If you want a privacy screen most of us think fence! Erecting a fence is fairly straightforward but for a novice DIY’er the range of tools and skills needed makes it a tricky job. The material is also expensive to buy. There is an alternative – a living hedge and planting one is much easier and faster than fencing.
The right plants, when grown in a continuous long line, can provide excellent privacy screens, providing shade and wind breaks as well. A plant that is excellent for this use is the thuja ‘Green Giant’. You may well not have heard of this before. It is very popular with home owners in North America but for some reason, it is not widely used in the UK. It should be, it is one of the fastest growing shrubs in the world (3-5 feet every year!), some grow up to 40 feet in height and they stay green all year round to inject a bit of colour. The variety is a hybrid of two Thuja specieis; T. standishi and T. plicata.
Why the green giant is so popular
It’s hardy! It will grow happily in most areas of the UK, and thrives in a lot of soil types, including relatively poor ones. Even better, it has very few pests and diseases and doesn’t need you to do much to it, apart from a bit of trimming after a few years. Because of the chemicals in the sap deer will not eat it.
Sounds great; how do I plant it?
As you may have gathered, this isn’t a diminutive tree, so you need to do some planning before you start your digging. The most important information you need is the length of the row you want to line with these trees so you can estimate the number you’ll need.
The thuja Green Giant has a final spread of between 12 and 20 feet, so you’ll need to plant them around eight feet apart for a dense hedge and 14 feet apart for a less dense row that maintains the trees’ conical appearance. The denser the hedge, the more trimming you’ll have to do, so bear this in mind.
The basics of planting
You should dig a hole that’s twice the width of the rootball, but only as deep as the rootball. Don’t put anything else in the hole but the tree and make sure that the rootball is at the same level or just above the surrounding soil. If it looks sunken, take the tree out and pour some more soil into the hole. This is because trees sink a little after planting and you want the junction of trunk and roots to be just above soil level.
Once the tree’s comfortably in place, fill in the hole and water the tree by turning the hose on the ground and counting to 20 seconds.
These are low-maintenance trees, but it’s always a good idea to help new trees along, so here are some tips to start things off well;
- Get mulching – Apply a layer of shredded hardwood mulch to the ground around the tree. Start a few inches away from the base and lay down three inches or so, extending a couple of feet from the base. This will help the soil to retain moisture. Don’t be tempted to pile mulch up around the base of the tree as this can cause rot.
- Your watering schedule – You’ll need to water the tree every other day for the first two weeks – again, count to 20. After the first two weeks, you can water every third day (20 seconds) for two weeks, before switching to a weekly watering. If it’s particularly hot and dry, you can water twice a week. After six months, the root system should be established and you won’t need to do any more watering.
- Fertiliser – Don’t bother unless your soil tends to need it anyway.
Pruning the tree
If you’re letting the trees keep their conical shape, you won’t need to prune. If you’re aiming for a dense hedge you’ll need to prune once a year after the last frost. You don’t need any particular skill or method, just chop bits off to create the size and shape you want. Any pruning disasters will quickly grow out.