Thuja Green Giant turning gold/brown near trunk

Glen Burnie, MD(Zone 7a)

This past summer (July..not a good time, I know), my local nursery planted 12 Thuja Green Giant trees for me. Now, they are all turning brown/gold on stems close to the trunk. I have a $600 water bill from watering them all summer; so, I don't think they are dry. I have sandy soil and am in Zone 7; so, I watch them pretty carefully for water needs. The man from the nursery said that all arborvitae (sp?) do this in the fall and that the trees are in good shape. To me, some of the trees look like they are dying because there is so much orange/brownish on branches close to the trunks. Can anyone advise me? Does this really sound normal to you?

SEE PICTURE I added WAY DOWN about 6 or 7 replies later.

This message was edited Nov 18, 2007 5:57 PM

This message was edited Nov 18, 2007 6:07 PM

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

Can you post a picture? The interior does tend to get brown but the outside should be green, I can't tell from your description whether what you're seeing is the way they normally look or not.

Hastings, MI(Zone 5b)

I am going outside to look at mine brb.

I have one to 4 year olds and potted nursery
selections here. I will check them out for you.


Hastings, MI(Zone 5b)

here are some pot growing 1 year olds now.

Thumbnail by WigglyPaw
Hastings, MI(Zone 5b)

here are 2-3 and 4 year olds in the field. they have
turned slightly russet colour, but are not brown in
the center.

Thumbnail by WigglyPaw
Hastings, MI(Zone 5b)

another gg from the north side of the beds, more exposed to
direct windy winds, brutal afternoon watering
in other words, well cared for plants. LOL

Thumbnail by WigglyPaw
Hastings, MI(Zone 5b)

Here is a Hinoki 'nana' with interior brown.
I just got it and it was potted in the nursery.
I would say that it had undergone stressors
in the nursery. too much water, too little water,
root bound. I fully expect it to drop those brown
leaves and then grow on a bit more healthily.

hope this helps a little bit.

Thumbnail by WigglyPaw
Glen Burnie, MD(Zone 7a)

Thanks for all of your responses. I'm thinking that the very last image, Hinoki 'nana' is closest to illustrating the problem. And yes the insides are more russet than brown. I'll go outside (it is getting dark now and I'm not sure I can get good pictures, but I will try) take some pictures and post them.

Glen Burnie, MD(Zone 7a)

Here is a picture of one of my trees, showing the brown/russet leaves/branches inside, near the trunk. All outsides are still green, sofar.

Thumbnail by jmj_57
Glen Burnie, MD(Zone 7a)

Sounds like you are all saying that this browning in the middle in the fall is normal? We did have high winds and hot sun a couple of weeks ago but I tried to keep up replacing the moisture by leaving the hose running near the roots. Perhaps they are showing signs of that weather stress and they will recover???

Thumbnail by jmj_57
Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

I think that looks pretty normal to me. As they get bigger, the inside part of the plant will turn brown, hopefully most of the time there's enough green growth on the outside of it that you can't see too much of the brown. I don't think it has anything to do with stress, it's just what happens, basically each branch will have green on the end of it, but as you go back closer to the trunk it'll be brown (and make sure you never prune it back into the brown part--it won't regrow and then you'll be left with ugly brown forever!

Glen Burnie, MD(Zone 7a)

Thank you so very much for your advice. I have no plans to prune these trees. They were planted to provide privacy and a windbreak. I'll just keep watering and fertilizing them.

Alexandria, VA(Zone 7b)

Water up until Dec. 20th, then let the mulch hold any moisture in the soil. With a $600 water bill (don't know how much land you watered), that sounds a little excessive. Wait until next May or June to see how they look; if the nursery planted them, hopefully you have a one-year warranty.

Holland, OH(Zone 5b)

jmj57, those look like healthy arborvitae. In zone 5 fall browning of some interior limbs seems to be normal. Winter does have a habit of sorting out the weak from the healthy. If all of yours look as healthy as the ones pictured I think you will have a nice windbreak coming along just fine.

Glen Burnie, MD(Zone 7a)

I truly appreciate your reassurances that these look pretty normal. Last week we had up to 50mile/hr winds for a couple of hours and all the interior brown is gone. They all look absolutely beautiful with the interior brown gone. Thanks for the advice about watering them up to Dec 20. I read somewhere that you need to give them a good deep soaking before the ground freezes; so, I have continued watering. I've applied HollyTone as the fall fertilizer. Again, THANK YOU!!!

