Reducing A Giant’s Stature

 Over 30 years in the horticultural industry and still a pet peeve of mine is the misuse of plant material. Professionals and retail customers alike, driven by inexpensive, larger plants rather than the “right plant for the right space.” Often when I speak to customers I talk about my 3 P’s … Price, Patience & Property. Price, in a sense, that you can either “exercise your wallet,” buy a mature plant and space it properly from the beginning or you buy what’s more affordable and still space the plant properly. This of course leads to patience, in that, should you start with a smaller sized plant, you still space it properly, being patient as it matures. When I talk about property, I am referring to choosing the right plant and correctly spacing it for the real estate allocated for that plant. In other words, don’t buy a plant that gets too big and place it in an area that is too small. Plants are living, breathing things with a vascular system. Understanding their potential and choosing the right cultivar is key to their success. After all, when you choose a plant that is too big for its allocated space, poor air circulation, compacted soil, root competition and absence of sunlight are not far away. And when a plants health becomes compromised, insect and fungal issues may arise.

     Perhaps the most popular plant, in recent years, is ‘Green Giant’ Arborvitae, Thuja plicata ‘Green Giant’. ‘Green Giant’ Arborvitae, as its name implies, becomes a GIANT! Capable of growing north of 75 feet tall and 25 feet wide, this tree continues to be dimpled into landscapes in the Northeast, often 5 feet apart. Leyland Cypress, xCupressocyparis leylandii, it seems, has conceded its crown as the “go to” hedge plant for residential properties in recent years, “Thank God!” Leyland Cypress, only hardy in zones 6 to 10 has its share of problems. “Stringy” root systems make it difficult to transplant as a ball and burlapped tree and “the burgeoning use various cultivars” has led to its decline, both in popularity and general health. ‘Green Giant’ Arborvitae are a full two zones, USDA Plant Hardiness, more cold tolerant (some 20 degrees) than Leyland Cypress. Make no mistake though, both grow exponentially and both can become mammoth. However, there is a new cultivar of a ‘Green Giant’ type that seems to have enormous potential.

     ‘Virginian’™ Arborvitae, Thuja plicata x standishii, is a sport of ‘Green Giant’, touted to grow as fast, just not as wide. Literature states, in 10 years, ‘Virginian’™ has grown some 15 feet tall and 6 feet wide. The possibilities of this plant, should the public embrace it and understand its potential, would be HUGE. Imagine a tree that grows quickly with only a third the width of ‘Green Giant’? Sometimes the struggle of finding a cultivar of a particular genus and species, more fastigiate in habit, that tolerates and thrives in certain cultural conditions can be cost prohibitive. ‘Virginian’™ could be the answer for many with smaller garden footprints who desire a thick, lush, privacy screen or windbreak. What’s more, ‘Virginian’™ requires little pruning to maintain its svelte appearance. Tolerant of the heat and humidity of the south is another added bonus of this lithe conifer. However, its apparent bagworm resistance is more interesting to me in the Northeast. And the fact that it has weathered Northern Ohio’s harshest winter in recent memory, not having any snow or ice damage, suggests its extreme cold-hardiness. “From the edge of the Great Dismal Swamp in Suffolk, VA to the edge of Lake Erie in Ohio, ‘Virginian’™ Arborvitae is proving to be a versatile evergreen for today’s landscapes.”

     ‘Green Giant’ Arborvitae is the result of two species, Giant (Western) Arborvitae, Thuja plicata and Japanese Arborvitae, Thuja standishii. A chance cross-pollination that happened at Poulsen Nursery in Denmark in the 1930’s, ‘Virginian’™, in turn, is a natural mutation of ‘Green Giant’. Fast forward to 2004, Plantation Spring Nursery in Suffolk, Virginia had a small collection of ‘Green Giants’ and in 2007 Benjamin Frank Case, Jr., selected one with feathery young stems. In 2012 ‘BFC68’ was named and in 2016 a patent was issued for ‘Virginian’.