Thuja vs. Leyland: Choosing the Perfect Privacy Tree

May 1, 2024
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If you’re on a quest to add a touch of greenery to your outdoor space, you’ve likely come across the age-old debate: Thuja vs. Leyland. These two evergreen tree varieties have captured the hearts of garden enthusiasts for their lush foliage, but they each have their unique qualities.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll break down the characteristics of Thuja and Leyland trees, compare their pros and cons, delve into their care and maintenance, and ultimately help you make an informed decision for your landscape.

Thujas and Leylands

What is Thuja?

Thuja, commonly known as arborvitae, is a group of evergreen trees and shrubs native to North America. These green giants are revered for their elegant, conical shape, which lends itself well to hedges and privacy screens. Thuja species are popular for those seeking a low-maintenance, year-round green presence in their gardens.

What is Leyland?

Leyland cypress, on the other hand, hails from a crossbreeding between two distinct cypress species, creating a hybrid tree that boasts rapid growth and a slender, columnar form. This British-born evergreen is a go-to option when homeowners crave a dense, tall backdrop for their landscape.

a beautiful green giant

The Pros and Cons

Thuja: The Green Giant


  • Privacy and Screening: Thuja’s dense, overlapping foliage makes it an excellent choice for creating privacy screens and windbreaks. It acts as a natural barrier, shielding your property from prying eyes and gusty winds.

  • Low Maintenance: These trees are relatively low-maintenance, requiring minimal pruning and attention once established. They can thrive in various soil conditions and are drought-tolerant once their root systems are well-established.

  • Year-round Greenery: Thuja’s evergreen nature ensures your garden remains vibrant and green throughout the year, even in the bleakest of winters.


  • Size Constraints: Some Thuja species can grow quite large, which may not be suitable for smaller yards. It’s essential to choose the right variety that fits your space.

  • Vulnerability to Pests: While generally hardy, Thuja trees can be susceptible to certain pests and diseases, such as bagworms and spider mites.

Leyland: The Cypress Champion


  • Rapid Growth: Leyland cypress is renowned for its fast growth, making it an ideal choice if you want a quick, tall privacy screen or windbreak.

  • Narrow Profile: The tree’s slender, columnar shape allows it to fit into tight spaces, making it an excellent option for urban gardens with limited room.

  • Versatility: Leyland cypress is adaptable to various soil types and can tolerate both sunny and partially shaded areas.


  • Disease Susceptibility: While Leyland cypress is robust in many ways, it is prone to certain diseases like canker and root rot, which can be challenging to manage once established.

  • Root System: The aggressive root system of Leyland cypress can pose problems if planted too close to structures or other trees, as it may compete for resources.

Size and Appearance

When it comes to size and appearance, Thuja and Leyland trees offer distinct visual profiles:


  • Size: Depending on the species, Thuja can range from small shrubs to towering giants. Some varieties can reach up to 60 feet in height, while others stay more compact.

  • Appearance: Thuja trees are characterized by their dense, layered foliage. They feature scale-like leaves that create a rich green texture, perfect for adding depth to your landscape.


  • Size: Leyland cypress is known for its rapid growth, and it can soar to impressive heights of 60 to 70 feet or even more. Its narrow profile is a hallmark feature.

  • Appearance: The Leyland cypress has feathery, needle-like foliage that forms a lush, vibrant green screen. Its uniform appearance makes it an attractive choice for those seeking a consistent look in their garden.

Hardiness and Care


  • Hardiness: Thuja is generally hardy and can withstand cold winters. It’s well-suited for northern climates where extreme temperatures are common.

  • Care and Maintenance: These trees require regular watering during their initial establishment period. Once mature, they can tolerate drought conditions. Pruning should be minimal, focusing on dead or damaged branches.


  • Hardiness: Leyland cypress is also hardy but tends to perform better in milder climates. It can be susceptible to cold damage in harsh winters.

  • Care and Maintenance: Adequate watering during the first few years is essential for Leyland cypress. Pruning should be done to maintain its desired shape and reduce the risk of disease.

Health and Vigor

Both Thuja and Leyland trees can thrive when properly cared for, but they do have their unique health considerations:


  • Vigor: Thuja is known for its longevity, with some trees living for several decades. They are generally disease-resistant but can be vulnerable to pests in certain conditions.


  • Vigor: Leyland cypress has a robust growth rate, but it can be more susceptible to diseases like canker and root rot, which can affect its overall health and vigor.

Quick Comparison Overview

To help you make a swift decision, here’s a quick side-by-side comparison of Thuja and Leyland cypress:


Leyland Cypress


Variable, up to 60+ feet

Tall, up to 70+ feet


Dense, layered foliage

Feathery, needle-like foliage


Hardy, suitable for cold areas

Hardy but prefers milder zones

Care and Maintenance

Low maintenance, minimal pruning

Moderate maintenance, regular pruning


Generally disease-resistant

Susceptible to certain diseases

Making Your Decision

In the Thuja vs. Leyland showdown, the choice ultimately depends on your specific needs and the conditions in your garden. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Space: If you have a smaller garden, Thuja’s range of sizes may offer a better fit. Conversely, Leyland cypress’s rapid growth may be preferable for larger landscapes.

  • Climate: Consider your local climate. Thuja is more adaptable to colder regions, while Leyland cypress thrives in milder zones.

  • Privacy: Are you primarily planting for privacy or aesthetics? Thuja’s dense foliage makes it an excellent privacy screen, while Leyland cypress offers rapid height for quick results.

  • Maintenance: How much time are you willing to invest in maintenance? Thuja requires less pruning, making it a low-maintenance option. Leyland cypress needs regular upkeep to maintain its shape and health.

  • Disease Tolerance: If you’re concerned about disease, research the prevalent tree diseases in your area. Both trees have their vulnerabilities, so local conditions matter.

In the end, there’s no definitive winner in the Thuja vs. Leyland debate. It all comes down to your specific circumstances and preferences.


Thuja and Leyland cypress are both remarkable evergreen trees that can elevate the beauty and functionality of your landscape. Each has its unique set of advantages and drawbacks, making them suitable for various gardening situations.

If you prioritize year-round greenery, low maintenance, and disease resistance, Thuja may be your ideal choice. On the other hand, if you need a rapid privacy screen in a larger garden and don’t mind regular pruning, Leyland cypress could be the way to go.

In the end, your decision should align with your space, climate, and how much effort you’re willing to invest in maintenance. Whichever you choose, both Thuja and Leyland cypress have the potential to transform your outdoor space into a lush, green haven. Being mindful about where you plant them in relation to AC units (which may then require repairs from an Atlanta HVAC specialist) or waterlines will save you headaches.

So, before you plant, take the time to assess your needs and carefully consider the pros and cons of each tree. Your landscape will thank you for it, and you’ll enjoy the benefits of your thoughtful decision for years to come.