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How to plant Emerald Green Arborvitae privacy trees (distance, etc)

plant privacy trees

In 2014, I planted 30 ‘Emerald Green’ Arborvitae privacy trees as a hedge in my backyard. Looking to plant privacy trees of your very own? In this post I’ll be sharing all the nitty-gritty about how to space out, plant and care for your arborvitae.

About Emerald Green Arborvitae

planting emerald green arborvitae privacy trees

‘Emerald Green’ arborvitae is an evergreen in the Cypress family (Cupressaceae). A slim tree of medium height, these arborvitae can reach 14-15′ high and 3-4′ wide. They can be grown in zones 2-7 and make a great privacy hedge.

Update: it’s now 6 years later and my trees look amazing and are super healthy. I only lost 1 of my 30 trees. But, the tragic death was because of an overgrown shrub in my neighbor’s yard that completely took it over.

Emerald green arborvitae in the snow... about 4 years old
Just for fun, here’s a photo of my emerald green arborvitae trees after a snowfall here in Northeast PA. This is about 4 years after planting and they’ve grown about 2 feet. I love how they catch the snow on their branches!

Preparation to plant privacy trees

plant privacy trees
Line up the privacy trees where you want to plant them

Decide on the type of privacy tree

If you are planning to plant privacy trees, the first step is to decide what type of tree or hedge you would like to plant. There are many different options to choose from. If you are unsure, I would recommend going to a local nursery and having someone help you.

Here are some of my favorite narrow evergreen trees for small yards if you don’t think ‘Emerald Green’ is the right choice for you.

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Quick Tip: You’ll love this post you’re looking for more narrow evergreen privacy tree options.

Determine how many trees you’ll need

The next step to plant privacy trees is to determine how many of your chosen tree you will need. This is how I determined it:

  1. First, measure the area that you need to cover.
    This is pretty self explanatory.
  2. Then, decide how far apart you will space them from trunk to trunk.
    I chose Emerald Green arborvitaes for my privacy tree. It’s recommended to plant them 3′-4′ apart to form a privacy hedge when full grown. I chose to plant them 3′ apart from trunk to trunk. You can also ask the nursery how far apart to plant your new trees. 
  3. Determine how far you’ll space them from your fence or property line.
    Since I was planting these along a chainlink fence, I determined that the first tree would be 2′ from the fence line. I could have planted them 1.5′ from the fence but I wanted to give them a little extra room so they didn’t get tangled into the fence.
  4. Map out your planting plan (see below for details).
    With the distance I had to cover, after planting the trees 3′ apart I determined I’d need a 2′ gap at the beginning and end of the row to cover the entire space.

Map out your planting plan

The third step is to draw a little map of your yard. According to your spacing and the placement of the first and last tree, you’ll be able to determine how many you will actually need.

This is an important step when you plant privacy trees. Simply dividing the distance by the amount of trees could give you a fractioned number. If that’s the case, you may need to remove 1 tree from your count and space the first and last trees a little differently. Or, you may need to slightly adjust your spacing to get a divisible number.

Here’s the formula:

Distance to cover ÷ Spacing from Trunk to Trunk = Total # of Trees Needed

plant privacy trees map

You can see on my drawing that one side of my yard is 50′ and the other side (due to my shed) is 40′. Based on the map and placing the first tree 2′ from the fence instead of 3, I determined that I’ll need 13 trees on the 40′ side, and 16-17 trees on the 50′ side. That’s how I got to my total number of 30 trees.

‘Emerald Green’ Arborvitae Spacing

I would recommend spacing Emerald Greens between 36″ and 48″ from trunk to trunk. Spacing any closer than 36″ may be harmful to the health of the trees.

My arborvitae are spaced at 36″ apart. I’ve included some photo examples so you can see the difference in spacing as the hedge grows. These are rows of Emerald Greens from all over my neighborhood.

Emerald Green Arborvitae Spacing Examples
Emerald Green Arborvitae Spacing Examples

‘Emerald Green’ Arborvitae Growth Rate

‘Emerald Green’ Arborvitae have a slow to moderate growth rate (about 6-12″/year). In the first few years after planting, my trees grew at 6″ per year. Once they got established (about 3-4 years after planting), they began growing at a faster rate (about 12″). This is from my personal experience rather than a textbook, though.

