Why are My Arborvitae Dying? & HOW TO SAVE THEM

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So, you’re wondering why your arborvitae plant is dying? Well, there could be several factors causing a arborvitae death. One of which is – planting them with the burlap sack that they came with.

It is typical for large or mature tree specimens to be planted this way (B & B = Ball and burlapped) but with smaller plants, it is a different game since burlap can prevent the roots from growing out and even act as a wick to move water up and around the root ball rather than into it.

Possible Solutions:

  • Buy potted specimens and take them from the pot and scratch or scarify open the outer surface of the root ball.
  • Or buy B & B and take away the burlap ball and rough up the exterior.
  • Next, check the root ball so closely: good health is thick reddish roots and new growth features white roots. Plants that have been waterlogged in the past at the nursery or retailer will feature soft black roots.
  • Rethink your watering as you observe what happens when you add water to a freshly dug hole. If you pour in a gallon of water. Does it sit there or draion freely? If it sits there for a while then less frequent but deep watering would be advisable.
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Why are My Arborvitae Dying

Why are My Arborvitae Dying? and How to Save Them

Two areas where you should pay attention to uncover the causes of your plant death are:

  • Leaves
  • The Roots and
  • Trunk


Conifers do undergo loss of leaves, just not as much as deciduous trees do. They retain their leaves for some years, after which they begin to shed them progressively from the inside of the tree outward the tips where the newest growth occurs.

If your tree tips are green and healthy looking, then you tree might be okay.

The Roots

Arborvitae dwell best in moist, but well-draining soil. It plays an important role in our climate’s springs and wet winters.

Arborvitae can grow root rot in wet conditions. Plus, the plants require air as well as water. However, too much water around the roots can harm the roots – they drown from no air.

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Well drained soil drains water through it, moistening the soil, and then leaving open pored that fill with air. The damaged roots of the plant prevent it from taking in enough moisture and the tree’s leaves are unable to get the much-needed water to function, and the tree may die.

Fungi thrives really well when the condition is wet and there is no air. They begin to attact the roots. So, check the roots. Are they light-colored and healthy looking? If they’re dark and friable then they are damaged and won’t function too well.

Tree Trunk

You might notice discolored area at the bottom of the tree trunk. That is typically caused by phytophthora fungus.

We recommend scraping away an area of bark – the area underneath should be firm and light colored, not soft and dark looking.

Phytophthora is a common fungal enemy of arborvitae. They’re responsible for the root rot of your plant and their spores are able to swim and infect other areas of your tree. Sadly, there aren’t too many good, working treatment options for this infection. Best, to simply take preventive measures instead.

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Last year, we suffered a very cold winter and it was hard on most of the plants in our garden. Next thing was a very hot dry summer and the winter damaged some plant’s root, and it was unable to get enough moisture, and guess what? We lost the ones infected.

Whenever you can, you should try to create a well-drained soil around your planted trees. However, older trees could be harder to help with that.

We recommend adding organic material such as mulch around the trees, but not next to the trunk. That will help add organic matter to the soil and aid the drainage process.

A mulch of 2-3 inches is unable to conserve moisture and moderate soil temperature, which can really help in hot dry conditions. Give it a good soaking each week using a hose at 1/3 power. That will supply it with enough water to wash away the mulch or expose the roots.

Author: Howard S. Baldwin

My name is Howard S. Baldwin. I am a work-at-home dad to three lovely girls, Jane + Hannah + Beauty. I have been blogging for the last 3 years. I worked for other Home and Lifetsyle blogs, did hundreds of product reviews and buyers’ guides. Prior to that, I was a staff accountant at a big accounting firm. Needless to say, researching and numbers are my passion. My goal is to be an informative source for any topic that relates to DIY life and homemaking.

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