Arborvitae trees turning brown

Do Arborvitae Branches Grow Back After Deer or Storm Damage?

It’s so easy to fall in love with arborvitae trees. We can count on them to line our landscapes, provide privacy and tout a yearlong emerald glow—all without needing much maintenance.

When they do need our attention, it’s usually because of a hungry deer or intense storm. If either one has left your arborvitae branches bent, broken, or bare, will the tree branches grow back?

There are a few simple things you can do to help arborvitaes recover.

Three Ways to Tackle Arborvitae Tree Damage Repair

How much damage means your arborvitae is a goner?

Devastating storms can create unstable trees, which makes your yard unsafe. First, check your arborvitae for any major issues, like split trunks, broken tops or downed limbs.

If the damage looks minimal, help your tree rebound with these tips.

What to Do When a Storm Affects Arborvitae Branches

Bent arborvitae branches need to be propped back up into their vertical form. To do this, collect the branches together until they’re standing straight up and secure them with burlap or bungee cords.

Keep the branches tied for about a month before checking if they’ve regained their form. If not, retie them. This is crucial because you don’t girdle these branches out with the tie. Or, if you used burlap, feel free to keep it on through winter. That way, the tree can gradually grow new wood and take shape without the threat of piling snow or hungry deer.

Broken arborvitae branches need to be pruned to repair the tree’s structure.

What to Do When a Deer Eats Your Arborvitae Branches

Bare branches without needles likely won’t grow back after a deer’s gotten to them.

But if there is some green growth left, there’s hope for your arborvitae! Trim off the branches that are bare, brown or beyond repair. Then, give it water, fertilizer and protect it from deer next season.

How fast do arborvitae branches grow back?

If you shower your arborvitae with TLC after damage, it can recover during the next few growing seasons. Arborvitaes can grow anywhere from 6 to 12” in a year. From here on out, it’s a game of patience–waiting for your tree to fill in again while keeping those deer away!

Over Watered Arborvitae – Knowledgebase Question

Eastern Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis)
Posted by jmorth
Arborvitae will tolerate a moister soil than many evergreens, but they will “drown” if kept overly wet. Generally, the idea for newly planted shrubs is to water more often at the very beginning and then decrease it gradually so that watering about every five days to once a week is usually enough. As the weather cools you may not need to water at all. The only way to know for sure is to check by digging into the soil to see. The aim is to keep it moist but never soggy sopping wet. An occasional deep watering is more effective than a daily light sprinkling, and the rule of thumb during the growing season is “an inch a week from the sky or the hose” — this is most important during the summer months and should be followed for the full year after planting. A layer of several inches of mulch will also help maintain an more even soil moisture and temperature.
To make it more complicated, yellowing can be a sign of over watering or under watering or occasionally of some other problem. You might want to check with your supplier or with your County Extension to see if they have any additional guidelines to offer.

Arborvitae turning brown

I’m in zone 8 where there is red clay and loam and is impervious so good drainage isn’t the best. I learned last year that when these GG’s and Leland’s get “wet feet” they do this as you pictured. I had an issue with water just below the surface holding up in the root ball holes. I went back and dug up the dead ones and got them refunded and this time, knowing what I was working with what I had to devise a plan so it didn’t reoccur. First, my trees were the size of yours, but spaced 8-9 foot apart with a back row of Leland cypress as a back screen. I staggered the trees when planting them. Here’s the trick I devised for my application as I wasn’t about to put in a expensive french drain in the whole length of the property to catch subsurface water from heavy rain runoffs or a shallow topsoil water table.

1. The holes were dug twice (or more) as wide the root ball.

2. I slashed the roots vertically all around the ball and across the bottom.

3. Added Milorganite (from Lowe’s) and a fruit tree slow 8-9 month release fertilizer in the back fill dirt that came out of the hole. (Wildlife Mgt. Group makes the fruit tree slow release locally)

4. I dug the hole just deep enough to allow 2″ of root ball to be exposed once it was set and done. I gashed the sides of the hole with a maddox so the roots could work their way into the walls later down the road.

5. In the “dead center” of the planting hole, I used a post hole digger and made a hole 3-4′ deeper than the bottom of the planting hole.

6. I put small to medium sized river rocks from Lowe’s into the hole and just enough to cover the planting hole bottom. ( I made a sump for water to collect in so, no wet feet issues)

7. I set the trees into the holes and back filled the holes.

8. I didn’t stomp the dirt down around the root ball but packed it in by walking it in or using the end of a shovel handle.

