Ask a Question forum→Need Advice...Contractor cut off Arborvitae tops

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Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
Haz726
Apr 19, 2019 3:22 PM CST
We had a contractor plant a 75 ft line as a barrier near our property line. He suggested Arborvitae Thuja 'Green Giant'. We relied on his recommendation and expertise. He planted 25 four foot Arborvitae trees on a 75 foot line, so the trees are around three feet (or less) apart. He also put 5 trees around our generator. They are less than 4 feet from the unit, and about 6 feet from the side of our house.

The trees went into the ground in Michigan, mid October 2018.

I think the trees are too close together, and too close to the generator. I may have to pull some out and plant them elsewhere.

Also, I am very concerned because the contractor also cut the central leader off all the trees. The tree tops look like runts.

Everything I have read said cutting off the tops will hurt vertical growth.

Any thoughts would be appreciated.
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Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
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DaisyI
Apr 19, 2019 4:20 PM CST
Welcome!

I suspect you and your landscape contractor had different thoughts on what you wanted without much clarification. You said barrier and the contractor planted a barrier.

Most people want their yards to look done the day the last plant is put in and that is exactly what the contractor did: He planted them close together and stopped upward growth. I'm sure he thought that as the arborvitae grew, you would prune them into something square.

Did you say anything to him when he put the arborvitae in? Did you discuss the project before he started? Have any input as he dug holes? Did you question where 30 trees would go?

Most contractors give a one year warrantee on the plants they install. If you are unhappy, you need to call the guy and tell him so.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming...."WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

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Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
Haz726
Apr 19, 2019 5:16 PM CST
Thanks for getting back to me so quickly DaisyI. You make good points.

Yes, we discussed the project before he started. And it was my understanding from the contractor that the four foot trees would grow tall over the next 5-10 years to form a tall privacy screen between the two yards, and it would look good from the neighbor's kitchen window, as well. To that end, I made sure he did not put them directly under the overhead wires.

And yes, I questioned the spacing of the trees. He told me they would fill in. I did not really realize until now that these trees need more space in between so they can grow. We don't want the leaves to die over time and thin out because there is not enough room. But I am less concerned about the planting distance, as I can remove every other tree and transplant them to extend the line.

You mentioned that he "stopped upward growth". That's my biggest concern.

If the leader is gone, how will the trees grow over the next 5 - 10 years? How can they grow straight and tall now? What effect does cutting off the leader have on these trees? Is there anything that can be done?
[Last edited by Haz726 - Apr 19, 2019 5:18 PM (+)]
Give a thumbs up | Quote | Post #1953221 (3)
Name: Big Bill
Livonia, Michigan (Zone 6a)
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BigBill
Apr 19, 2019 6:41 PM CST
He was probably under the notion that he was installing a privacy barrier. Cutting back the top leader will stunt their vertical growth some what.
Personally I would leave them alone. You can only cause them more stress by moving them again. That will be twice within a calendar year.
I think that they will be fine. Just make sure that they get adequate water the rest of this year to help them establish. Make sure that they go into winter well hydrated so they will be less likely to suffer wind burn.
When you grow orchids, it is all about the ROOTS!!!
Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
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DaisyI
Apr 19, 2019 6:50 PM CST
If tall trees was something you discussed with the contractor, maybe one of his employees got it wrong and he decided not to notice. I think the trees will grow upwards by way of a secondary leader. The trunk will be offset, though.

I would contact the landscaper and tell him it was your understanding that trees would be allowed to grow tall, especially after your discussion about eventual height. Its too bad, though, that you didn't pursue this immediately - 6 months after planting is going to be tough to convince him to do anything. It sounds now like you simply changed your mind.

If you do decide he won't do anything, replant the extra arborvitae sooner rather than later.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming...."WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

President: Orchid Society of Northern Nevada
Webmaster: osnnv.org
Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
Haz726
Apr 19, 2019 7:42 PM CST
Yes DaisyI, I think you are correct. One of the employees just went around and snipped the tops off.

As for me, I just moved from Manhattan to Michigan. Trees are not my expertise. I excel at navigating the Subway and getting half-price tickets for Broadway shows, but trees are new to me.

When the trees went in, I didn't give them a second thought. They looked good. Then it started to snow, the holidays came, and time passed.

It was not until yesterday when I went back to the wholesaler to buy one more tree for a different spot that I showed the clerk a picture to match the trees we have. The clerk told me they were planted too close together, and the tops were cut off. I looked into it further, and I agreed.

What I feel very bad about is the leader damage to the trees themselves. Their growth will be stunted as BigBill mentioned. So now they won't grow as normal.

Thanks for your insights.

[Last edited by Haz726 - Apr 19, 2019 7:44 PM (+)]
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Name: Big Bill
Livonia, Michigan (Zone 6a)
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BigBill
Apr 19, 2019 7:50 PM CST
Haz, don't be so down. They may end up being a little stunted for a few years but it really doesn't matter. Look at the bright side, they will be fine, they grow fuller, they look great and you end up with a beautiful group of plants.
To me they will look better than a group of NYC subway cars lined up end to end in your yard!! Rolling on the floor laughing
When you grow orchids, it is all about the ROOTS!!!
Name: Bob
Vernon N.J. (Zone 6a)
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NJBob
Apr 19, 2019 8:03 PM CST
They will eventually get tall the trimming on top will make them fill in faster. But they are planted close together. This plant can get up to 60 ft tall and 8 to 12 wide. The spacing he did is more like you would do for Green Emerald. Spacing for Green Giant even for a barrier wall is more in the 5 to 6 foot apart area.
http://www.thujagreengiant.net...
Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
Haz726
Apr 19, 2019 8:06 PM CST
Big Bill, my trees with certainly smell better, that's for sure!

