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Beloved for their graceful, sweeping branches and beautifully irregular pyramid shapes, cedar trees add evergreen interest to the landscape. There are only three true cedar trees—deodar cedar, Atlas cedar, and cedar of Lebanon—all of which are native to the Middle and Far East. They feature dense clusters of evergreen needles and large, barrel-shape cones that stick up above the branches. Use these trees as specimen trees for large landscapes, or prune them to use as screens or privacy hedges. (False cedars—such as western and eastern red cedar belong to the cypress family. They resemble true cedars in that they have the same shape and aromatic wood.)
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Types of Cedar Trees
Deodar cedar (40 to 50 feet, but grows up to 150+ feet in its native habitat) is the most common cedar; it features a Christmas-tree shape, drooping branch tips, and dark blue-green needles that measure 1 to 2 inches long. Some cultivated varieties display yellow foliage and dwarf, creeping, or weeping habits. Native to the Himalayas, this tree is planted mainly in the southeastern, Gulf, and Pacific states.
Atlas cedar (40 to 60 feet tall) has a pointed, pyramidal crown that transitions into a flattened shape; short, pale blue-green or silvery needles; and relatively small cones. Its heavy, aromatic wood is used in cabinetmaking and construction back in its native home: the Atlas Mountains of northwestern Africa. This tree is planted in the eastern United States and Pacific region.
Cedar of Lebanon (40 to 50 feet) has a narrow, pointed crown that becomes irregular and broad with spreading horizontal branches. Over time it develops a massive trunk. Its blue-green needles are only about 1 inch long, but its cones reach 3 to 4 inches in length. This cedar produces fragrant wood used for lumber, furniture, and paneling in its native lands. It is planted mainly in the southeastern United States and the Pacific Coast. It is also hardy in the northeast.
Using Cedar in the Landscape
Cedar trees grow well in part shade or full sun and well-drained soil. They regularly prove tolerant of a variety of soil conditions—from fast-draining sandy soil to clay. These trees become drought tolerant after they establish deep root systems. In some regions they need to be planted in protected locations. Check with the nursery where you buy your plants.
Dwarf cultivars make excellent container plants and will thrive for many years in a large pot filled with quality potting soil. Plan to repot the small tree every three years or so to refresh the soil.
Plant a cedar tree outside in spring. Water it deeply and regularly during its first growing season to promote a strong root system. Blanket the root zone with a 2-inch-thick layer of mulch (don't let it touch the trunk) to help conserve soil moisture and prevent weeds. Cedar trees rarely require pruning; although you should trim away broken branches.
New Types of Cedar
Cedars are getting smaller. The 10- to 25-foot-tall trees suit suburban landscapes. Look for cultivars in shades of green, blue, and even yellow.