Plant of the Week
Latin: Cedrus deodara
We gardeners always want to push the envelope -- to grow things where they just don’t
want to or won’t grow. Of the three species of true cedars, native from north Africa
to the Middle East and east to the Himalayan region, we naturally want to grow the
least hardy of these, the Deodara Cedar. This lovely conical evergreen tree grows
to 60 feet tall in about 50 years. But with great age, its lowest limbs will develop
into upward growing branches that can make the plant wider than it is tall.
The Deodara, a native Indian name for the tree, is indigenous from northern India, into Afghanistan and east to Nepal. The true cedars do not make it over the Himalayan Mountains or across the deserts of central Asia into China. In this country we call the Juniperus virginiana the "cedar" tree, no doubt in reverence for the cedar of the Bible which is Cedrus libani, the Cedar of Lebanon. Deodara cedar was introduced into cultivation in England in 1831, probably arriving in the US by 1850 during the new plant frenzy that occurred about that time. Unlike the stiff branches and short, stout needles of the other cedars, the Deodara Cedar has more delicate branches, the tips of which are usually drooping downward. The needles are a light green to gray-green in color to an inch and a half long and needle-like.
Seed-grown Deodara cedars are only hardy as far north as zone 7, which means the tree will grow in all of Arkansas except the Ozark Plateau region and the highest parts of the Ouachita Mountains. Winter hardy forms of the tree have been collected with ‘Shalimar’--a selection made in the Kashmiri region of India in 1963--probably the most cold resistant. A similar selection called ‘Kashmir’ is also said to be cold hardy but is probably not as hardy as the first-mentioned selection. Though I have not grown these selections, they should be hardy to -5 to -10%F, making them suitable for planting in the coldest parts of the state.
Deodara cedar is a finicky tree to grow. Like most conifers it requires excellent drainage to prosper. But unlike many other members of the pine family, to which the true cedars belong, Deodara cedar should have a good, fertile soil. In a good soil it will be fast growing while young, often making two feet of growth a year. Be careful when locating a planting site for this tree. Give it room. It is best used as a specimen tree where the attributes of such a big tree can be shown to its full potential. This is definitely not a plant for the foundation planting, as you sometimes see it used.
The tree is not without its problems. Sometimes it just dies. Usually the cause of outright death can be traced back to root rot caused by planting in an insufficiently drained soil. The other cause for sudden loss of the plant is often cold winters. Young trees are more susceptible to cold than more established trees, but a very sudden temperature drop such as we had in the Halloween freeze of 1994, can cause severe damage to even older trees. The death of the tops of trees can usually be traced back to freeze injury.
By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals
Extension News - November 5, 1999
The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.