These aren’t the fastest growing privacy trees on the market. I do have some other privacy tree recommendations here if you’re looking for other options with faster growth rates. But, just note that fast growing trees aren’t always the best option. They are typically weaker and more prone to disease than trees that grow slowly. Pretty much always, a fast growing tree will have a shorter lifespan than one that grows slowly or at a moderate rate.

Here is a chart with the growth of my Emerald Green Arborvitae Trees

DateApprox HeightApprox Growth (inches)
09-2014≈ 44- 48″
11-2015≈ 50- 54″≈ 6″
04-2016≈ 54- 60″≈ 4- 6″
07-2017≈ 62- 70″≈ 6- 10″
08-2018≈ 74- 82″≈ 12″
10-2019≈ 84- 94″≈ 12″
09-2020≈ 96-108″≈ 12-14″
11-2021 ≈ 106-130″ ≈ 10-22″
Emerald Green Arborvitae Growth Rate in my Yard (Pennsylvania, Zone 6B)

Planting your Emerald Green privacy trees

Stake out the distance

After you get your trees, you’ll have to actually do the work to plant them. The easiest way to do this is to stake out the distance marking where the center of each tree will go. This will keep you on track so that your trees are in a nice straight line (if you want them to be in a straight line, of course).

Measure your root ball

After staking them out, you’ll need to measure how deep the root ball of your tree is. Even if you got trees of the same height, it’s possible to have variance in how big their root balls are.

plant privacy trees

Plant your arborvitae privacy trees so that the root ball is level with the ground surface; maybe a tiny bit above, but never below. By measuring the height of the root ball you know how deep to dig your hole.

Most of my 4′ ‘Emerald Green’ Arborvitae had root balls that were between 11″ and 13″ deep.

Next, measure the width of your root ball. You’ll want to dig your holes the same depth as the height of the root ball and 2x the width of your root ball.

So if your root ball is 1′ wide and 1′ tall, you will want to dig your hole to be 2′ wide in all directions, and 1′ deep (height of the root ball).

Dig the hole

When you plant privacy trees, use a pick or sharp shovel to dig up the soil, and a tape measure to make sure I was getting to the right width and depth. Once the hole was the right size, I put some water into the hole mixed with some miracle grow, and moved my tree (burlap and all) into the hole.  

My thoughts on burlap…

Now, there is a little controversy surrounding whether you should remove the burlap or not. I decided to leave it on. But I did cut all of the twine and remove that once the tree was positioned. After the twine was removed I loosened the knot at the top of the burlap and pulled it down from the tree about 1/3 of the way. That way, the top of the root ball is exposed from above and the tree can receive water more easily.

plant privacy tree

Pull the burlap off the root a bit once your tree is positioned in the hole. That way, your tree can receive water from above.

You can also completely remove the burlap from the tree. But, loosing but leaving the burlap in-tact was the advice of both the nursery staff and my arborist friend. 🙂

Update: It’s been about 6 years since I planted my trees and leaving the burlap on has not been an issue at all in the growth of my arborvitae.

Put your tree in the hole

Yay! Time to plant your tree. Drop your tree into the hole… you may have to rock it back and forth to get it iinto a good position. Stand back and make sure you like the way it looks because after this point you really can’t change it!

Push the burlap down a bit so that the tree can receive water from above. Or, remove the burlap before you put it in the ground (depending on how you feel about leaving the burlap on).

Then, backfill the hole with your dirt. You can also mix in some nutrient-rich compost with your soil if it’s not the best quality. This will help to feed your trees while still letting them get established in their new soil.

Water the tree thoroughly and move on to the next! Before you know it you will be done! Using this technique I was able to plant about three privacy trees per hour. It took a long time but it was well worth the result.

Watering your newly-planted privacy trees

plant privacy trees

Here’s one of my newly planted ‘Emerald Green’ Arborvitae with equipped with a Treegator Junior tree watering bag (Amazon link to purchase).

These bags are magical little donuts of wonder and take all of the guesswork out of watering!

One of the toughest things to find is an actual clear cut amount to water these buggers. I searched high and low, and even consulted with an arborist friend I have. Newly planted trees need a lot of water at first, but with that you run the risk of overwatering which will get the roots soggy and cause the tree to die.

My arborist friend suggested that I water a lot the first few days and to make sure that the soil all the way down to the bottom of the root ball is moist (but not soggy). This is 12″ down for most of my trees — that’s a lot of water!  

