Arborvitae tree question

Asked May 4, 2020, 7:45 AM EDT

Hi- I have several arborvitae trees in the back yard (I think that is the type). For some reason the trees only have leaves on the top and the bottoms are bare. The trees are leaning very badly too. We live in a area that has a high water table. I’m not sure what steps to take to help the trees. Thank you for any information you can give. Danielle

Montgomery County Pennsylvania

1 Response

From your photo, I believe that your arborvitae are suffering from recurring deer damage. Eastern arborvitae are a favorite winter food of deer. When there's not much else around to eat, deer browse on these common screening evergreens up as far as they can reach, which leaves nearly bare trunks. Deer will stand on their hind legs to feed which allows them to reach up to 10 feet above the ground.

Unfortunately, arborvitae are not capable of pushing new growth when the green needles have been completely eliminated. From your picture, it appears that the deer have permanently damaged the plants and they will not regrow green branches on their lower trunks. You can help the arborvitae by fertilizing with a product for acid-loving plants like Holly-tone.

If you want to keep the arborvitae and try to cover the bare trunks, you could is widen the bed in front of the arborvitae and plant lower evergreens that grow tall enough to cover the lower bare sections of the arborvitae. Be sure to select species that are resistant to deer damage.
Here's a link to a list of deer resistant species:

In addition to selecting plants that are resistant to deer damage, you should also take into consideration how much daily sun the area receives. From your photo, It looks like some of the area is fairly shady. Here's a link to a list of shade tolerant shrubs:

I hope that this information helps you to decide what to do!