How to Grow: Cedar

Thuja occidentalis

Thuja, Forest, Garden, Red Dress, Park, Background

Other Name



Sun Requirements

full sun, part sun


Bloom Period and Seasonal Color

Grown for its evergreen foliage


Mature Height x Spread

12 to 15 feet x 3 to 5 feet


Added Benefits

native, drought tolerant


Cedar is native to New England and an all-purpose evergreen. You often see it grown as a foundation plant around houses, specimen in mixed shrub borders or hedge plants to block a view or define a boundary line. The species version doesn’t have the same dense foliage as the cultivated varieties. These are best grown into a hedge to provide a windbreak or screen. Cultivated varieties have more attractive foliage with a denser pattern and look best in more formal plantings near a house or in a shrub border. This low maintenance evergreen is hardy and tough, withstanding New England’s winter cold and winds, and can grow quickly to mature size. The foliage and wood is prized for that classic cedar scent.


When, Where and How to Plant

Purchase cedar shrubs at a local garden center and plant from spring to early fall in well-drained, fertile soil. Cedar grows best in slightly acidic, moist soil. Space plants 3 to 5 feet apart, depending on the type of cedar. Plant so the crown of the plant is a few inches above the soil line.


Growing Tips

Keep young plants well watered and weed free. Established plants are more drought tolerant. Mulch plants with bark mulch or wood chips to maintain even soil moisture conditions. Fertilize cedars in spring with compost.


Regional Advice and Care

Cedars can be pruned into geometric shapes or allowed to grow into their natural form. Most selections are naturally rounded, pyramidal or columnar. Prune once new growth appears in early summer and again in mid summer to keep them in bounds and looking tidy. If you prune overgrown cedars back into the old wood, it will take a number of years for it to regrow into its original form. Prune hedges so the bottom is wider than the top so the bottom branches will get enough sun and not die off over time. The biggest pest of cedars is deer. Protect young plants with deer repellent sprays or fencing.


Companion Planting and Design

Cedars are best used as a backdrop to other flowering shrubs, such as spirea, rhododendron and roses. You can also grow flowering vines, such as clematis, to twine into the evergreen foliage. Cedars make excellent hedges when planted in rows.


Try These

‘Emerald Green’ is a newer variety with a narrow, upright form and dark green foliage that holds its color well even in winter. ‘Little Gem;’ is a rounded version that only grows 3 feet tall and wide making it a good choice as a foundation plant under a window. ‘Rheingold’ is a 5 foot tall and wide, rounded cedar with unusual, orange-yellow colored foliage that deepens in color in winter. ‘Hetz Wintergreen’ is a tall pyramidal form that grows to 20 feet with dark green foliage. It’s more shade tolerant than other cedars.

Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.

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