I am looking at a nursery wholesale catalog….a guide which carries a paragraph or less to inform the unknowing a bit about the nature of the plant.  Information located there is made available by a number of sources.  It could be from the original plant propagator, a plant salesman, or a university professor in the horticultural department.

In the landscape artist’s world knowing names of individual plants is seldom important, except perhaps for billing.  Plants are know as “green statements”, or color statements……a tall statement…..or something ‘broad’.

I happen to like arborvitaes and have often claimed to classes which I have taught, that it is the plant genus the Minnesota landscape garden could not do without.

There are dozens of cultivars and varieties of arborvitae….(Thuja).

In my wholesale catalog I notice that the height of the Degroot’s arborvitae, one of my favorite evergreen uprights,  is stated at six feet with a width of two feet.  Height 6′, width  2’…..and that is it.

I am looking at one of my many Degroot’s arborvitaes in my own landscape garden, one about twelve years in my possession which was about 3 feet tall when I planted it.  I am also reminded of the three or four magnificent specimens Masterpiece planted at a Riviera Road property in Sartell, Minnesota in the mid 1990s, all of them two and a half feet wide but now over twenty feet tall.

There seems to be some problem in communication here.

Why the discrepancy?

One, and a good answer, may be that no one really knows how tall a Degroot’s arborvitae might reach under ideal circumstances.   There are so many new conifer cultivars now on the market, no one has yet seen some of them as mature specimens.

Chamaecyparis are relatively new to the Minnesota landscape plant market.   The most popular one is sold as “King’s Gold” or “Sun Gold” which closely resembles an arborvitae.   They are sold as shrubs.

I open my wholesale catalog to the “Chamaecyparis, King’s Gold”  page, and I am informed that the plant upright size is one to two feet and its width is 3 feet.   No further information is offered.   The purchaser, whether home owner or professional landscaper, or someone somewhere in between might not know that if a King’s Gold Chamaecyparis were left alone to grow well on a favorable site, it would become a fifteen to twenty foot tall, conifer tree with drooping foliage about eight to nine feet wide.

It is sold as a shrub for a number of reasons…..One can sell twenty shrubs of a cultivar to every tree form of that cultivar, and Chamaecyparis are slow growing.  Even though it is genetically destined to become a small tree, regular pruning can keep its size to around six or seven feet in height.

Another example of misinformation or lack of information  usually goes with selling the Japanese Yew.   There is a spreader variety…..labeled “Taunton”, and an upright  called “Capitata”.   If neither are ever pruned, and  allowed to grow to maturity under good conditions, both will become huge…..if twenty five feet wide and twenty five feet tall would count as huge.

The Taunton Yew is one of the most common conifers used in  foundation plantings.   One of its best features is that it not only tolerates shade including deep  shade, it flourishes in shade.

On one property of a regular client of ours in a space of about 30 square feet in the front area of this beautiful house, there were planted 16 Taunton Yews by the Landscape Artist.   In time one plant could have covered the entire space.  To be understanding of the Artist or Landscaper, most homeowners don’t have the patience to wait fifteen years for the full character this wonderful conifer could develop.

One of my favorite landscape trees for the Twin City scene is the Sunkist Arborvitae or  its identical twin called Yellow Ribbon Arborvitae.  Both are ‘scheduled’ to reach 8 feet tall and three feet wide.  Since that is all the information catalogs offer, one assumes that that is its mature size.

It is a wrong assumption.    Three of the Sunkists on my own grounds are all over fifteen feet tall and the king of the hill in the front garden is over eight feet wide.   I prefer them to have foliage to the ground so you can see theydo take up some space which the catalogs did not include.

I have good soil and an effective irrigation system.  Both add tremendously to the healthful growth of the vast majority of trees if not all.

If reliable watering is not available for arborvitaes, they will not reach such heights.  Generally, many of the junipers hardy in our area are more tolerant of some drought and somewhat poorer soil.  But when on good soil, fertilized and watered properly, many, both upright and spreaders are shocking (and very beautiful) in the size they  can reach.

My favorite upright Juniper is the Hetz Columnar.  Height size is listed in catalogs as fifteen to twenty feet.  If  planted in good loamy soil and  its location is in full sun and is regularly watered, Hetz Columnar can reach double that listed height in  ten to twelve years.

A beautiful spreading juniper is Hughes.  It is marked as six feet wide and only a foot tall, which makes it  seem like a modest ground cover…..for full sun as the catalog informs its reader.  Most, if left to grow unencumbered in to space, will surpass fifteen feet in diameter and reach only two feet in height in its normal life span.

We seldom see these beautiful conifers in their full size.  In the future perhaps those who write statistics for catalogs will  provide more accurate  information about the  adult  sizes of these woody plants, so the consumer or the consumer’s representative can make better choices for the home grounds.