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Container-grown nursery crops are commonly exposed to root zone stress due to inadequate moisture and supraoptimal root zone temperature (RZT). Compost substrates can improve water and nutrient retention but plant responses can vary due to physical and chemical properties. Dark color containers absorb solar radiation through the container side wall leading to excessive heat buildup in the substrate, yet white containers can reduce RZT. Compost substrates and container color were examined for effects on RZT and growth of “Green Giant” arborvitae (Thuja standishii × plicata “Green Giant”). “Green Giant” arborvitae were transplanted into white or black containers (11.3 L) filled with a pine bark substrate (PB) or PB mixed with compost (C) at two different proportions [PB:C (9:1) and PB:C (7:3)]. White containers reduced maximum RZT by up to 7 °C and RZT remained above 38 °C for only 3% of the time compared to 21% of the time in black containers. Shoot growth increased over 50% in white containers compared to black containers. Compost increased substrate volumetric water content (VWC), increased shoot growth by up to 24%, and reduced total irrigation volume by up to 40%. Utilizing white containers for minimizing RZT and compost-amended substrates to maintain adequate VWC can improve root and shoot growth and overall crop quality while reducing nursery production inputs.