I watered thoroughly for several days using a hose and also rotating around 2 Treegator Junior bags. These bags will slow release up to 15 gallons of water per tree. Slow watering is the best way to get the soil moist without shocking the tree.

Between my hose and Treegator Jr. watering duo, I able to confirm that the soil was moist about a foot down. To do this yourself, just dig a small hole next to the root ball and check for moisture.

To maintain the tree watering regiment, I purchased soaker hoses (buy on Amazon) and weaved them in and out of my trees. The soaker hose will slow water the trees as well, and it really helps when you’re planting a lot of new trees at once.

water and plant privacy trees

Weave the soaker hose in and out of the trees to evenly distribute the water. The hose can go above or below your mulch.

On the packaging the soaker hose says that 50 minutes of watering a 50′ line will get the water into the soil to a 1/2″ depth. Based on that calculation, I watered the trees for about an hour every other day. One day I do the right side, and the next day I do the left.

It makes sense to set up your own irrigation system rather than stand outside all day and night keeping them watered. I just set my timer on my phone, went about my business and turned off the hose when the timer beeped. It couldn’t be easier.

Free Gift: 10 Proven Plant Combinations to Try in Your Own Garden

ebook mockup free download

Never know what to plant together? Get 10 FREE plant combinations for spring, summer, fall and even winter so you can create stunning combinations in your garden in all four seasons. There are plant combos suited for every zone from 3-9. All pairings in this guide will work in zones 5-7.

After your trees are established you don’t have to be as strict with your watering regiment. I stopped soaker and tree-gator watering my Emerald Greens after two summers. Now, I only water them when it’s very dry and they look thirsty (not very often).

Privacy tree care and maintenance

plant privacy trees - emerald green arborvitae

Using Mulch

Mulching is one of the best things you can do when you plant privacy trees. This really helps your trees retain the water your give them – so they don’t dry out. Use about a 3″ layer of mulch around your arborvitae.

Just make sure you don’t mulch all the way up to the trunk of the tree. Leave at least a 6″ ring around the trunk with no mulch so it doesn’t cause rot or disease.

Fertilizing your Arborvitae trees

You can also fertilize your Emerald Green arborvitae. I am a big fan of Espoma products so I’ve always used Plant Tone (buy on Amazon) to fertilize my arborvitae. This is a 5-3-3 fertilizer, which is 5 parts nitrogen, 3 parts phosphorus and 3 parts potassium. Just follow the instructions on the back of the bag to use it. I fertilize my arborvitae in the spring and sometimes in the fall.

Here is an article with more helpful maintenance tips, including pruning and winter care, so your privacy trees will thrive for years to come!

Annual spring care for Arborvitae

If you chose an arborvitae for your privacy hedge, like me, it’s easy-peasy from year to year. Arborvitae are conifer trees and seasonal needle drop is a normal, healthy thing that will happen to your trees.

In the fall, arborvitae and other conifers shed their oldest (innermost) needles. These needles turn yellow or brown and drop to the ground in late fall – winter. So, each spring I shake out my trees and get all of the dead needles out of the branches (sometimes they get stuck). It takes me about an hour each spring.

Here’s an incredibly short video I made about the annual “maintenance” I perform on these trees.

‘Emerald Green’ Arborvitae Photo Gallery

I get many questions about what my trees look like now, so if you’d like to see them, check out this photo album of my trees over the years. The album is ordered by date from newest photos to the oldest so you can see the progression/growth of the trees. Each photo will have a date (click on the little “i” with the circle around it).

For reference, I planted these trees in September, 2014.

If you’re not quite sold on Emerald Greens or privacy trees, in general, check out this post for more privacy solutions to try.

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plant emerald green arborvitae trees for privacy
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    1. Hi Lance,
      I planted the trees 3 feet apart to give them enough room to grow without killing the trees. They are nearly touching now and have grown about 3 feet since I planted them (some photos here). If you want more privacy I think you could plant them a tiny bit closer but I wouldn’t go any closer than 2.5 feet from trunk to trunk.

  1. Thank you so much for Sharing. We are about to plant around 40 of these for privacy.
    Where did you purchase your trees from, a nursery or Lowes/home depot?

    1. Definitely a nursery. They were already pretty tall. What did you end up doing? Sorry this comment slipped by me.

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