9. I made sure the root ball was exposed 2″ above the ground level once the holes were finished being back filled.

10. I didn’t water them in right away because the ground was saturated enough already. I watered the mulch and left them for a few days then watered them in.

11. I added 2-3″ of wood mulch around the root ball and out to the edge of the hole width. I DID NOT pile up mulch around the tree trunk or on the root ball. Just enough to cover it to stay moist when watered later.

12. I do not use a drip line to water them and I have at total of 31 GG’s and Leland’s planted. Depending on the weather (rain, heat) down here determined how or frequency I watered them. I use the old water hose technique when I water them. I usually water them (if not rainy) by watering them at the base of the tree (deep root watering) counting up to 90 and then soaking the remaining drip line around the tree and always shower the greenery on each one then move on.

13. I might do this once a week if no rain or a week and a half in duration.

The whole key to my success was the planting hole design, drip line cultivated and fed with the mix I made up, mulch depth, root ball height above ground level, back fill dirt replacement, tree spacing and watering techniques.

The saying goes, 1st year sleep, 2nd year creep and 3rd year grow! I accelerated it quite considerably as some are only 2 years old and were 3′ tall and now are 6.5 foot tall in 1 year! I was blown away. I have posted on here before when I first planted the GG’s and then replanted everything after. I did a post in the Spring of 2016 showing when they woke up and just a week or so ago on how much they’ve grown just one year.

I can’t say this fits your zone as you have a winter we never see down here. I would make sure you have those babies mulched in good for the cold blast and freeze you have up there coming soon.

Browse the posts and find my posts and images of my screening I have going on for an example.

Good luck as well, but I think some of those are toast by what I experienced concerning trees with “wet feet” Expect some browning inside in the fall but not to where the whole tree looks like its fried.

I hope this helped you out. Here are the links to my other posts.


Thuja ‘Green Giant’ is susceptible to very few pest or disease problems. Most gardeners will never have any issues with their ‘Green Giants’. But if you do encounter pests and diseases of Thuja Green Giant, here is how to solve them in our list of Thuja Green Giant Tree Problems.

Thuja Green Giant arborvitae shrub is one of our most popular ornamental trees for hedges, privacy screens, and windbreaks. It is a fast growing evergreen shrub, adaptable to a wide range of soil conditions, and grows fast. With a pyramidal shape, it can grow up to 20-40 feet tall and up to 20 feet wide at maturity. Thuja has an extremely fast growth rate of 3-5 feet per year once established in full sun or partial shade.

It is normally very disease resistant with the proper Green Giant Arborvitae care and preventative measures. The arborvitae foliage should stay green all year round and will be the first indicator of something wrong if foliage color changes.

The emerald green Thuja plicata is grown in the United States department of agriculture plant hardiness zones 5-9. So be sure you are growing in the correct zones first and foremost…

Here are some normal Arborvitae diseases and how to fix them:

  • Arborvitae Turning Brown Leaves

If some branch tips are turning brown on your newly planted ‘Green Giants’, it might be because they aren’t getting enough water.

Remember, newly planted trees and shrubs need lots more water than established plantings. For the first few months, you should water your trees every day or two that it doesn’t rain. At least a gallon of water per week is adequate. After a few months of growth, when their root systems have penetrated into the soil around them, the rich Green Giant evergreens should be fine with just an inch of rain or supplemental water per week or two. They are moderately drought tolerant, as well as tolerant to heat and humidity.

  • Arborvitae Turning Yellow

If, after a few weeks in the ground, your ‘Green Giants’ appear a little yellowish rather than overall bright green, they could be suffering from nutrient deficiency. We did fertilize when we planted them, but now is the time to begin fertilizing again.

Use a slow release balanced fertilizer labeled for large evergreen trees and shrubs and follow label directions. We prefer the more expensive slow-release or organic fertilizers since they don’t need to be reapplied as often. Usually, only once a year is enough.

Thuja ‘Green Giant’ can sometimes turn a little yellowish in cold winters, especially if it’s in an exposed, windy location. This is normal and the Arborvitae tree should be its dark green self again when spring returns.

  • BugsBagworms on Arborvitae

If you see little two-inch long cones of interwoven dry needles hanging on branch tips, these are probably the young larvae homes of bagworms. Males emerge when the eggs hatch in early June.

