American Arborvitae (Thuja Occidentalis ‘Dark Green’)

Plant: Table of Contents

American Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Dark Green’): A Comprehensive Guide

Plants have an incredible ability to create natural beauty and bring life and vitality to any space. One such plant that adds charm to any landscape is the American arborvitae, scientifically known as Thuja occidentalis ‘Dark Green’. This popular evergreen shrub is valued for its versatility and low maintenance, making it a favorite among gardeners and landscape enthusiasts.

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the various aspects of the American arborvitae, from its cultural requirements and uses to its propagation, common diseases, and pests. Whether you are a seasoned horticulturist or a novice gardener, this article aims to equip you with the knowledge needed to nurture and appreciate the beauty of the American arborvitae.

What Is the American Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Dark Green’)?

The American arborvitae, known by its scientific name Thuja occidentalis ‘Dark Green’, is a coniferous plant that belongs to the cypress family, Cupressaceae. It is native to eastern North America and is renowned for its dense, pyramidal form and rich green foliage. The cultivar ‘Dark Green’ reflects the intense green color of the foliage, adding to its aesthetic appeal.

This evergreen shrub can grow to a height of 10 to 15 feet, with a spread of 3 to 4 feet, making it an excellent choice for creating hedges, privacy screens, or as a standalone ornamental specimen in the landscape. The American arborvitae is cherished for its adaptability to various growing conditions and its year-round lush greenery, which remains unchanged even during the harsh winter months.

Key Takeaways – American Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Dark Green’)

Before we delve into the cultural aspects and care guidelines for the American arborvitae, let’s explore some key takeaways that encapsulate the essence of this beloved evergreen shrub.

  • Scientific Name: Thuja occidentalis ‘Dark Green’
  • Family: Cupressaceae
  • Type: Evergreen shrub
  • Foliage: Rich green, scale-like foliage
  • Growth Habit: Conical, pyramidal
  • Uses: Hedges, privacy screens, ornamental landscaping
  • Distinct Feature: Dense, compact form
  • Cultivar Characteristics: Intense green foliage
  • Cultural Requirements: Sunlight, well-draining soil, moderate water, and occasional pruning

Now that we have an overview of the American arborvitae, let’s dive deeper into its cultural requirements and the nuances of caring for this iconic evergreen shrub.


Cultivating the American arborvitae involves understanding its essential needs and ensuring that these requirements are met to promote healthy growth and vigor. From sunlight exposure to water and soil preferences, here are the key cultural considerations for successfully nurturing Thuja occidentalis ‘Dark Green’.


Proper watering is vital for the establishment and sustained health of the American arborvitae. While this evergreen shrub displays some drought tolerance once established, consistent moisture is crucial, especially during its initial growth stages.

  • Young Plants: Newly planted American arborvitae specimens benefit from regular watering, particularly during dry spells or periods of insufficient rainfall. Providing approximately 1-2 inches of water per week during the growing season supports healthy root development and overall growth.

  • Established Plants: Once the American arborvitae has established itself in the landscape, it exhibits moderate drought tolerance. However, during prolonged dry periods, it is advisable to provide supplemental watering to prevent moisture stress and maintain its vibrant green foliage.

  • Watering Practices: When watering the American arborvitae, ensure that the soil is well-draining to prevent waterlogging, which can lead to root suffocation and disease. Water at the base of the shrub, avoiding wetting the foliage, especially in the evening, to minimize the risk of fungal diseases.


Similar to most evergreen plants, the American arborvitae thrives in locations that offer abundant sunlight. Adequate sunlight exposure is essential for promoting lush foliage, robust growth, and overall vitality.

  • Optimal Sun Exposure: Plant the American arborvitae in a location that receives full to partial sunlight, ideally getting at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day. While it can tolerate some shade, prolonged low-light conditions may result in reduced foliage density and potential issues with vigor.

  • Sunlight Considerations: When selecting a planting site for the American arborvitae, prioritize areas with sufficient sunlight, especially in the morning and early afternoon, to harness the energy needed for photosynthesis and the production of carbohydrates essential for growth.


Providing appropriate nutrients through fertilization is important for enhancing the American arborvitae’s growth and sustaining its overall health. Before applying fertilizers, it is essential to understand the specific requirements of this evergreen shrub to avoid over-fertilization and potential nutrient imbalances.