I'm really trying to learn. What I really need help understanding is what the Arborvitae trees will do next, over time, with no main leader.

As I drove around Oakland County today, I looked at other Evergreens and they all seemed to have a cone shaped top. Right now, my trees look like they will all have a permanent buzz cut.
Name: Big Bill
Livonia, Michigan (Zone 6a)
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BigBill
Apr 19, 2019 8:33 PM CST
Patience. Give it time.
You really want to look at this 4-8 years down the road.
When you grow orchids, it is all about the ROOTS!!!
Taos, New Mexico (Zone 5b)
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Henderman
Apr 19, 2019 8:37 PM CST
Your arborvitaes will grow new leaders. The new leader will come out of the top of the tree and be a little offset from the trunk of the tree. So it will have a little zig-zag. By little I mean an inch or two. Over time that leader will become the new trunk. Over a few years, as your tree gets bigger and fuller you will notice the zig-zag less and less. Eventually you won't notice it at all.

For these trees when you cut the top off, it makes the bottom of the tree grow more. Instead of growing up, they grow out. But eventually, as the new leader takes over, the tree will resume its normal shape.

I hope I've relieved some of your concern. Please ask more questions as you think of them.
[Last edited by Henderman - Apr 19, 2019 8:46 PM (+)]
Give a thumbs up | Quote | Post #1953331 (11)
Name: Frenchy
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Frenchy21
Apr 19, 2019 9:50 PM CST
Have you contacted the contractor to find out what kind of warranty is involved? The contractor should have known the proper spacing for the trees that were planted and had no right to top them without your permission. You might see if he will replace the trees and plant them properly.
Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
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DaisyI
Apr 19, 2019 9:58 PM CST
What everyone is telling you is absolutely correct. Secondary leaders will grow, the trees will have a little wiggle but, long range, no big deal and they are too close together. Don't beat yourself up over it - there are a lot worse things you could do with the landscaping. Just ask any one of us. Smiling

The only thing you can do now is decide what you are doing now. I'm sure the contractor will not be willing to replace all the trees with un-trimmed ones but, maybe you could make a deal with him to move everyother tree to further down the line. Personally, I think you could move two trees out of every three and still have a full looking row of trees but it would take longer to fill in. Also, as someone (can't find it now, Sorry!) said earlier, they may not happily transplant twice in one year. Or the roots may already be growing into each other so you would damage all the trees trying to move half the trees. You may have to just cut the extra trees out in a couple years.

Many landscapers do over-plant because their clients would be unhappy with the look for 5 or 10 years until the plants grew. So, they plant too many, knowing full well that you will be taking plants out in a few years. A reputation for beautiful yards instantly is better than beautiful yards someday.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming...."WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

President: Orchid Society of Northern Nevada
Webmaster: osnnv.org

tulipgrl19
Jul 26, 2019 8:20 AM CST
These trees get huge and you should really look into that. They can get 12-18 feet wide and 40-50 feet tall. I have read different heights/widths that seemed to be conservative. The photo attached shows my son next to a green giant. He is 5'9"
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Portland, Oregon (Zone 7b)
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Sallymander
Jul 26, 2019 8:43 AM CST
Over planting is the industry standard. It drives me nuts. But, most folks want immediate, and most contractors want to make their clients happy. That's the optimist side of me. My cynical sides says, he had thirty trees sitting in his yard (or a buddy's yard) and he cleared them out onto you.

You can transplant trees twice in one year. Not the best idea, but better than waiting for them to get too big to do the job. It's a matter of watering the ground thoroughly before planting, and I do mean thoroughly. And keeping an eye on them after that. Now that you know how big the trees get, do you really have that kind of space for them?

I would remove the ones in front of the generator this year and plant something the gets to be about 6 to 8 feet tall and 3 to 5 feet wide at maturity. You can always plant annuals to fill in the space in between while waiting for the hedge to grow. But that assumes money is no object.
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MISSINGROSIE
Jul 27, 2019 1:04 AM CST
If the generator is propane .. I would use a lattice screen or a. Screen that pleases you paint it to blend ... it should be open ..splits or openings

Then a good distance away, plant to visually conceal the lattice if you dont like it

Dont plant anything with big roots that could compromise the gas line

And the generator vents when it runs and a " wall" of plantings could keep the gas from disbursing and maybe even send toward house .. that looks like a window right behind it.. it would get that exhaust

Don't squat with yer spurs on!

People try to turn back their "odometers." Not me. I want people to know 'why' I look this way. I've traveled a long way and some of the roads weren't paved

Jasontlb
Aug 1, 2021 9:56 AM CST
[quote="DaisyI"]What everyone is telling you is absolutely correct. Secondary leaders will grow, the trees will have a little wiggle but, long range, no big deal and they are too close together.

Will secondary leaders grow from a topped emerald green arborvitae also?
Name: Suzanne/Sue
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Calif_Sue
Aug 1, 2021 11:52 AM CST

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