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Past Articles Library | Trees | Growing and Caring for the Versatile Cedar

A cedar tree is a very versatile tree.  It can tolerate drought. Is heat resistant along with enduring strong winds, and loves to be in full sun.  But before you make a trip to your local nursery, you need to know what your options are when it comes to cedar trees.

Below are five common types of cedar trees that easily found at your local nursery.

Blue Atlas Cedar (Cedas atlantica)

The Blue Atlas Cedar is hardy in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 6 through 9.  In the wild, the mature size of this tree can be between 60 to 100 feet but under domestication the mature size is 60 feet with a spread of 30 to 40 feet.  This pyramid-shaped cedar grows very fast in the first 20 years and then tapers off.

Deodar Cedar (Cedrus deodara)

This variety of cedar has the longest needles of any of the species, which can be as long as 2 inches.  It is hardy in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 7 through 9a.  It reaches a mature size of 50 to 70 feet in height with a 20 to 30 foot spread.  While this tree does have a pyramid shape, the top of the pyramid is flat.  If you choose to use this plant, keep in mind that it is very sensitive to air pollination and should not be planted near busy streets. 

Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens)

This cedar is really not a cedar but is viewed as part of the cedar group due to the smell of the foliage.  It survives in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5 through 8.  In the wild, this tree can reach 100 feet but in a landscaped area the mature size is between 50 and 60 feet.  This cone-shaped tree makes a perfect hedge plant when the trees are planted close together since they have 50 foot spread. 

Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata)

Western Red Cedar is known by many names, which includes shinglewood, pacific red cedar, and canoe cedar.  In the wild, it can reach 200 feet in height but domesticated varieties reach 50 to 60 feet.  It can be grown in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5 through 9.  What makes this tree so beautiful is its winter interest, which includes bronze colored foliage, bluish-gray berries, and reddish brown bark.

Northern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis)

This tree grows to 45 feet in height and spreads 15 feet.  It has a pyramidal shape along with fragrant foliage that looks wonderful as a hedge.  Northern White Cedar grows best in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3 through 8.

The versatility of this plant goes beyond the type and environmental conditions but also include uses.  This includes planting the tree as a specimen, which is commonly done with the Blue Atlas Cedar.  These trees can also be used as living Christmas trees since they have that traditional shape.  They can also be turned into a living privacy fence that can either be stationary, if planted in the ground, or mobile.  The mobile version is created when cedar plants are planted in containers.  When using cedars as container plants, make sure that the pots have drainage holes.

But if you are looking for a unique way of using cedar trees, consider making a living garden arch with cedars.  The process involved in this project is easy.  To create the arch shape, you will need two cedars of the same variety.  Using a tape measure, mark off 9 feet and dig a hole at each end of the line.  The hole will need to be twice as wide as the container that the tree was in but no deeper.  Once the hole has been dug, cut away the pot and loosen up the roots or tease.  If you have a clay type of soil, scratch the sides of the hole with a rake.  This will prevent the clay from glazing over and restricting the roots. 

Once the hole has been prepared and the tree has been removed from its container, place in the hole and fill in.  To force any air bubbles out of the soil, water in the tree and add additional soil as needed.  Repeat this process with the other tree.

Next, place a 2 inch wide piece of bamboo stake that is at least 2 inches taller than the tree 18 inches or closer to the trunk of the tree.  Repeat with the other cedar.  Tie the tree to the stake at 2 foot intervals using garden twine or tape.  When doing this step, make sure that the twine is not too tight.  If the twine is too tight, the tree’s growth will be restricted.

Prune the trees so that there are no branches in a 7 foot span between the trees.  To do this, do not cut the whole branch off but instead just trim the end.  Since these branches will not grow back at the terminal end, you will only have to do this once.  But this type of pruning goes beyond just cutting the branch.  To make a healthy cut that does not look shabby, make all the cuts at a 45 degree angle and at a lateral branch.

Once the trees reach 12 feet in height, tie the tops of these trees together using garden twine or tape.  Tie any additional branches together as needed.  To improve the shape of the arch, prune as necessary to keep the shape but allow the top and sides of the trees grow naturally.

To keep your cedar arch looking its best, make sure to water the cedars deeply so that they receive at least 12 inches of moisture during the spring and summer months.  Do not just lay down a watering hose and soak the ground instead water these trees through a dripline.  Also add a layer of well-seasoned compost around the trees in the spring.  When fertilizing this way, make sure that the compost is 3 inches away from the trunk of each tree. 

As your arch continues to grow, you will need to replace the bamboo stakes as the trees grow in height.  This will provide needed support for each tree.  If you cannot get the old stake out, do not worry.  A new stake can just be place in the ground alongside the old stake but do not forget to tie it to the tree every 2 feet.  

If you are looking to grow your own hyperlocal cedars, read Growing and Caring for the Versatile Cedar Part II.

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