I bought 31 thujas a couple of months ago and some of them are really struggling. I installed a drip line a week ago, but am wondering if these trees are completely dead.

Here are a bunch of pictures. Click on them to see larger views.

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Is there any way to bring these back?

  • Kirk, it has been awhile since you asked your question. I just noticed no one discussed disease which this could have been...what has happened since this question, what did you do? I feel bad I didn't tell you that that soil and mulch on your fence is a big no no. 2" minimum between fence and mulch or get ready to replace your entire fence in 5 years. I would not plant Arborvitae again, I would invest in a very different 'hedge' material. I really wonder what has happened since your answer. Disease is a very common deal with Arborvitae and thus no more arborvitae or relative should be...
    – stormy
    Jan 16, 2018 at 0:07

4 Answers 4


Of the eight pictures only the third picture shows a cedar that will look good. The rest are either dead or so badly damaged it would take years before they looked good.

This kind of dieback is often seen when they are not adequately watered after planting or when stock is planted late in the fall and doesn't have a chance to root before winter.

Arborvitae or cedars prefer a soil rich in organic matter that is not dry. A thick mulch of two to four inches (up to eight cm) will make a huge difference in the success of the plants.

If you happened to have a downspout nearby you could divert the rain that would normally drain off to the street and water the cedars. By using a four inch drain pipe with sleeve in a trench next to the cedars you can water your cedars while sitting in your house.


Your trees are in very bad shape. Most of them will take quite a while to recover, if they do. At this point it would be suggested that you replace them. It's always best to plant these in the spring, before new growth begins, and the sun is less intense. The cooler temperatures and shorter days will relieve some of the stress. Make sure the plants stay well watered until established. These trees are resilient, but can't dry out before being established. Also, fertilizer will induce some growth, and cause faster root growth, to speed establishment. Pretty much, if you can see more than half brown on a conifer, replacement is the fastest road to success. A couple of your plants look fine, and you could save those to be easier on your checkbook.


Ouch! What an investment you've made. I am sorry. All but the totally green ones will not make it. What kind of soil is in your terraced beds? What is your irrigation schedule? What did you use for fertilizer, soil ammendments? What is the orientation of these beds. Did you buy these in pots or b&b? Let us help you to not make this mistake again.

Send pictures of the entire project. Arborvitaes will not live long in such a small area, there are better plants that would do similar growth habits but thrive better than arborvitae in such a small area. Much better plants than good ole overused arborvitae!


These are planted very very close to either the fence or property, whatever it is. They will be in the rain shadow, and will likely as not, get only a hint of natural rainfall. If they are against a fence it's less of a problem than if they are against a property with foundations and it looks like against a path also with foundations. Neither of which will have water bearing soil, they and any replacements are likely to be in very small parched soil pocket/trench that will require constant monitoring for watering. Recommended planting distance from any structure in a similar way, should be 12-24" as a minimum I would think.

  • Are you saying that the foundations of concrete will affect the pH of the soil negatively for Arborvitaes?
    – stormy
    Jan 15, 2018 at 23:59
  • Planted in the out of doors garden, 'rain shadow' is not a problem. Watering when different plants need it is critical to do manually. Never depend on rain for watering. Water only when the soil has been allowed to dry. What do you mean water bearing soil? Like clay? I always go 3' minimum, 4 foot spacing with two rows offset is best. That soil on the fence is ruining that fence.
    – stormy
    Jan 16, 2018 at 0:03

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