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How to Plant Shrubs, trees, and Bushes – The Right Way to Plant Thuja Green Giants and Other Plants

I recently purchased a storage shed and had it set up on the side of my home. In order to comply with the home owner’s association covenants I was required to establish some type of screening, whether it be a privacy fence or shrubs, which will conceal the building.  With the peek of the building being over 15 feet, a privacy fence was not an option. I was also not interested in fencing because it is unsightly in my opinion.


Before You Get Started Planting Your Shrubs, Trees, or Bushes

Decide on a Type of Tree

After doing some research I decided to go with the Thuja Green Giant tree. There are several reasons why I chose this as a screening tree.

  • This is an evergreen tree that will stay green year around, providing privacy 365 days a year.
  • Green Giants are relatively inexpensive if you know where to purchase them.
  • They grow in all types of soil from clay to sand. My property has a lot of clay in the soil.
  • Green Giants are tolerant to drought which is great because Carolina summers have been known to cause drought conditions.
  • These trees are disease and insect resistant. They are also deer resistant.
  • Green giants grow in more of a cylinder shape and less like a pyramid.
  • They are resistant to snow and ice damage.
  • Plants will not have to be trimmed or shaped. They grow symmetrical on their own.
  • The biggest reason why I chose this plant is because it is one of the fastest growing privacy trees around. They can grow an incredible 4′ plus each year!

Shop Around to Find the Best Possible Deal

Once I decided on this tree I started shopping around. These trees are apparently not sold at local home improvement stores such as Lowe’s and the local nurseries wanted entirely too much for their plants. While shopping on the internet, I came across Botany Shop Garden which is located in Joplin Missouri. This company had great reviews online and also had excellent prices. I purchased 4 plants in one quart containers. These plants were $6.00 each plus $2.50 each for shipping.  I chose 4 plants even though I only needed 3 because there was a $10 shipping and handling minimum. The Green Giants in this price range are between 18 inches and 24 inches from the top of the pot. Many companies include the depth of the pot in their measurement but Botany Shop Garden does not. All four plants only cost $34 including shipping. They were shipped using Fed-Ex and arrived in 3 days.

Upon arrival I opened the box and these plants were packaged very well. All four plants came in one box and it was carefully encased with a ton of packaging peanuts. The actual pots were wrapped in plastic bags. I removed four healthy looking plants that were in desperate need of water. Prior to their arrival, I prepared the site where I planned to plant them. Perhaps the most important part of successfully growing Thuja Green Giants or any other shrub, tree, or bush is to properly prepare the soil. Many people purchase a plant and quickly throw it in the ground because they are excited about their new landscaping edition. Whatever you do, don’t do this! The site where you plan to plant your trees should be carefully planned out and the soil should be properly conditioned. Before you get started it is important to remember safety. All of my utility connections were on the side of my home where I was about to dig so I called to have my underground lines marked.

Call Before you Dig

If you plan to dig in your yard it is federally-mandated to call before you dig. This program was set up in order to help prevent people from accidentally hitting power lines, gas lines, water lines, etc while digging in their yard. This service is FREE and is easy to use. Simply pick up your telephone and dial “811”. The operator will ask a few questions about your property and ask where you plan to dig. From there they will order your local utility companies to come out and mark their lines. It only took about 4 or 5 days for all of my lines to get sprayed. A line will be sprayed that is color coated. Each color represents the type of line that is buried. Here are the colors that you will want to know before you start digging.

  • Green – Sewer
  • Blue – Water
  • Red – Electricity
  • Orange – Communication
  • Yellow – Gas
  • Violet – Reclaimed water
  • Pink – Unknown


Tools and Materials That You Will Need

  • Plants
  • 50% peat moss 50% soil mix
  • Mulch
  • Water
  • Shovel
  • Gardening trowel
  • Lopping shears
  • Wheel barrow
  • Tape measure
  • Osmocote plant food
  • Surveying flags
  • Plant stakes


How to Plant Your Thuja Green Giants or Other Plants

Plan the Location of Your Trees

Giving your trees or shrubs adequate room to grow is an important factor when it comes to having healthy plants. Plant the Green Giants too close together and they will shade each other out, too far apart and you will not get the privacy hedge that you desire. For a hedge, it is recommended that you place the trees between four feet and six feet apart. I decided to go with 4 feet in order to achieve a fast full screening. As mentioned, you will want to first call your local utility locating service by picking up the phone and dialing 811. Once your underground lines have been marked, start planning where you would like to put your trees. Try to visualize how large the tree will get and if there are any foreseen obstacles such as competing trees, walkways, your house, the neighbors property, etc. Once you have decided on where you would like to place your plants, grab some type of marker and a tape measure. Use the tape measure to ensure even spacing between trees and even spacing away from any structure if applicable. In this case, I marked a spot about 4 feet off the building and 4 feet apart using surveying flags. Stand back and take a look at your area to ensure your holes are exactly where you want them. Once you have your areas marked off, prepare to start digging.

