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Can Brown Arborvitae Be Saved?

Arborvitae is a wonderful tree specimen to place on your property. This kind of tree is used to create a barrier or fence, or to simply add beauty to your yard. 

As this tree is in the evergreen family, its leaves are supposed to remain green forever. If you have noticed this tree is turning brown, it is time to find out why.  Depending on how much of the arborvitae has turned brown and how long the browning occurred will determine whether it can be saved. Removal is not always needed.

Why the tree turning brown

An important step in preventing your arborvitae from turning brown is to understand why it happens. There are times in the life of the tree and in times of the year that make it more susceptible to browning. During the first few months after the tree is transplanted is one of those times.


Trees are fragile when moved and replanted, leaving them vulnerable to transplant shock. The tree will show signs of browning when in transplant shock. This is caused by a loss of roots during the process of being dug up and moved. Additionally, the tree may have been planted too deep or not deep enough. It is necessary that the new tree is replanted at the same depth as it was previously. The roots of the tree planted too deep will suffocate. The roots not being planted deep enough will overexpose. Both situations cause arborvitae to turn brown.


Drought conditions often cause of arborvitae to turn brown. In the summertime, intense heat from the sun and dry soil contribute heavily to the brown of your tree. Constant watering during the summer season is vital.

Harsh weather conditions

One of the most common reason for arborvitae to turn brown is the exposure to harsh weather conditions. Heat is not the only offender – severe winds can cause browning. If your tree is turning brown during the winter, harsh winds and freezing temperatures are often to blame. As temperatures drop and the ground freezes, the roots of the tree freeze as well. It becomes difficult to take in water and more difficult for water to reach the higher parts of the tree, causing desiccation (dehydration). The top of the tree is still producing energy irrespective of not having access to enough water. This coupled with sunlight can cause parts of the tree to die. There are ways to protect the tree if weather is causing damage to the tree.


Care Tips

Wrap Your Tree in Burlap:  An excellent way to protect your arborvitae trees in the winter is to wrap them in burlap. Burlap is thick and inexpensive fabric which will block the sun from hitting the tree during the time that it cannot receive water. Ideally, the right time to do this is before the ground starts to freeze. Keep the burlap in place with twine and this protective barrier will protect the tree when it cannot access water.

Water the tree when the ground is thawed: If you do not wrap your tree in burlap but want to avoid browning, keep a watchful eye on the ground during the winter. Water only penetrates the roots when the soil is loose. If the ground is not thawed out, it may be impossible. During the winter, the weather may heat up and thaw the ground. Take advantage of the thawing and water your arborvitae.

How to Save It

Brown arborvitae can be saved from conditions that cause it to brown, but it may not be as healthy as it was. But that does not mean it cannot be saved. A branch that has turned brown can grow out and parts of the branch closest to the trunk will grow to their natural green. This is a good sign. Have pruning services done in the spring or summer have the branch pruned all the way back to where the leaves start to be green again.

Unfortunately, if most of your tree has become brown, it may not recover, but give it time to see if any new growth is different. If enough amount of time has passed and you still have not seen improvement, it might be best to have the tree removed.

Contact Arborist Now, the premier professional tree servicing company in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area for safe tree removal. By knowing what to look out for and what precautionary measures to take in the future, tree removal may not be necessary.

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