They make the little stick-tents out of silk they produce and pieces of the needles and plant foliage that they eat. Open one up and see the green caterpillar inside. These will come out at night and eat a few needles on your ‘Green Giant’, but rarely are there enough of them to damage the tree. Squish them or plop into a bucket of soapy water. Be sure to check nearby trees (even deciduous trees of other species may be affected).

If you think the infestation is serious enough to stunt the tree’s growth, you can spray with a commercial formulation of Bt. Bt is short for Bacillus thuringiensis, a naturally occurring bacteria that kills caterpillars when they eat leaves or needles that have been sprayed with it. Bt is one of the safest natural pesticides for controlling caterpillar pests on plants and is accepted as organic. Only insects that eat the sprayed foliage are killed. This will work for spider mites too.

  • Sooty Mold on Evergreens

If you notice a black powderlike coating on twigs or needles, it is probably sooty mold. This is a harmless fungal pathogen that grows on the excretions of scale insects which look like little brown bumps on twigs and needles. Scale insects feed on sap they suck from small twigs and stems. Thuja ‘Green Giant’ is so vigorous, and grows so fast, that scale insects are almost never a problem.

However, if your ‘Green Giant’ is growing in poor sandy soil, or soggy soil, or not getting enough water, its growth could be stunted by a large infestation of scale insects. Usually, all you need to do is prune and dispose of infested twigs.

You can rub the little turtle-like critters off by hand. You can spray or dab them with alcohol or insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. For very severe infestations, you can use a commercial pesticide containing azadirachtin, which will kill scale insects, not harm honeybees, and is approved as organic.

  • Arborvitae Root Rot

If your Thuja ‘Green Giant’ is growing poorly, turning to reddish brown foliage, and seems to be dying, it could be root rot caused by soggy or saturated soil conditions. Let the soil line get a little dry between waterings.

Water in the mornings so the soil has time to dry out during the day. Check to make sure you don’t have a leaky water pipe or irrigation water nearby. If the soil naturally stays wet all the time, my Green Giant will not survive there. The Thuja prefers well drained soil. If you have clay soil you can also have your soil tested for water content. Susceptibility to phytophthora root rot is a common side effect of wet soils. It is a fungal disease that can spread to infect other plants and is caused by excess water in the roots systems.

  • Cypress Tip Moth Miners:

If you notice the green foliage of you Green Giant’ turning yellow in early winter, then brown in early spring before turning nice and green again, it could be due to cypress tip miners, the larvae of a little whitish moth.

These caterpillars are green or yellow and eat needles on twig tips. Shake a suspected branch in spring to see if moths fly off. Remove and dispose of infected branches. Serious infestations are rare, but can be treated with Bt in winter or early spring.

  • Arborvitae Canker

If you have wilted twigs with yellow or brown needles, sunken lesions on larger branches, and some of them actually dying, your tree may have canker, an incurable fungal disease.

Remove dead and dying branches as soon as you see them. If the cankers are on the main trunk, it is too late to save the tree.

One of the things we love most about Thuja ‘Green Giant’ is its vigor and near immunity to most diseases and pests!

Check out our Thuja Growing Guide for more information on growing this giant.

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When arborvitae turn brown, there’s little chance they’ll recover.

(George Weigel)


I have a row of arborvitaes that all have the same area dying or dead along the ground and the same side on each of them. I believe it is related to overspray from having our grass treated. Other than not having that area along the trees treated again, is there anything I can do to help bring them back to life?

A: Spray drift is always a possibility when you see damage only low on a plant and facing only the side where a herbicide spray occurred.

I’ve also seen this kind of damage happen to arborvitaes along a road, where ice-melter from passing plows sprays salty water onto the bottom, street sides of the plants.

Either way, once arborvitae branches die out like that, there’s nothing you can do to bring them back to life.

Your only hope is that there’s still some life in the branches… enough that some new shoots could poke out next spring. Don’t prune off the apparently dead wood yet. If nothing happens by next summer, you can give up then and get rid of the dead wood… and determine then if what’s left is worth keeping the plants.

The only thing I can suggest now is to give your arbs a good soaking when the weather is hot and dry the rest of this season.

