HG: Homegrown Column September 20, 2008

I planted a screening arrangement of 12 arborvitae (4 feet tall) three weeks ago.
A week later, I noticed they were browning on the side facing the southwest. They get some early morning sun on their opposite side and do not suffer from it. I immediately wrapped each one loosely on that side only with burlap. I continue keeping them semimoist with every other day watering and misting. How long do you think I need to keep them shaded?
Last night’s wind tossed their coverings around, so I need to regularly rearrange the burlap. Any advice about sun protection and watering would be appreciated.
Also, do I have to be concerned about deer damage this winter?
— Beryl

Browning on arborvitae is actually not that unusual when they’re first planted. It has to do with water and our hot
and dry climate.

Arborvitae aren’t drought tolerant in the least, and it’s really important to maintain soil moisture for the first couple of months until they have a chance to establish themselves.

This is perhaps a bit contradictory from what we’re usually harping on folks about watering, since we see so many problems with over watering, but arborvitae are an exception.

In fact, when a newly planted one dies, 90 percent of the time it’s because the plant dried out. It may not have dried that much and it may have only been one time, but if the soil dries beyond a certain point, that plant is hurt and it often doesn’t come back.

When establishing them, dig down into the soil pretty regularly to make sure that there’s still moisture there and so you know when to give it another drink.

Dig down just outside the root ball (the cylinder of soil the plant came in) so you can also poke into that soil as well.

Sometimes the soil around the root ball is moist when the root ball itself is dry. Along those lines, make sure that the root ball soil is well wetted when you do water.

This situation doesn’t happen all the time and it’s temporary (you shouldn’t have to worry about it after two or three months as the roots grow out into the surrounding soil), but it can cause real problems early on when it does crop up.

Now, this burning may not be due to watering. It may be because of our hot desert weather. Arborvitae can struggle a bit adjusting to Western Colorado, though usually in combination with any watering issues.

Shading the plants will definitely help but the important thing is to watch the water. When shading plants, an easier way perhaps is to set a couple of stakes in the ground and stretch that burlap between them. That should save you from having to rearrange it all the time.

Orient the burlap to the southwest where the burn is occurring. As the weather cools this fall you should be able to dispense with it.

I don’t want to give you the impression that arborvitae is a poor choice here. There are thousands of them around the valley doing just fine.

They provide lush, vibrant green to the landscape, year-round effect, and most everyone prefers them to junipers because they’re not prickly and scratchy.

These problems with watering and climate are temporary. It’s just while the plants are settling into a new home that we sometimes deal with them.

Once they’ve established, they do great for years with just regular garden watering.

Deer can occasionally be a problem with arborvitae.

There are tons of “deer resistant plant” lists out there and arborvitae usually doesn’t make the list. Deer usually don’t browse on conifers, but it does happen.

I pretty much take all of those lists with a large grain of salt. I think deer will eat just about anything if they’re hungry enough.

If you see any indication of their feeding, spray the plants with a deer repellent containing putrescent egg solids.

Mmm! Sounds good doesn’t it?

But these have been shown to be the most effective in keeping deer away.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, online at http://www.bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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