Actually, I think people are beginning to realize that. The reason I am writing this little tribute to arborvitaes, is because I feel like we have done them such a tremendous injustice in the past. In most cases, the only thing that these white cedars have done wrong is grow a little too well. Those of us who live in older homes may have been the victims of house-swallowing arborvitaes. As you can see in the picture below, our home is at risk of being consumed. Of course, once they reach their full potential as plants; arborvitaes often begin to decline. This is usually because other trees that were installed at the same time outgrow and smother them. Root competition can also contribute to their unhappiness. Sometimes, the very house that they were intended to accent cramps their style. While all plants age and some age more gracefully that others, we might be setting them up to look worn out.
I think the '70's did a real number on arborvitaes and their yew and juniper buddies. Please humor me and click on these text links, because they're a real hoot. One of our biggest challenges as plant people, is explaining that plants are living things that are totally capable of doing what they want. If they are happy in their homes, they may just decide to grow twice as large as their average mature size. Of course, it could take them 30 years to do it and that could be someone else's problem by the time it happens. I have experienced that mentality quite frequently as a plant salesperson. We tend to plant for rapid gratification rather than future generations these days. That is completely understandable, because many folks move quite frequently. However, it is our habits not theirs that have given arbs such a bad name. Planting anything three feet from the foundation will probably lead to some sweat and tears down the road. Sticking a pyramidal arborvitae into a scenario like that is kind of like forcing your teenager to wear onesies to school. You might be able to make them fit, but your poor kid will never fit in! I just Googled "teenagers in onesies" trying to find something to reinforce my point. Apparently it's a thing now.
What I am getting at in my typical, round-about fashion; is that arborvitaes have a distinct purpose in the landscape. They tolerate shade quite amicably until it becomes completely suffocating. They can provide a soothing barrier of green between feuding neighbors (or neighbors that just don't want to look at each other or each other's hordes) and block out unpleasant sounds with their dense foliage. They tolerate damp soils much better than many of their cohorts. They do all of these things without devouring your yard or your home if they are just given the room they need to thrive.
Still not sold? Consider the native, white cedar in its natural environment. Since I can't find the picture I was going to use to make my point, please pay some respect to this one that is growing out of a rock. Now THAT'S a tough plant!
My name is Connie Kratzke. I have worked with Kahnke Brothers for 16 years. During this period, I have done everything from watering the plants to designing our website. My role at the nursery involves selling stock, managing inventory, marketing plants and overseeing the production of shrubs and perennials. Sometimes I sit at a desk and other times I can be found in a Bobcat. During my career here, I have become a MNLA Certified Professional. I am also an at large member of the Minnesota Grown Promotion Group/Minnesota Grown Advisory Committee. Currently, I serve as City Arborist for Silver Lake, Minnesota, and a member of their planning commission. My focus is on helping our clients succeed with their landscaping efforts. Education is a huge factor influencing that success. Keeping it real is my strategy. Through sharing my experiences at the nursery and at home, I hope to debunk myths and eliminate concerns. At the same time, I want people to be aware of what doesn't work. Living things are somewhat unpredictable, but they all have basic needs. Understanding how to fill those needs while simultaneously achieving landscape goals is a process that I want to share with as many people as possible, because I truly enjoy it.