Arborvitae Problems

In general arborvitaes exhibit few serious insect and disease problems. Unfortunately American and Oriental Arborvitae are considered ice cream by deer and are quite vulnerable to deer browsing especially in the winter months.
Leaves Drop Off In Spring or Fall
Normal Leaf Senescence ƒ{ All evergreens drop some of their foliage every year, usually in the fall, but it can occur in the spring as well. Do not be concerned if you notice some brown, dead leaves on arborvitaes at the same time the deciduous trees and shrubs are displaying their fall colors. This normal reddish-brown discoloration occurs on branches closest to the trunk. Subsequent leaf drop may occur annually or every second or third year. However, if brown foliage appears at other times of the year or on leaf tips, the plant may have spider mites or be suffering from an environmental problem.
Plant Loses Its Shape
Old Age ƒ{ Harsh weather may cause some branches and even trunks of older arborvitaes to break off, making unsightly gaps in the form of the shrub. If pruning does not improve the shrub’s appearance it may be time to replace it.
Twigs, Leaves Turn Brown During Drought
Sunscald or Sunscorch ƒ{ A shortage of water in summer may cause twigs to turn brown and eventually drop off. During the summer, soak the soil to a depth of about two feet once every two weeks or so. If the symptoms develop in late winter or early spring, they may be caused by drying winds and hot sun. They are hard on the previous season’s growth and recently transplanted shrubs in exposed locations are most severely affected. In hot sun water evaporates from the leaves faster than the root system can replace it, which causes the leaf discoloration. Minimize damage by mulching and thoroughly soaking the ground around the shrubs before the ground freezes in winter. Spray the foliage of arborvitae in exposed sites with an anti-transpirant spray in the fall to protect it from drying out during the winter. Follow label instructions.
Foliage Browns, Trunk Splits Near Soil means Freeze Injury
Freeze Injury ƒ{ Normally arborvitae gradually acclimate to increasing colder temperatures as fall yields to winter and are able to withstand winter successfully. In some cases a prolonged warm fall, followed by a sudden cold spell or a warm spell in the middle of winter prevents normal gradual acclimatization and plant tissues freeze and die, killing it. While there is nothing to be done about the weather, you can control the arborvitae’s environment somewhat. Avoid feeding with high nitrogen fertilizers late in the season and be sure that arborvitaes are planted in well-drained soil. For more information see the file on Dealing With Winter Injury To Trees and Shrubs
Foliage Chewed, Striped From Twigs
Deer, Moose, Rabbits ƒ{ Unfortunately arborvitae foliage is tasty to several critters. As the pressure of development restricts their habitats even more severely than ever before, wildlife is forced to feed in residential landscapes. Here they often find plants that are tastier than the wild ones they normally forage on. There are many animal repellent spray products for plant foliage available that discourage the casual browser by either smell or taste. They tend to be effective for only a short time, until the rain washes them off or the animal gets used to them. Often they are most effective if several are used alternately. Animals under severe population pressure and desperate for food can only be discouraged by a barrier of some kind. An effective, unobtrusive fencing material is black polynetting that can be easily installed around the area where the arborvitaes are planted, or around the entire yard. For more information see the file Controlling Deer or on Dealing With Rabbits
Small Silken Bags Hang From Twigs
Bagworms ƒ{ The bagworm caterpillar builds a silken cocoon, or bag, with silk and bits of leaves attached to the outside. It carries its bag with it as it feeds. These small spindle-shaped bags hanging from your arborvitae’s branches like Christmas tree ornaments indicate its presence. See the file on Controlling Bagworms.
Leaves Webbed Over, Turn Gray or Brown.
Spider Mitesƒ{ Spruce spider mites or red spider mites spin webs and cause a graying or browning of arborvitae leaves. For more information see the file on Controlling Mites
Leaves Curled and Distorted.
Aphids ƒ{ The arborvitae aphid is a reddish brown, soft-bodied, pear-shaped sucking insect about the size of the head of a pin. Aphids suck plant sap from foliage, retarding or distorting arborvitae growth. Affected leaves may turn yellow or brown, wilt under bright sunlight, or sometimes curl and pucker. For more information see the files on Controlling Aphids
Sawdust at Base of Shrub, Poor Growth
Cedar Tree Borers ƒ{ In its larval stage, the Cedar Tree Borer bores into the inner bark and wood, frequently girdling the arborvitae, making it more susceptible to heat, drought, and disease. A mass of gummy sawdust (“frass”) at the base of an injured arborvitae shrub signals the presence of borers, the larvae of the cedar tree borer. For more information see the file on Controlling Borers
Leaves and Branches Encrusted With Small Bumps
Scale Insects ƒ{ Scale insects lurk under waxy shells, forming groups of small bumps or blister-like outgrowths on arborvitae stems and leaves. The shells may be white, yellow, or brown to black, and are about 1/10 to 2/5 inch in diameter. These bumps and discolored upper leaf surfaces, followed by leaf drop, reduced growth, and stunted shrubs, suggest a scale attack. For more information see the file on Controlling Scale
Leaf Margins Notched
Arborvitae Weevils ƒ{ These weevils are small and black, covered with metallic green scales and fine short hairs. Their larvae (grubs), which are white to pink with brown heads, attack arborvitae roots from June or July to midwinter or the following spring. Then they emerge from the soil to feed on leaves from May to July. Notches appearing in the margins of arborvitae leaves probably means these weevils are at work. The adults usually are active at night and hide in soil and trash during the day. Adult weevils will “play dead” when disturbed, folding their legs and dropping off plants to the ground. For more information see the file on Controlling Weevils
Twig Tips/Leaves Turn Brown Or Yellow, Die Back
Fungal Diseases ƒ{ In some cases the disease causes branch tips to turn brown and die back until the entire branch dies. Leaf spot causes leaves of affected shrubs turn straw yellow or brown and are thickly dotted with small black fruiting bodies. These diseases mostly attack foliage or shrubs already weakened by stress from heat, lack of water or other environmental problem. Sometimes the entire shrub may be involved. For more information see the file on Controlling Fungal Disease
Foliage Burned
Dog Urine ƒ{ Dog urine may discolor arborvitae foliage and even kill branches. For more information see the file Dealing With Dogs

