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Best Alternative Plants to the Emerald Green Arborvitae

Chicago, we have a problem.

People are having a lot of trouble keeping Emerald Green Arborvitae alive.

Have you ever seen pictures of those big beautiful evergreen privacy screens and given them a try? And then after the winter did they all turn brown and crispy?

The "internet" likes to suggest Arborvitae for privacy, and this plant is a great solution in other parts of the country, but Emerald Green Arbs face a challenge here in the Land of Lincoln.

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Let’s explore why and find some ideal solutions in the process.

Emerald Green Arborvitae is the variety of choice for most homeowners. They are cheap, narrow, and tall. They are a very shallow rooted variety that does not like the following characteristics in their site:

  • Shade
  • Poorly drained soils that are too wet or too dry
  • Wind tunnels
  • Deer - they love to eat Emerald Green Arborvitae

While people do plant Emerald Greens and have great success with them, there are some things that consumers should look at when purchasing them.

Here's what you need to consider.

Site Selection for Emerald Green ArborvitaeBerm

Primary concern should be site selection with an emphasis on soil.

It is well worth the investment amending soil and possibly creating a berm. Berms assist with drainage which is vital to getting the Emerald Green to root in and make it through the winter.

Ensuring the specific plant being purchased is either container grown or has a sufficient root ball (if balled and burlap) can be the difference between failure and a healthy green tree. This is especially important for shallow rooted evergreens. Starting with more roots will obviously help the plant get established.

Drainage Required for Emerald Green Arborvitae

We talk a lot about drainage, but with how crazy the weather has been it should be important to talk about watering.

If you're thinking, “Well we’ve had plenty of rain!” you need to consider the frequency of rain events versus duration/volume of the rain events.

Frequent shallow watering leads to dry pockets in root balls, which in turn leads to root mortality and thus plant failure. Infrequent, deep soaking is more preferred as it ensures an even soak of the root ball and the surrounding soil. This encourages roots to seek out the moisture and mimics the natural process of rain.

Moisture and Watering of Emerald Green Arborvitae

Our soils are also not like a giant tub. The rains that we receive in May will have no bearing in August if we haven’t had rain for three weeks, plants will be dry and therefore sad. This is especially true for new plantings that have not developed a root system to penetrate our clay soil and find moisture they need. Arborvitae and some Juniper react to this weather by killing off branches to conserve moisture and survive. Emerald Green, with their small root system, will suffer rapidly if drought stricken

How To Plant Emerald Green Arborvitae so They Stay Alive

1. They have to be planted in a sunny area. If you plant Emerald Green Arborvitae in the shade, they will die.

2. Evergreens need drainage. If you plant Emerald Green Arborvitae in a wet spot, they will die.

3. You need to water them. Once they are planted, they need to be watered regularly. Don't roll up your hose too early. They will need a big drink of water to ensure they have enough moisture to make it through their first winter.

4. We strongly recommend using mycorrihazae, a natural root stimulator to improve the health and viability when planting.

5. Space them correctly.

If you are considering planting these evergreen trees, download a copy of our free guide to planting Emerald Green Arborvitae below. It includes tips, planting instructions and watering information.

emerald green arborvitae planting guide

Now if you don't want to do these things, or your planting site is wet or shady you have two options.

Option Number 1:

Continue to buy inexpensive Emerald Green Arborvitae and replace them every year like annuals. (Our planting crew does not recommend this option. Digging out and replacing dead arbs is not a great way to spend your Sunday).

Option Number 2:

Choose a better plant for the area.

We recommend option 2. And to help, we've come up with some AMAZING plant alternatives to the Emerald Green Arborvitae.

Best Alternative Plants to the Emerald Green Arborvitae

Here are some great alternatives that better match the soil conditions and weather of Northern Illinois.

Taylor Juniper

This is a tight narrow variety of our native Eastern Red Cedar. It gets the same size of Emerald Green, but is much more tolerant of our soils and winters.

Mission (Techny) Arborvitae

The Illinois native variety! Mission has a nice rounded form which means you need fewer to create a privacy screen. It has a very dark green color and is much deeper rooted and more tolerant of our soils.


Spartan Juniper

This Juniper has a deep green color that is very similar Emerald Green. It gets slightly wider at the base than Emerald Green at about 3-5’ wide.

Blue Arrow Juniper

Another great columnar Juniper to consider! Blue Arrow has a tight narrow habit with a beautiful silver blue color. Matures to 15’ tall by 2-3’ wide

Are you looking for more information on arborvitae? Then check out our guide to choosing the right arborvitae.

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