Happy birthday to me! This year I wanted to plant privacy trees in my backyard. These 30 Emerald Green arborvitae were just the ticket! Looking to plant privacy trees of your very own? Well, great! you’re in the right place because I’ll be covering all the nitty-gritty about how I planted my privacy trees.

Update: it’s now 5 years later and my trees look amazing and are super healthy. I only lost one of my 30. But, the tragic death was because of an overgrown shrub in my neighbor’s yard that completely took it over. I’m still bitter about it.

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 12′ high and 3′ wide. They can be grown in zones 2-7 and make a great privacy hedge.

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. But, here are a few of my favorites:

Emerald Green Arborvitae: 14-15′ high x 3-4′ wide. This is one of the most popular privacy trees for screening. Zones 3-8.

Green Giant Arborvitae: 30-50′ high x 12′ wide. These are much faster growing trees and also a great option if you are looking for a larger, taller option for screening. Zones 5-7.

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Yew Shrubs: up to 20′ high x 3-5′ wide. There are many varieties to choose from so it shouldn’t be difficult to find one to fit your needs. A moderate grower, yews are known for their excellent shade tolerance. Zones 5-10.

Excelsa Cedar: 30-35′ high x 12-15′ wide. This beautiful privacy tree is grown in both a “natural” and “hedged” form. These are a great option for second story privacy screening– for those of your with a balcony. Zones 5-9.

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

Determine how many trees you’ll need

The second step to plant privacy trees is to determine how many of your chosen tree you will need. First, measure the area that you need to cover.  This is pretty self explanatory. Once you have this measurement, head to the nursery or check online to find out how far apart to plant your trees.  I chose Emerald Green arborvitaes for my privacy tree, and they need to be planted 3′ apart in order for them to have enough space when they are full grown, while still creating the privacy that I want. Since they will grow to 3-4′ across, I decided to plant them 2′ from my fence.  Based on the measurements I probably could have planted them 1.5′ from the fence but I don’t want them getting tangled into the chain link.

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 an incorrect number. Your first and last tree will be closer to the edge than the spacing in between the trees.

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 from all over my neighborhood.

Emerald Green Arborvitae Spacing Examples
Emerald Green Arborvitae Spacing Examples

Planting your 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 how wide your root ball is. You will want to measure in both directions, and dig your hole twice as wide as this distance. So if your root ball is 1′ wide, you will want to dig your hole to be 2′ wide in all directions, and as deep as the 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 5 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 the tree in the darn hole already!

Yay! Time to plant the tree. Put it in the darn hole, already! Once the privacy tree is placed, push the burlap down a bit so that the tree can receive water from above. Then, backfill the hole with your dirt. You can also mix in some nutrient-rich topsoil to give the trees a good feeding.

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. 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 tree watering bags. These bags will slow release up to 15 gallons of water per tree. Slow watering is overall a better way to get the soil moist without shocking the tree.

Between my hose and Treegator 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.

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.

To maintain the tree watering regiment, I purchased soaker hoses
and weaved them in and out of my trees. The soaker hose will slow water the trees as well, and it really helps in situations like mine where you plant privacy trees in bulk. It makes more sense to set up your own irrigation system rather than stand outside all day and night keeping them watered.
 Learn how to install soaker hoses.

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. Once they are established, you should only need to water when it’s very dry and they look thirsty.

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On the packaging the soaker hose says that 50 minutes of watering a 50′ line (which is what I have) will get the water into the soil to a 1/2″ depth. Based on that calculation I am watering the trees for about an hour every other day. One day I do the right side, and the next day I do the left. I just set my timer on my phone, go about my business and turn off the hose when it goes off. It couldn’t be easier.

Privacy tree care and maintenance

plant privacy trees - emerald green arborvitae

Mulch is your tree’s BFF

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.

Here is a great article about the 6 Mistakes to Avoid when Growing Arborvitae. It gives a lot of 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. Here’s a video I made about the annual “maintenance” I perform on these trees. It takes me about an hour each spring.

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