thank you so much!

    • Roger
      3:10 PM, 27 October 2016

      I did get your pictures — and that’s helpful.

      The Emerald Greens still remain a good choice for “narrow and tall,” which is important on your property. Be aware that they are multi-stem plants, so it’s smart to be proactive and mitigate the chance of them splaying apart as they get older. We use Arbor-tie to make a loop-tie about 1/4 down from the top. We make the loop internally, just grabbing the main stems. If done right you won’t even see it. Don’t make the loop tight — it’s only to support the stems. As the arbs mature you’ll want to monitor the arbor-ties. You’ll probably need to adjust and/or move them up as the trees grow.

      The large tree looks like it’s been pruned aggressively. Is it an oak or maple? My question is: Can that tree be removed? There appears to be another tree nearby along the street. Removing the tree would eliminate the root competition, allow more light, and ensure the new arbs have an optimum condition to grow.

  • Steve
    3:51 PM, 27 October 2016

    Thanks, Roger. The tree can be removed but I don’t want to go through that process as it will be expensive and a frustrating process with the village to get the permits. I prefer to keep the tree in place.

  • Steve
    3:58 PM, 27 October 2016

    Also, the picture which shows the tree pruned aggressively is a few years old. If you look at the picture taken from the sidewalk you’ll be able to see (somewhat) that there’s been more growth lower down on the tree. That may have to be pruned back a bit.

    • Roger
      4:20 PM, 27 October 2016

      I know exactly what you’re talking about with regard to “town approval” for removing the tree. I go through these approval processes all the time with various aspects of our work. And it’s getting more and more difficult with each passing year.

      For the arborvitae you might consider installing a drip irrigation system or a soaker hose, especially for those near the tree. Also, I’d fertilize them at least once a year to help offset the tree’s competition.

  • Steve
    4:36 PM, 27 October 2016

    Thanks, Roger. Would you agree that green giants may be too big for the space? I’m looking for instant privacy and I think that would be easier with dense green emeralds planted close together. Even if green giants are planted close together there would be a big gap towards to top due to their shape.

    • Roger
      4:54 PM, 27 October 2016

      You are correct.
      Emeralds are the better choice — both for present and long-term.

  • Patrick McNulty
    3:32 PM, 14 March 2017

    Hi Roger,
    I have a row of arborvitae in my backyard that are about 6 years old and about 7-8 feet tall. Most of them have about 5-8 leaders. There is one that only has one single, strong leader and it has a nice shape and fullness to it that the others don’t have. Wondering if I can cut down the bushes so they each only have three leaders (as you recommend) at this point in their life. I realize that they will look rather thin and unshapely if I do so but will they fill out over the course of the year? When would be the best time to do this? Or would you recommend that I just arbor tie all of the leaders together and not worry about it? When you arbor tie them do you tie them loosely so there is space between them? And do you leave the tie on year round? Thanks much,

    • Roger
      10:12 PM, 15 March 2017

      That’s quite a few leaders your ‘Emerald Green’ arborvitae have. And it would be helpful to reduce the number.

      You’re right, they will look sparse right after pruning. And it will likely take a couple of growing seasons for them to recover.

      You’ll want to use the arbor tie even if there are only 2 leaders. It’s just a good insurance policy against them separating in bad weather (snow, ice, heavy winds).

      Place the tie about 1/3 down from the top. Tie the loop so that it includes the main leaders. I weave it through the smaller branches so it just grabs the main leaders and cannot be seen from the exterior. You don’t want to draw the stems in towards each other, but just tie the loop so that it preserves the current position of the leaders. Make the tie with enough arbor tie left over so that you can adjust the loop (i.e. make bigger) as the plant grows. I would check the arbor ties every 2 years or so for adjustment. I use Google Calendar for setting dates like this in advance. Any digital calendar will do. 🙂

  • Patrick McNulty
    10:22 PM, 15 March 2017

    Thanks so much for getting back to me Roger. Your response is greatly appreciated. I am still amazed every time I get a helpful, generous response like yours on the internet. It is awesome how useful the internet can be (despite other drawbacks to the interweb). Thanks again!