Why are the inner leaves (foliage) of my Arborvitae turning brown?

Simply put, and in my experience, it is just a shedding process that helps the plant shed its old leaves just as any deciduous tree loses its leaves in the fall. Unless the whole bush is turning brown, this inside browning and shedding is very common in the late summer and fall months.

In my pictures here you can see the process of this shedding and this is normal. However, if the whole Arborvitae is browning and losing its leaves, then you have a bigger problem which I will address in other posts.

Arborvitae are very hardy shrubs and once established can be drought tolerant. However, browning leaves on the outside and inside of the shrub can indicate the plant is dying from a lack of water. If the leaves are turning a darker brown or even black, this can be a blight or fungal disease problem and needs further investigation. You also have to watch for bagworms and insect infestations but most plants in any landscape or garden can attract diseases and insects. Either way, you may be able to save the plant in the early stages of decline.

In my years of experience growing Arborvitae, I have found them to grow in the red clay soil of Virginia and grow during the bouts of drought and unrelentless downpours of springtime rains. I grow them in pots too and find them to give winter interest in the landscape with minimal care and watering.

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Thank you for stopping by and if you have a question, contact me and I will try to help you!

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2017 copyrighted material C Renee

Arborvitae Winter Care: What To Do About Winter Damage To Arborvitae

Trees can be injured by winter weather. This is especially true for needled trees since the needles stay on the trees all winter. If you have arborvitae in your yard and you live in a cold climate, you have probably seen that they occasionally suffer winter damage. Read on for information about winter injury on arborvitae bushes.

Winter Damage to Arborvitae

Winter injury on arborvitae bushes is not uncommon. Desiccation, or drying out, is one important cause of winter damage to arborvitae. The arborvitae dry out when the needles lose water faster than they can take it up. Arborvitae needles transpire moisture even in winter, and uptake water from the ground to replace the lost moisture. When the ground freezes below the root system, it cuts off the water supply.

Why are My Arborvitae Turning Brown?

Desiccation can lead to arborvitae winter burn. If the foliage is buried under snow, it is protected. But unprotected needles will suffer from winter burn, which turns them brown, gold or even white, particularly on the south, southwest, and windward sides of plants. The actual discoloration, however, can be caused by a number of factors in addition to desiccation and can be fairly dramatic. These include:

  • strong wind
  • bright sun
  • deep, hard frost
  • biting cold
  • salt used on sidewalks and roadways

If the winter burn is severe, the entire arborvitae may brown and die. You may notice symptoms as the damage is occurring, but often the burn damage looks even worse later, as temperatures rise in early spring. It’s best not to make any rapid decisions about whether or not you can save the tree. Simply wait for spring and you can easily tell whether the arborvitae is alive.

Arborvitae Winter Care

You can prevent desiccation by watering the ground thoroughly all through the growing season, right up through autumn. Give the shrubs more water on warm days during the winter. Arborvitae winter care also includes a thick layer of mulch to protect roots. Use up to 4 inches.

In addition to mulch, you may need to wrap evergreens in burlap or other material for winter protection if your winters are particularly severe. If you do, don’t wrap too tight or cover the plants too completely. Be sure to give the trees room to breathe and exposure to natural light.

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