  • Fertilization Timing: Apply a balanced, slow-release fertilizer in early spring before new growth emerges. This provides the necessary nutrients to support active growth throughout the growing season. Avoid fertilizing in late summer or fall, as this can stimulate late-season growth that may be susceptible to winter damage.

  • Fertilizer Selection: Use a fertilizer formulated for evergreen shrubs or trees, with an N-P-K ratio designed to meet the nutritional needs of Thuja occidentalis ‘Dark Green’. A balanced fertilizer such as a 10-10-10 or 14-14-14 blend is suitable for promoting steady and healthy growth.

  • Application Method: Spread the fertilizer evenly over the soil surface within the shrub’s drip line, avoiding direct contact with the trunk. Water the area thoroughly after application to facilitate the incorporation of nutrients into the root zone.


Understanding the soil preferences of the American arborvitae is crucial for ensuring proper establishment, optimal growth, and long-term vitality. This robust evergreen shrub thrives in well-draining soils that provide a stable foundation for its root system.

  • Soil Type: Plant the American arborvitae in well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter and offers good aeration. Avoid heavy clay soils or waterlogged areas, as they can impede drainage and lead to root rot and other moisture-related issues.

  • Soil pH: Thuja occidentalis ‘Dark Green’ prefers slightly acidic to neutral soil, with a pH range of 6.0 to 7.5. Conduct a soil test to assess the pH of the planting area and, if necessary, amend the soil with organic matter or pH-adjusting agents to create an optimal growing environment.

  • Soil Moisture: While the American arborvitae appreciates consistent soil moisture, it is essential to avoid waterlogged conditions that can compromise root health. Maintaining adequate soil moisture without creating stagnant, water-saturated soil is key to fostering a healthy growing environment.


Pruning is an integral part of American arborvitae maintenance, serving to shape the shrub, promote density, and manage its size. Proper pruning techniques contribute to the overall aesthetic appeal of the Thuja occidentalis ‘Dark Green’ and help maintain its structural integrity.

  • Pruning Frequency: Perform light pruning as needed throughout the year to remove any damaged, diseased, or overgrown branches. Additionally, conduct more significant pruning during the late winter or early spring to shape the shrub and encourage new growth.

  • Pruning Guidelines: When pruning the American arborvitae, use clean, sharp pruning shears or loppers to make precise cuts without causing undue stress to the plant. Focus on maintaining the shrub’s natural form while addressing any out-of-bounds growth or irregularities.

  • Size Management: If the American arborvitae has outgrown its desired space, consider carefully shaping the shrub by selectively removing branches to maintain its size and form. Avoid shearing excessively or removing an excessive amount of foliage in a single pruning session, as this can strain the plant and hinder recovery.


The propagation of American arborvitae can be achieved through various methods, providing opportunities to expand your collection of these magnificent evergreen shrubs. From seed propagation to vegetative techniques, here are the primary methods for propagating Thuja occidentalis ‘Dark Green’.

Seed Propagation

While American arborvitae can be propagated from seeds, this method requires patience and may result in some variability in the characteristics of the offspring. Here’s how to propagate the American arborvitae from seeds:

  1. Seed Collection: Gather mature cones from the American arborvitae in late summer or early fall when they have ripened. Extract the seeds from the cones and allow them to air dry for a few days to remove excess moisture.

  2. Seed Treatment: Some American arborvitae seeds benefit from cold stratification to break dormancy and promote germination. Place the seeds in a moistened medium, such as peat moss, and refrigerate them for a period of 60-90 days before sowing.

  3. Sowing Seeds: Plant the treated seeds in seed-starting trays or pots filled with a well-draining, sterile growing medium. Bury the seeds to a shallow depth, lightly press the soil to ensure good seed-to-soil contact, and water gently.

  4. Germination and Care: Keep the seed trays in a warm, brightly lit area and maintain consistent moisture levels to support germination. As the seedlings develop, provide adequate water and gradually acclimate them to outdoor conditions before transplanting them into the landscape.

Vegetative Propagation

Vegetative propagation methods, such as stem cuttings and layering, offer more reliable means of reproducing the exact traits of the parent plant. These techniques are particularly useful for propagating specific cultivars like Thuja occidentalis ‘Dark Green’.