  • Danette
    9:39 PM, 18 March 2017

    Hi Roger,

    I was thinking about planting Emerald Green Arborvitae along my back fence (43 feet long) because my neighbor’s backyard is even with the top of my 5 foot vinyl fence. I have an in ground pool that is 5 feet from the vinyl fence and wanted a dense, fast growing privacy screen. Would Emerald Greens be a good choice, and how close to my fence could I safely plant them?

    Thank you,

    • Roger
      10:50 PM, 18 March 2017

      ‘Emerald Green’ would be a good choice for the narrow space like you describe. I don’t know if I’d classify them as fast growers — but planted properly, fertilized annually and irrigated during dry spells, they’ll develop nicely as a dense screen.

      If the planting space is 5′ wide, I’d “center” the arbs (i.e. at 2.5′). Depending on how solid the vinyl fence is, it’s very likely the arbs will ultimately lose their foliage on the backside facing the fence. This is not necessarily harmful to the plant, and you won’t really see it as the plant should grow full and dense on the poolside. And, of course, the foliage above the fence should be full front and back.

  • Julie
    5:02 PM, 9 June 2017

    I am thinking of planting five emerald green arborvitae next to our inground pool. Do you have any idea how close I can safely plant them? (to not interfere with any of the plumbing or pool)? There is four feet of decking around the pool, and I plan to put them about another 2 feet away from that, but I know there is some plumbing under the decking.

    • Roger
      11:04 AM, 25 June 2017

      If you think long-term when planting, you’ll want to plant the ‘Emerald Green’ arborvitae a bit further from the pool decking (if possible). If measuring from the edge of the pool deck, I would plant the “centers” of the new arbs no closer than 3′. Now the plant has room to grow naturally without hard pruning in the future. The beauty of this plant is its natural form where the varying colors and textures of the foliage can develop over age. If they’re trimmed to control size or “shape,” all that beauty is lost.

      With regard to your concern for the plumbing beneath the deck, I don’t think the arbs will pose a problem. However, I can’t say for sure because I don’t know how the pool plumbing was run.
      Pool plumbing typically runs close to the walls of the pool, but there are circumstances where it can travel further away. The arbs don’t have an aggressive root system, rather it tends to be more fibrous.

      I wish I could be more definitive with my advice, but as you can see there are some variables and uncertainties here.

  • Charmaine Vlcek
    9:33 AM, 16 August 2017

    I loved that you answered all of the questions and are so very thorough. I have done so much research on arbs and junipers and are so confused. I only have 5 and a half feet to work with. I want a privacy screen. I am so confused with the bag worms and other insects with arbs. Are they that serious. I also live in the Chicagoland area and am concerned about snow, wind and ice. Do any arbs have a single leader? Might jumper be better? Thanks so much!

    • Roger
      8:39 AM, 17 August 2017

      It’s so smart to do the research you’re doing before selecting a plant. Yes, some plants are more predisposed to problems, but realize too that any plant can have its problems — particularly if the environment they’re planted in is not what the plant naturally prefers. For example, planting a plant that prefers moist, organic soil in dry, sandy soil.
      Let me suggest you look into Torulosa Juniper (also called Hollywood Juniper). In the picture I’ve linked to you’ll see it’s being used in a relatively narrow space. It can be fairly easily maintained in that space by pruning. You would not shear the plant but rather selectively prune the ends of the branches. This keeps the plant in bounds and also keeps it growing in a tight, informal form — that’s beautiful!

  • Latasha
    12:03 PM, 20 August 2017

    I have been shopping around for a tree and a couple bushes to put back at the corner of my home. I’m not sure of what the names of the previous ones were but I believe they were in the pine family. They had the sharp needles which I was not a fan of. The tree and shrubs that had been there offered shade and privacy since the room at the corner of my house is lined in long windows. Also when a drunk driver missed the curve and drove into my yard, crashing into the tree and shrubs, they are what prevented the driver from crashing through my home and brought him to a stop him within inches of my house. I am not sure of what the previous were called but while shopping around I have become attracted to the Emerald Green Arborvitae trees, I love the cone shape and the softness of their foliage. I haven’t seen anyone or read about anyone planting this tree as a single. I wasn’t sure if they done better in groups and if so rather there’s a minimum number to plant. I have read about them needing space for their growth and also so they don’t soak up all the nutrients from others. So my question is, can the Emerald Green Arborvitae be planted as a single and accompanied by a couple hedges or bushes in a yard and still thrive or is it best to plan on planting more. If more then how many is recommended? Lastly, do they root strong? The previous tree and bushes had such strong roots that when the full size truck crashed into them they held strong and some roots stayed rooted into the ground. We had to use a back hole to dig and pull the remaining out of the ground. Even though I hope this never happens again, I want something strong as well as beautiful.

