Q. What are some options for replacing an old arborvitae hedge that has grown too tall?
Thank you for your hedge question. There are a variety of options that will work as replacements for your arborvitae hedge. I am recommending hedge materials that are appropriate for the New York Metropolitan area. All of these plants will require regular pruning to keep them well shaped and full but won’t be soaring towards the sky the way many arborvitae do.
If the yard is less used in the winter months and you can tolerate less coverage then, privet makes a dense, glossy, fast growing hedge with the benefit of pleasantly scented flowers in the early summer. It is deciduous but structurally dense and will make a deep (4 to 6 feet at maturity) hedge. Some sun is required (about four hours of full sun a day) and good drainage is another requirement. Two species to consider are border privet (Ligustrum obtusifolium) and Amur privet (Ligustrum amurense), though others will do as well. Privet is a very sturdy and hardy plant in the northeast.
For evergreen coverage, yew makes a beautiful, deep green, dense hedge that is much slower growing than privet or arborvitae. Taxus x media and its cultivars make a classic, needled hedge that is easy to care for and very tolerant of urban conditions. It gets bright red berries in the winter. While happiest in sun to part shade, it is also able to grow in shady areas as long as the soil drainage is good. If you have deer in your yard, however, this is not the plant for you! Deer will travel to eat your yew needles in the winter.
You might also consider replacing your arborvitae with a cultivar that is dwarf in growing habit. Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’ (emerald arborvitae) is a dwarf conifer that grows much more slowly than most and only up to 10 to 12 feet (you can keep it much lower with pruning at a less aggressive schedule than faster growing varieties). It does not discolor in the winter and is very forgiving of soil conditions and shade. It needs plentiful moisture and prefers partial shade to sunny conditions.
The linked website of The Arbor Day Foundation has helpful information on a variety hedge materials as well as rules of thumb for spacing the individual plants once you settle on a plan.
I also recommend the Missouri Botanical Garden’s plant sheets for each of the hedging plants mentioned above for accurate and thorough information on each plant:
I hope that helps you with your decision. Please let us know if we can be of further help.
Courtesy of NYBG Plant Information Service