  1. Stem Cuttings: Take 6-8 inch semi-hardwood cuttings from healthy American arborvitae branches during the growing season. Remove lower leaves, dip the cut ends in a rooting hormone, and plant the cuttings in a well-draining rooting medium. Maintain consistent moisture and provide a conducive environment for root development.

  2. Layering: Encourage the development of new roots by gently bending a low branch of the American arborvitae towards the ground, making a small incision on the underside of the branch. Secure the branch to the ground with a stake and cover the wounded area with soil. After roots have formed, detach the rooted portion and transplant it as a new plant.


The American arborvitae can thrive in container environments, offering a versatile option for those with limited garden space or those seeking portable greenery for their outdoor living areas. When growing Thuja occidentalis ‘Dark Green’ in containers, certain considerations should be addressed to ensure the well-being of the shrub.

  1. Container Selection: Choose a large, sturdy container with adequate drainage holes to allow excess water to escape. Opt for a container that provides ample room for the American arborvitae’s root system to grow without becoming root-bound.

  2. Growing Medium: Fill the container with a high-quality, well-draining potting mix formulated for woody plants or evergreens. Avoid using heavy garden soil, as it can lead to drainage issues and hinder the shrub’s growth in a container setting.

  3. Positioning: Place the container in a location that provides the American arborvitae with sufficient sunlight, ensuring that it receives at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily. Rotate the container periodically to promote even growth and prevent the shrub from leaning towards a specific direction.

  4. Watering and Fertilization: Monitor the moisture levels in the container and water the shrub as needed to maintain consistent soil moisture. Apply a balanced, slow-release fertilizer in the spring and mid-summer to provide essential nutrients for the American arborvitae’s growth.


The American arborvitae, particularly the ‘Dark Green’ cultivar, has garnered widespread popularity in landscaping and gardening circles due to its numerous attributes and adaptable nature. From its use as a privacy screen to its role in ornamental landscaping, this evergreen shrub has become a cherished favorite among homeowners, horticulturists, and landscape architects.

Landscape Uses

The versatility of the American arborvitae makes it an ideal candidate for various landscape applications, enriching outdoor spaces with its vibrant green foliage and striking form.

  • Privacy Screens: Due to its dense growth habit and conical shape, the American arborvitae is often used to create effective and visually appealing privacy screens. Planted in rows, this evergreen shrub forms a natural barrier, offering privacy and seclusion.

  • Ornamental Specimen: Whether as a standalone feature in a garden bed or as part of a mixed border, the American arborvitae adds a touch of elegance and structure to any landscape. Its reliable year-round greenery and low-maintenance nature make it an attractive choice for ornamental planting.

  • Hedges and Windbreaks: The dense, compact foliage of Thuja occidentalis ‘Dark Green’ lends itself well to hedge formations and windbreak plantings. When spaced appropriately and pruned regularly, it creates a formidable barrier while enhancing the aesthetic appeal of the surroundings.

Container Gardening

Container gardening offers an alternative approach to incorporating the American arborvitae into outdoor spaces, allowing for mobility and flexibility in design.

  • Patio Specimen: Placing a potted American arborvitae on a patio or deck introduces a dynamic vertical element and a touch of greenery to urban or compact outdoor areas. It can serve as a focal point or provide a backdrop for seasonal container plantings.

  • Portable Screening: Utilize container-grown American arborvitae to create movable privacy screens on patios, terraces, or balconies. By selecting appropriately sized containers, these shrubs can provide an immediate and customizable solution for delineating outdoor spaces.

  • Seasonal Displays: Incorporate American arborvitae into seasonal container arrangements, pairing them with flowering plants, ornamental grasses, or trailing vines to create visually captivating displays that evolve with the changing seasons.

Common Diseases

While the American arborvitae is generally resilient and hardy, it is susceptible to certain diseases that can impact its health and appearance. Understanding these common diseases and their associated symptoms is essential for timely intervention and effective management.

Disease Diagnosis

Being able to identify common diseases affecting the American arborvitae is crucial for implementing appropriate control measures and preventing the spread of the pathogens.

  1. Needle Blight: Needle blight diseases, such as Kabatina tip blight and Phyllosticta needle blight, manifest as browning, dieback, and defoliation of the foliage, often beginning at the tips of the branches.