    • Roger
      10:42 AM, 2 September 2017

      Emerald Green Arborvitae should work well in your situation. And we plant them as single plants all the time — and often in a planting bed with other plants. So don’t worry about that.

      As you probably know they do grow tall, but rather narrow — and that should be good in your situation. But make sure you appreciate their mature width and not plant too close to the house. The “center” of the arborvitae should be around 5′ from the house. This will allow the plant to grow and still have space between the building and plant.

      In terms of its root strength, I would say once the plant is established (e.g. 3-5 years) it should be well-rooted.

  • Vegard
    4:59 PM, 8 November 2017

    I have a 6ft privacy fence, but I need taller privacy as we are facing a business that looks down into our backyard. I first looked at bigger arbs like Green Giants, but those are way too wide. Our yard is not very big (about 30 x 40) and I want space leftover to plant more interesting trees. The Emerald seems to be the best bet (we live outside of Philadelphia, 7a/6b). However, on the Emeralds are listed as only growing between 8-12 ft. If they stop at 8 ft then they won’t really help us very much. 12-15 ft will be perfect though. So how can I ensure a tall growth and dense coverage at the same time? Because won’t planting them really close together impede their growth?


    • Roger
      9:40 PM, 8 November 2017

      My experience with Arborvitae ‘Emerald’ over the years shows they’ll consistently get 10 to 15′ in height. And if you space them 4′ center-of-plant to center-of-plant you’ll eventually have touching plants, but not such that their growth is impeded.

      Realize that deer feast on Arb. “Emerald”. Also, since this arb is multi-stemmed, we loop and tie a piece of arbor-tie about 1/3 down from the top of the plant. You can weave it inside the plant to just include the main stems of the plant. It’s not to be tied tight, but rather just serve as a loop that keeps the stems from splaying apart from ice and snow. And as the plant grows you’ll want to monitor that tie to see if it needs to be loosened or removed — and then replace/add a new tie further up the growing plant.

      Good luck with your planting!

  • Vegard
    3:11 PM, 9 November 2017

    Thanks for your advice Roger. I came across this new variety called Thuja occidentalis ‘American Pillar’, and I’m considering going with that one actually. They promise at least 25 ft of rapid growth and just 4 ft wide. Only bad part I’ve found is that it’s so new that they only have small 1 ft trees available. I would maybe consider topping them at some point, as I’m also planting an Autumn Blaze and it’s possible the Maple and the American Pillar would grow into each other since these thujas get so tall. But I would rather have too tall than too short. Have you heard of these?

    • Roger
      11:59 AM, 14 November 2017

      I have not heard of Arb. ‘American Pillar,’ but it sounds interesting. Any plant that fits the need of tall and narrow is so useful in today’s design challenges — especially on smaller properties.

      I did look it up (on the internet) and will now ask plant suppliers in my area about it.

      Thanks so much for letting me — and all the readers — know about it!

  • Vegrd
    3:55 PM, 14 November 2017

    My pleasure! Most of the suppliers I found only sell this variety in the Georgia area (I’m in PA), or to growers, retailers, or landscapers. I was eventually able to find one that ships to regular customers though, so I ordered 10 of them. Crossing fingers it will work out!

  • Terry
    7:40 PM, 27 January 2018

    We live in the Pacific NW. We would like to convert a gravel driveway into a walking path with a row of Emerald Green along one side. Length is about 100′. Can we plant the trees by digging or trenching through the existing gravel (gravel perhaps up to 4″ deep) or should we remove the gravel in the planting area?

    • Roger
      12:31 PM, 28 January 2018

      I would remove the gravel where you’re planting the arborvitae. You don’t have to be completely thorough about it because a little gravel mixed in through the planting process should be fine. Hopefully you can re-use the gravel you remove.