Dig Your Holes

While this may seem fairly self explanatory, there may be a bit more to it then you believe. If you have an existing plant that you would like to kill, read my previous post on How To Kill a Tree Stump. Many experts say that it is a good idea to create a hole that is twice the size of the pot that your plant comes out of. While this may be a good practice, I prefer to make it even larger. In theory, the larger hole that you dig and add nutrients and soil additives to, the stronger your root system will develop. Creating the ideal environment for root growth is what you want in order to grow bigger and healthier plants. That being said, I created these holes around 2 feet wide by a foot deep. This should be ample room for my plants which came in 1 quart pots. While digging a hole, create nice clean edges and chop through any roots that get in your way with the shovel head. For stubborn roots a pair of lopping shears will cut them with ease. When you are finished, you should have a clean symmetrical hole that is ready for rich soil.

Fill Your Holes with Nutrient Rich Soil

For this particular application I used a landscape soil which consists of 50% soil and 50% peat moss. This can be purchased at a landscape supply store, such as where you may find mulch. I picked up a half yard for around $15. Fill a wheelbarrow up with the 50/ 50 soil and bring it to your work site. Scoop 2 or 3 shovels of the dirt that you just dug out of the ground and mix it with your landscaping soil. This is a great idea because if you put your plants in the really good soil the root system will likely never leave the area that you dug out. By mixing the soil, the roots will be introduced to the local soil and the transition into the native soil will be much smoother. Fill each hole, leaving the soil level 1” lower than the rest of the ground. This will leave room for adding fertilizer.

Landscaping soil mixed with ground soil

Add Osmocote Plant Fertilizer

Osmocote has been around for many years and is pretty much the standard for landscapers and nurseries. This is a slow release fertilizer that is formulated with 19 nitrogen, 6 Phosphorus, and 12 potassium. What is nice about this fertilizer is that it slowly releases nutrients into the soil over a period of four months while reducing the risk of burning your plants from over-fertilizing. I picked up a container of this stuff from Lowe’s for around $12. There are other places where you get a better price, especially when you order in larger quantities but for now this will do.

Evenly distribute a scoop of these pellets in each hole that you dig. A little bit goes a long way with this product. Read the instruction label for the proper amount for your application. After distributing the fertilizer evenly, fill the remaining 1” of the hole with nutrient rich soil.

Add a cap full of Osmocote before filling in remainder of hole

Plant Your Trees

Shortly after preparing my holes the Fedex truck arrived with my plants. They were well packaged, lush, and green. Dig a small hole in the center of your larger hole, just large enough to completely encase your plants. A gardening trowel can be a helpful tool to use when performing this task. Carefully remove the plants from the container and place in hole. Do not place plants below ground level. Use your fingers to pack soil in the gap between the root ball and the soil. Ensure that there are no air gaps between the root ball and the nutrient rich soil. Lightly pat the soil down all around your plant. Check to ensure that your root ball is all the way in the ground but is not buried below ground level. Use a stake and string to secure the plant to the stake.

Build a Water Retaining Wall Around Outer Edge of Hole

In order to give your plant the greatest opportunity to gather and retain water you will want to build a retaining wall around the circumference of the hole that you just dug out. A retaining wall will work as sort of a funnel to trap water around the plant where it can seep into the ground. It allows you to send water straight to the roots with minimum loss of water from runoff. This is especially helpful if you are planting on a slope where the water will pass by your plant. While building a water retaining wall on a slope, be sure to add enough soil to the low side of the plant in order to capture downhill water. Your retaining wall should be 3” to 4” high. Use rocky or clay soil for this if possible because it will be more effective when it comes to holding back water. With your plant in the ground and a water retaining wall built you are ready for mulch.

Retain Moisture With Mulch

Using mulch is a natural way to promote healthy plant growth. Mulch not only beautifies your plants but will also help to retain moisture and keep weeds out. Plants that have mulch around them hold water up to 30% longer than plants without mulch. A thick layer of mulch will inhibit the growth of weeds because they have a difficult time getting through the mulch and are not able to reach sunlight. You will still get a few weeds from time to time but the majority simply will not grow. Mulch can be purchased in bags at a home improvement store such as Lowe’s or even at Walmart. These bags are usually 2 cubic yards and will cost around $4.00 to $5.00, depending on what you get. I usually purchase triple shredded hardwood mulch by the cubic yard for $27.00 from my local mulch yard. Spread mulch all around your plants at least 3” deep in order to prevent weeds and retain moisture using a dirt rake. If you are not sure how much mulch you are going to need, you can use a mulch calculator to figure this out.

Add a 3" to 4" layer of mulch around trees

Water Plants Well

The last thing that you should do is give your plants a good soaking. The best way to water your plants is to put your sprayer nozzle on mist and lay it down at the base of the plant for at least 5 minutes. Here I am using the shower setting and giving them a generous drink of water. If you are planting Thuja Green Giants you should water these daily until the root system becomes established. These trees love water however, be careful not to drown the plant. At a minimum you should water each tree every other day and give each one a good soaking every couple of weeks.

Water trees well after planting


Tips for Successful Growth After Planting

  • Periodically check the plant and retie it to the stake to ensure that it grows straight.
  • Reapply mulch each year as the old mulch will eventually rot. Using cedar mulch will slow down this process.
  • Water, Water, Water. There is one thing that trees love more than anything and that is water.
  • Keep all grass away from your trees. Grass and weeds are water thieves and will steal valuable water that should go to your trees.
  • Monitor your trees for signs of disease or insect infestation. Treat as necessary.
  • Use drip irrigation when possible. A soaker hose is the ideal way to water your new plants. Simply snake it around your plants and turn the water on for a few minutes.
  • Reapply fertilizer ever four months. Do not over-fertilize.

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