McMinnville, TN(Zone 7b)

Oh deary. I wish I saw this earlier in the year. For the first 4-6 weeks, keep the root system slightly moist. After that, once a week should be plenty. Green Giants are wonderful trees to block out the neighbors but they DON'T like WET FEET!! over watering causes the browning of the leaves. Just let them dry out for a while, and whatever you do, DON'T over fertilize. During the fall, you will see browning of some of the leaves. That is just part of nature. Most of the time is because at the end of summer it is scortching hot and we tend to give them a little too much to drink. No big deal. Green Giants are one of those plants that as long as it is looked after a couple of times a year, shouldn't give you any hassle!

ecrane3 is right, don't prune it back. It should push out the brown with new growth.

One other common mistake is also heaping on fertilizer after you get the plants home from the nursery. There are 2 types of nurseries. There are the ones that grow their own stock and then there are the re-wholesalers. The second type means they don't have the acareage to grow their own stock but have the customer base to get the material out the door. Either one that you bought it from is fine I am sure, but you need to check when the last time that THEY fertilized at the nursery. If they are a re-wholesaler, they might not fertilize, but more than likely, the original nursery already has. Better safe than sorry!!

Scott County, KY(Zone 5b)


Glad to hear you are happier now with your Thuja 'Green Giant' than at the time of your original post. Some good info that has not been provided up to this point includes:

All conifers and broadleaf evergreens have older (more than one year) foliage that turns brown and drops after its useful lifespan. This varies from species to species, but will always happen with the oldest foliage. Resin (a denizen of this forum) is quite the conifer enthusiast and can probably quote chapter and verse on how long this selection of Thuja holds its leaves/needles, and at what time of year it normally sheds. Some species retain foliage for one year; some two years; some three years; and so on. The buildup of needles under pine trees is just this behavior. It is no different for Thuja, Tsuga, Picea, Ilex opaca, Magnolia grandiflora, or Rhododendron.

Many of the species that people like for their appearance of thickness and density are the species that hold their foliage the longest number of years (or have very short internodes and branch often, thus having more foliage within less space). There are a few species that hold their old dead foliage for a long time; these are often consider the "unkempt" types. Cunninghamia and Chamaecyparis 'Boulevard' are two that I find annoying with the amount of brownness evident from old needles.

You should worry if your newest foliage starts turning brown. That would be an indication of overwatering or some other malady (windburn, insect damage, disease, etc.). It doesn't seem that that was your issue, and your photos show normal browning of old foliage that is ready to drop.

As far as watering: to make it easy on yourself and your water bill, you might invest in some drip hose. Lay it under the plants (and under the mulch, if possible) and give the plants a good deep soaking once a week in the absence of adequate rainfall. Puts the water right where you want it, minimizes evaporative loss and runoff, and saves you time.

Send us some updates on the progress of your fine plants.

Gurnee, IL

Found this thread online, thank goodness! I am in area 5 in Illinois, just slightly north of Chicago. We planted 7, 6ft Thuja Green Giants in May of 2010. It is now the beginning of October 2010 and most of the, what looks like, new growth inside against the trunk is orange and brown. This is making me very nervous. This is happening on all 7 of them. The rest of the tree is all green but what is next to the trunk. We don't have hot, hot summers but this one was continuously warm in the 80's. They were watered well at least once a week. They were looking beautiful. But now that I see this happening, I am not sure if we paid the correct attention to them. If anyone is monitoring this thread still, your experience/knowledge would be appreciated. it almost sounds as though they will make it through the winter and come spring they will be fine, but i am really unsure. HELP

Thumbnail by cf4sups
Scott County, KY(Zone 5b)

The Lazarus thread...

The image you've shown is a perfectly healthy tree. The browning foliage interior to the tree is the OLDEST foliage - the newest is out on the tips of branches.

This is normal behavior for Thuja plicata. My trees in the yard are starting to drop their oldest internal foliage.

I would continue your prudent watering regimen up till freezing weather sets in. Your plants should be fine.

Gurnee, IL

ViburnumValley - Thank you so much for your quick response! (Sorry mine wasn't sooner.)

I thought that because these leaves were against or close to the trunk, realtively small in size, weren't around when we planted the trees, that they were considered 'NEW' growth and not 'old'. Funny how it is the end of the branch instead. But...won't there be any new growth near the trunk that will grow? I guess you can say that I am still leary and worried that they won't make the winter. But that definitely could be the inexperience talking.

Should I prepare them for winter with some fertilizer spikes?....mulch?.....

How much water is enough. I basically hold a hose at the base of each for a good, slow 20 count...once or twice a week. Too much, too little,.....they look good outside of in the interior brown foilage.

Again, probably just inexperience talking but I just want to make sure our investment survives and thrives. :-)

Thanks again for your input. I appreciate it greatly.

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