      With the 4″ (+/-) of gravel removed I would then proceed with planting. Realize that the root-balls on the arbs will displace soil, and that will help replace the void from the removed gravel. Just be aware of the correct planting height relative to the top of the root-ball and what will be “finished grade”. Set the new plants according to that proper root-ball height — and you can always add extra soil if you need to. Take care not to plant too deep, which is a common error.

      Depending on the size of the plants (and their root-balls) and the spacing you plan to have, it might make sense for you to trench rather than dig individual holes.

  • Terry
    11:50 AM, 31 January 2018

    Thank you Roger.

    This project extends along a fence line an existing row of about 15 arbavitie which are now 7’ – 8’ tall. Our plan calls for planting 6’ trees at our line of site (roughly 25’) then continuing with 4’ trees down the fence line for the total of 100’.

    We can have the gravel raked back to create a 4’ – 5’ bed and spread around the gravel in what will become our path. Trenching is also not a logistical problem. Easy access to this area.

    One potential hazard does exists – a very large flowering cherry on my neighbor’s property approximately 10’ from my fence and 13’ from where we intend to plant. I see no surface evidence of roots but what lies below grade is unknown. The main tree trunk is huge and branches off into four trunks. Last Fall they gave this giant a very, very hard prune. If the tree dies no problem. If it comes back I’m concerned about roots and damaging the neighbor’s tree. The other concern is my new arvabitie planted over or among these possible roots.

    • Roger
      5:55 PM, 1 February 2018

      The digging/trenching you do for the arbs. could impact the flowering cherry. With regard to the the arborvitae and how the existing cherry may impact them — I’m more concerned about any shade or cover the cherry’s branching may have on the new arbs. Any competition the cherry’s roots may have (re moisture & nutrients) on the arbs should be minimal.

  • Terry
    7:21 PM, 1 February 2018

    Thank you Roger.

    We are now rethinking what goes in this new bed at and around the tree region.

    Perhaps shrubs with decent height (6’ or so) and some screen potential is a better idea near the Cherry. Maybe something like azaleas. A little color is always nice too. Any recommendations?

    • Roger
      8:57 AM, 2 February 2018

      If it’s filtered light (partial shade) you might consider Azalea ‘Poukhanense’. Depending on the severity of winter it will lose some it its leaves (partially deciduous). But it is, IMO, one of the hardiest and most reliable varieties of azalea. Be aware that broadleaf evergreens, in general, can be very particular about their environment and cultural conditions.

      Another plant “category” for you to consider is viburnum. There are many varieties — each with their own characteristics. You could do some research online for this category, and/or visit your local nursery so you can actually see them (and what’s available in your area).

  • Terry
    9:04 AM, 2 February 2018

    Thank you for all of the information and suggestions.

  • Sarah
    3:39 PM, 25 April 2018


    I have 10 feet of space on our rootop patio I would like to create a privacy barrier for. I love the Emerald Green Arbrovitaes and am wonderding how big of a pot you would recomment to plant them in and if they will grow in pots?

    Thank you,


    • Roger
      5:22 PM, 25 April 2018

      Growing evergreens in containers is a challenge because these plants by nature want to be in the ground. Planters, especially in exposed situations like rooftops, are subject to extremes (heat, wind, etc.).

      If you attempt this I’d use a planter at least 32″ in width and height. The bigger the better. Providing consistent moisture will be key. Arborvitae do not like it dry for any length of time.

      You might also consider using an upright juniper of some kind such as: Torulosa, Robusta, Blue Point, Moonglow, Pathfinder, Skyrocket and Wichita Blue. These are “tougher” and a better choice for planters.

      Or, how about a decorative trellis (wood or metal) and then grow a seasonal vine on it like Mandevilla?

  • Sarah Ammerman
    9:30 PM, 25 April 2018


    This helps a lot. I for sure think I will look into a juniper instead for potting. What size pots would you recommend for these trees? We live in Seattle, so they would get a lot of water, but a tougher tree is porbably a better idea.

    I really appreciate your help!!

    Thank you!


    • Roger
      2:17 PM, 28 April 2018

      Even with juniper I’d try to use a larger planter — it just provides more room for root development and for soil mass re moisture and nutrient storage. If rooftop space is limiting the planter size then move down a size, e.g. 28″, 24″ or so.

      It’s good you’re leaning towards a juniper-type too. They’re just “tougher”.

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