  2. Canker Diseases: Canker-causing pathogens, including Botryosphaeria and Phomopsis, result in the development of sunken, discolored lesions on the stems and branches. Cankers may girdle branches and cause dieback.

  3. Root Rot: Root rot, typically caused by Phytophthora or Armillaria species, leads to wilting, yellowing, and premature shedding of foliage. Affected roots may exhibit dark, mushy decay.

  4. Rust Diseases: Rust fungi cause the formation of yellow to orange spore-producing structures on the foliage, often accompanied by leaf discoloration and defoliation.

Disease Control

Implementing effective disease control measures can help mitigate the impact of common diseases and preserve the health and vigor of the American arborvitae.

  • Cultural Practices: Maintain proper plant spacing, ensure good air circulation, and avoid overhead watering to reduce humidity and minimize favorable conditions for disease development.

  • Sanitation: Promptly remove and destroy diseased plant material, including fallen foliage and pruned branches, to limit the spread of pathogens and reduce the inoculum present in the environment.

  • Fungicidal Treatments: When necessary, apply fungicides labeled for use on American arborvitae to protect against needle blights, canker diseases, and rust. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and recommendations for application timing and frequency.

  • Soil Improvement: If root rot is suspected or diagnosed, improve soil drainage and avoid overwatering to create an inhospitable environment for the pathogens responsible for root diseases.

Common Pests

While the American arborvitae is generally resistant to many pests, it can occasionally be affected by certain insects that may impact its growth and appearance. Familiarizing yourself with these common pests and their distinctive signs can aid in early detection and appropriate pest management strategies.

  1. Spider Mites: These tiny arachnids may infest the American arborvitae, particularly during hot, dry weather, causing stippling and discoloration of the foliage. Fine webbing may be present between the branches.

  2. Bagworms: The larvae of bagworm moths construct spindle-shaped bags from plant material and silk, attaching them to the branches of the American arborvitae. They feed on the foliage within their bags, potentially causing significant defoliation.

  3. Arborvitae Leafminers: The larvae of leaf-mining insects create serpentine tunnels within the foliage as they feed, leading to visible damage and discoloration of the affected leaves.

  4. Scale Insects: Scale insects may infest the American arborvitae, appearing as small, immobile bumps on the stems and foliage. Heavy infestations can lead to stunted growth and decline.

Botanist’s Tips

From a botanist’s perspective, the American arborvitae presents a range of distinctive characteristics and growth patterns that make it a fascinating subject for study and cultivation. Here are some expert tips provided by botanists to ensure the successful care and cultivation of Thuja occidentalis ‘Dark Green’.

  1. Soil Amelioration: Prioritize the establishment of the American arborvitae in well-draining soil by incorporating organic matter and improving soil structure to enhance root development and vitality.

  2. Pruning Best Practices: When pruning the American arborvitae, aim to maintain a natural and harmonious shape while promoting inner branching and foliage density. Avoid drastic pruning that may compromise the shrub’s overall health.

  3. Pest Monitoring: Regularly inspect the foliage and stems of the American arborvitae for signs of pest activity, such as stippling, discoloration, or the presence of insects. Early detection allows for timely intervention and effective pest control measures.

  4. Seasonal Maintenance: Stay attuned to the seasonal requirements of the American arborvitae, adjusting watering, fertilization, and pruning practices based on its growth patterns and environmental conditions.

  5. Landscape Design Integration: Consider the use of the American arborvitae in diverse landscape designs, leveraging its adaptability and visual appeal to create functional and aesthetically pleasing outdoor spaces.

Fun Facts

In addition to its horticultural significance, the American arborvitae boasts a variety of intriguing qualities and historical significance that contribute to its enduring appeal. Here are some captivating fun facts about Thuja occidentalis ‘Dark Green’.

  • Native American Uses: Native American tribes utilized various parts of the American arborvitae for medicinal, practical, and spiritual purposes, recognizing its versatile nature and beneficial properties.

  • Historical Significance: The wood of the American arbor

Picture of Peter Taylors

Peter Taylors

Expert botanist who loves plants. His expertise spans taxonomy, plant ecology, and ethnobotany. An advocate for plant conservation, he mentors and educates future botanists, leaving a lasting impact on the field.