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How To Protect Cedar Trees in Winter

February 17, 2021
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The hardy cedar is a popular and attractive evergreen for home landscapes.

The best part: These trees are fairly easy to grow and maintain.

But winter is a harsh season for quite a few trees, cedars included. Knowing how to care for cedar trees during these colder, brisk months can extend the lives of your precious evergreens so they can continue to boost your property value and you can keep enjoying them without worry.

How to Care for Cedar Trees in Winter

Evergreens like cedars add so much color and beauty to the winter landscape.

There are some main types of cedars across the country, and each one has some different likes and dislikes when it comes to how to care for cedar trees.

Here are a few of our favorites from coast to coast:

  • Atlantic white cedar - This bluish-green cedar grows all along the eastern U.S. coastal states, reaching 40 to 60 feet high and 10 to 20 feet wide. It requires moist, well-drained soil and is fairly drought tolerant. Loving six or more hours of sun daily, it grows best in zones 4 through 7. It is a favorite of songbirds and white-tailed deer.
  • Alaska cedar - This Northwest tree has a soft, wispy texture and a blue-green cast, growing in zones 4 through 7. Keep this pyramidal-shaped tree mulched with a 2- to 3-inch layer of shredded hardwood. Though cold-hardy, this cedar doesn’t do well in high-wind areas. Harsh winter winds can cause needle or branch desiccation and even possible die-back.
  • Deodar cedar - People adore this evergreen conifer for its weeping habit and growth up to 40 to 50 feet tall and 20 to 30 feet wide. You can find this one in North and South Carolina, as well as Georgia, in zones 7 through 11. These trees like dry, sunny spots, slightly acidic pH and clay soils, as well as some dry conditions, but they do not like wet feet. Fertilize annually and only prune away dead, damaged, or diseased branches or those necessary for clearance before new growth begins in the spring. They are considered a great cedar for the South.
  • Eastern red cedar - These cold-hardy evergreens are great for many areas of the landscape across the U.S. from zones 3 through 9. They are native to North America and quite salt tolerant, coming in varied sizes from shrubs to large trees. They prefer well-drained soil and six hours or more of sun daily. With prickly, silver-blue foliage during the growing season to bronzy-green in winter. The blueberry-like balls filled with seeds that persist over the winter on female trees are a favorite for many birds and wildlife. These cedars make excellent windbreak trees. Freeze damage can occur when needles become desiccated from wind and winter sun when they aren’t able to replenish moisture due to frozen soil conditions.
  • Incense cedar - This attractive landscape tree with flat, shiny, dark green, aromatic needles is great for large areas and formal landscape beds in zones 5 through 8 and states like California, Nevada, and Oregon. They can grow to 30 feet or more in height and 15 to 30 feet wide. Growing in full sun to partial shade, these trees can be extremely long-lived. Once established, they are quite drought tolerant, persisting with dry to medium soil moisture.
  • Port Orford cedar - Found mostly in Oregon and northwestern California, this tree enjoys areas with warm, dry summers and cool, wet winters, as well as abundant soil moisture. Preferring slightly acidic soil or sandy and clay loams and rocky ridges, you don’t want to plant this tree outside of its natural range where it is more susceptible to disease or freezing. Prune only dead branches in winter when wood-boring insects are less active.
  • Western red cedar - Attractive and mostly trouble-free, these cedars can be great additions to your western U.S. landscape. Water these cedars at least weekly during their first growing season. In sandy soils or hot, windy conditions, you may have to more frequently water them. Spread 2 to 4 inches of wood chip mulch under the tree to conserve moisture and keep weed growth down. Pruning involves removing dead or diseased branches.

How Much Water Do Cedar Trees Need?

Caring for most trees, including cedars, starts with a nice layer of mulch. A 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch at the base of cedar trees can help protect shallow roots, reduce the depth of frost in the soil, retain soil moisture, and ensure they can take up some water through the more frigid months.

How to water cedar trees depends on the type of tree you have and your region of the country. A professional arborist can advise you of proper watering for your specific cedar tree.

How often to water new cedar trees is another story. Young or newly planted trees tend to be more susceptible to drought injury -- even during winter. So watering them is a bit more important until they are established and hardier.

How to Protect Cedar Trees in Winter

Winter doesn’t just bring cold temperatures; it also brings snow and ice … and sometimes lots of it.

As winter precipitation accumulates, it gets heavy. This weight can put a lot of pressure and strain on cedar tree branches, causing breakage and possibly misshaping the tree.

Many times, cedar trees can’t recover from these conditions come springtime. This is particularly true for younger trees. This is why protecting cedar trees in winter is important so they continue to add eye-pleasing greenery to your yard.

When to Wrap Cedar Trees for Winter

While cedar trees can handle winter weather, there are a few things you can do to help them along.

To protect trees from damage caused by snow and ice, wrapping cedars in burlap is a good idea for some cedar types. This is especially important on the sides of trees facing the most wind and sun exposure, meaning they’ll be hit hardest by winter storms.

Wrapping some burlap or plant-safe netting around stakes placed close to the tree keeps the branches close together so that heavy snowfall or ice accumulation can’t bend them too extremely. You can also loosely wrap the tree itself.

Wait until snow has arrived in your area and is regularly sticking to the ground before wrapping your trees. Remember, never wrap a tree or tie any material too tightly around branches or trunks or you risk harming or girdling the tree.

When to Unwrap Cedar Trees

While wrapping cedars in burlap can help protect branches from breakage, removing the wrap promptly when the time is right is very important.

Usually, detaching burlap when the winter frost and freezing temperatures are approximately 80 percent over is a good idea. Think roughly November until April as a good timeframe for tree wrap, depending on your region and tree type.

Why Cedar Tree Branches are Turning Brown

Some cedar tree needles will turn brown and fall from the tree every year. This is a typical needle shedding process your tree goes through.

However, any extreme condition -- think drought, heat, cold snaps, insect infestations, root rot, etc. -- can put your tree under stress and exacerbate the problem and explain why cedar tree branches are turning brown.

But how can you tell if your brown, yellow, or orange cedar tree is dying?

Cedar trees will shed some of their older, less efficient needles every autumn. Prior to shedding, they will change color from healthy green to yellow, orange, and even brown, depending on the species. New growth will replace these needles the next spring. Your tree may lose a bit more needles one season over another. This is normal.

But if whole trees or entire sections of trees have needles changing color, particularly at a time of year that isn’t typical -- spring or summer, for instance -- this could be cause for concern. Keeping an eye on the situation and consulting an arborist if you’re concerned is how to save a dying cedar tree.

WORRIED THAT YOUR CEDAR TREE IS IN BAD SHAPE? CONTACT YOUR LOCAL ARBORIST FOR A FREE TREE INSPECTION.

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