Emerald Green Arborvitae vs. Green Giant: What Are the Differences?

Written by Hannah Ward
Updated: October 30, 2023
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Emerald green arborvitae and green giants are both stunning evergreen coniferous trees. Both are “arborvitaes,” which are known for their distinctive appearance. However, despite their appearance and close relations, they are actually very different. These trees are popular as ornamental trees, which means that it’s important to know the differences between them so you can choose the best one for your garden. Selecting the right one can mean the difference between having a tree that thrives and one that doesn’t. So, join us as we discover everything you need to know about emerald green arborvitae vs. green giant!

Comparing Green Giant vs. Emerald Green Arborvitae

Emerald green arborvitae and green giants are popular as ornamental trees.
Green GiantEmerald Green Arborvitae
SpeciesThuja standishii x Thuja plicataThuja occidentalis
SizeHeight – 20 to 40 feet
Width – 12 to 20 feet
Height – 8 to 12 feet
Width – 3 to 4 feet
ShapeConical / pyramidalColumnar
ColorDark greenLighter, bright green
Growth RateUp to 3 feet per yearUp to 12 inches per year
Soil PreferenceWell-drained soilCan cope with wetter soil, survives in zone 7 and lower
Cold ToleranceUp to -20°FUp to -40°F

The Key Differences Between Emerald Green Arborvitae and Green Giant

The main difference between emerald green arborvitae and green giants is their size. Green giants are much taller and wider than emerald green arborvitae and are also a much darker green color. Other differences between them include their cold tolerance, soil preferences, and their growth rate.

Emerald Green Arborvitae vs. Green Giant: Species

Green Giant Arborvitae in a row

The green giant is a hybrid of two arborvitae trees.

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Although the green giant and the emerald green arborvitae look alike and are both “arborvitaes,” they are not actually the same tree. The emerald green arborvitae is a type of eastern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis). The eastern white cedar is native to North America and is one of the most popular arborvitaes to be kept as an ornamental plant.

The green giant is actually a hybrid of two arborvitae trees – the Japanese thuja (Thuja standishii) and the western red cedar (Thuja plicata). The Japanese thuja is native to Japan, while the western red cedar is native to the western region of North America. Incredibly, the green giant was actually first developed in Denmark in the 1930s before it was introduced to North America in 1967.

Emerald Green Arborvitae vs. Green Giant: Size and Shape

One of the biggest differences between emerald green arborvitaes and green giants is their size. As their name suggests, green giants are just that – giants. They reach an impressive 20 to 40 feet tall and 12 to 20 feet wide. They grow in a pyramidal shape which gives them a distinctive appearance. Green giants are best suited to large hedges or areas requiring a large “wall” of trees.

Although still not exactly small, emerald green arborvitaes only reach 8 to 12 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide. They grow in a more columnar shape than green giants, and as they have a much smaller spread, they are able to fit into much smaller spaces. Emerald green arborvitaes are better suited to smaller hedges or privacy screens. Due to their smaller size, they also do well in plant pots.

Emerald Green Arborvitae vs. Green Giant: Color

Emerald green arborvitae

Emerald green arborvitaes are a much lighter green, which is a noticeably brighter color than the green giant.

©iStock.com/Aliaksandr Yarmashchuk

Although both trees are evergreen, they actually have distinctly different colors. Green giants are a rich, dark green that provides a perfect backdrop all year round. However, emerald green arborvitaes are a much lighter green which is a noticeably brighter color than the green giant. With their size and bright color, they are the perfect ornamental tree to brighten any garden all year round.

Emerald Green Arborvitae vs. Green Giant: Cold Tolerance

One of the most important differences between these two trees – especially if you’re choosing one for your yard or garden – is how well they tolerate the cold. Although both trees are hardy, emerald green arborvitaes can tolerate the cold much better than green giants. Emerald greens can survive in temperatures up to -40°F and are suited to living in zones 2 to 8.

Although green giants are also capable of surviving in snow and frost, they can only cope with temperatures up to -20°F and do best in zones 5 to 9. However, on the other hand, green giants can actually handle high temperatures better than emerald green arborvitaes can. Green giants can survive in the warmer southern regions of the United States, where emerald greens can’t.

Emerald Green Arborvitae vs. Green Giant: Growth Rate

Green Giant Arborvitae closeup

The green giant can achieve a growth rate of 3 feet per year until it reaches maturity.


The final difference between emerald green arborvitaes and green giants is how fast they grow. Emerald green arborvitae is a slow-growing tree that only achieves a maximum growth of 12 inches per year. However, the green giant is a much faster-growing tree and can achieve a growth rate of 3 feet per year until it reaches maturity.

How Far Apart Should Emerald Green Arborvitae Be?

When using Emerald Green Arborvitae as a privacy hedge, it’s commonly recommended to plant them about 3 feet apart from center to center. However, if you’re not creating a hedge and want it to grow with more space, a minimum spacing of 4 feet between trees is recommended.

Thus, it depends on your need, preference, or purpose.

These arborvitae trees, also known as ‘Smaragd’ owing to their Danish origins, have a distinct narrow pyramid shape.

Once their roots are grounded and established, they have rapid growth, adding 6 to 9 inches in height each year. When considering their width, they typically span three to four feet, so spacing them four feet apart from each other is ideal to allow them to flourish.

Furthermore, at maturity, they reach heights of 10 to 15 feet.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Mykola Sosiukin

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About the Author

Hannah is a writer at A-Z animals where her primary focus is on reptiles, marine life, mammals, and geography. Hannah has been writing and researching animals for four years alongside running her family farm. A resident of the UK, Hannah loves riding horses and creating short stories.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Do green giants make good shrubs?

Given their large size green giants are not suited as shrubs and in this case emerald green arborvitae would be a better choice, particularly as they do well in plant pots.

Are emerald green arborvitaes and green giants easy to grow and maintain?

Yes, so long as you select the correct tree for your zone then both trees are very easy to grow and require very little maintenance. However, depending on where you have it situated and how large you want it to become, green giant can require some trimming.

How much space should you allow when planting emerald green arborvitae and green giant?

As green giant is the bigger tree and grows with the bigger spread it obviously needs more space. When planting you should allow 2 to 3 feet between emerald green arborvitae trees and 3 to 5 feet between green giants.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

  1. North Carolina State, Available here: https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/thuja-green-giant/
  2. Fast Growing Trees, Available here: https://fast-growing-trees.com/pages/green-giants-emeralds
  3. Thuja Green Giant, Available here: https://thujagreengiant.net/green-giant-or-emerald-green-what-is-the-difference