15 Different Arborvitae Types: Varieties and Care

Arborvitae trees have become a beloved choice for landscapers in North America. Whether used as privacy hedges or landscaping accents, these evergreen trees have become fixtures in urban and suburban areas. The name “arborvitae” translates to “tree of life,” a fitting title for the western red cedar, which holds immense cultural and practical significance for indigenous peoples in the Pacific Northwest.

The Tree of Life

The western red cedar (Thuja plicata) is one of the tallest trees in the world, reaching heights of up to 200 feet and living for over 1,000 years. Its wood is prized for its rot-resistant properties and clear grain, making it ideal for construction. Native Americans have long used this versatile tree for various purposes, including building, baskets, clothing, canoes, and spiritual ceremonies.

While the western red cedar is the namesake of the arborvitae, it is the eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) that is more commonly used in landscaping.

The Arborvitae Genus

All arborvitae trees belong to the genus Thuja, a small group of coniferous evergreen trees. There are only five species in this genus, with two native to North America and three native to East Asia. Humans have selectively bred the Thuja occidentalis and Thuja plicata species to develop specific traits that make them successful landscaping plants.

Uses for Arborvitae

Arborvitae trees are popular for several reasons. They are easy to install, require minimal maintenance, thrive when planted densely together, and are cost-effective. These trees are often used as privacy screens, landscaping accents, and windbreaks.

Visual Barriers and Privacy Hedges

One of the most common uses for arborvitae is as a privacy hedge. When planted close together, these trees create a dense wall of green foliage that provides year-round privacy. They grow quickly, with some varieties reaching up to three feet per year. While some may consider them overused, many landscapers appreciate their year-round foliage, rapid growth, and ease of care.


Arborvitae trees are also effective in creating windbreaks. Planted perpendicular to prevailing winds, they act as a natural barrier, reducing wind speed and protecting crops or structures. Other tree types, such as eucalyptus and acacia, are commonly used for windbreaks in certain regions.

Arborvitae as Landscaping Accents

In addition to their use as hedges, arborvitae trees can also stand alone as stunning landscaping accents. Taller varieties can serve as centerpieces, while smaller ones add sculptural interest to gardens. The globe varieties, with their unique shape, are particularly attractive as accents.

How to Grow Arborvitae

Most arborvitae varieties thrive in similar conditions. They require adequate moisture and may brown and lose leaves if they dry out. It is important to provide extra water during heatwaves. Arborvitae trees prefer well-draining soil and grow most densely in full sun. While they can tolerate some shade, they may become less effective as privacy screens.

Arborvitae trees thrive in most parts of the United States, except for hotter southern states. They generally grow best in USDA zones 3-7.

Growing Arborvitae in Pots

Some people choose to grow arborvitae in pots. If you opt for this, be cautious of windstorms, as the trees can grow a taproot through the pot and into the soil. Moving the pot occasionally can prevent this. Potted arborvitae may dry out more easily, so be sure to regularly check soil moisture to ensure they receive adequate water.

Different Types of Arborvitae Trees

Most arborvitae varieties used in landscaping are descendants of Thuja plicata or Thuja occidentalis. The following are the five natural species of Thuja, followed by ten horticultural varieties derived from Thuja plicata and Thuja occidentalis.

Western Red Cedar – Thuja plicata

The western red cedar, despite its name, is not a true cedar but belongs to the Thuja genus. It is highly valued by indigenous communities in the Pacific Northwest for its cultural and practical significance. In the wild, it can reach towering heights of 175 feet and live for over 1,000 years. Varieties used in landscaping are typically shorter, under 50 feet tall.

Japanese Thuja – Thuja standishii

The Japanese arborvitae is a timber tree in Japan and holds cultural significance in the Kiso forest. While not commonly used in landscaping, it reaches heights of 20 to 30 feet.

Korean Thuja – Thuja koraiensis

The Korean thuja is found in both North and South Korea and certain parts of China. It is rarely used in horticulture due to limited seed stock.

Sichuan Thuja – Thuja sutchuenensis

The Sichuan thuja was once thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in China in 1999. It is the most threatened of all arborvitae species.

Eastern Arborvitae – Thuja occidentalis

The eastern arborvitae, also known as northern white cedar, is the primary source of horticultural arborvitae varieties. It is native to eastern North America and has historical value among indigenous peoples.

The article continues to describe additional varieties, such as the Golden Globe, North Pole Arborvitae, Green Giant Arborvitae, and many others.

Ready to Plant?

If any of these arborvitae varieties caught your eye, you’re in luck! They are readily available at most nurseries. Keep in mind the spacing recommendations for continuous hedges to ensure healthy growth. It’s also worth considering true cedars as an alternative. Happy planting!