How to Grow Cedars


hedging cedars

Hedging cedars are the most commonly planted tree in the Pacific Northwest. Any drive through a typical neighborhood will reveal hundreds, if not thousands of these tough, versatile, evergreen conifers. Their popularity is derived from their low cost, toughness and relatively low maintenance - not to mention their ability to form an attractive,  thick green wall, hedge or screen.

Types of Cedars (Arborvitae)

While there are hundreds of species and varieties of cedars, 3 are most commonly available as hedging. These are Smargd Cedars, Pyramidalis Cedars and Excelsa Cedars.


smargd cedar

Smargd Cedars / Emerald Cedars
Thuja occidentalis 'Smargd' / Thuja occidentalis 'Emerald'
This evergreen conifer is the most commonly available variety of hedging cedar.

If you're wondering why it has two names, it's because 'Smargd' means 'Emerald' in Danish. The two names are actually saying the same thing in two different languages. Smargd cedars form a relatively narrow upright column filled with dense foliage. Foliage is comprised of soft, emerald-green, scale-like leaves held in horizontal sprays.

Part of its popularity is that this plant keeps its beautiful green colour all year round. Other cedar varieties can change hues or even turn somewhat brown during the cold winter months until they recover in the spring. Small urn shaped cones mature to reddish-brown colour in Fall, while its bark is furrowed and also reddish-brown in colour.

Smargd cedars are the premium hedging plant. For best results, plant them with 24-36 inches between trunks. While low cost cedars are available, we strongly advise against buying the cheaper 'pot dug' plants.

pyramidalis cedar

Pyramidalis Cedars
Thuja occidentalis 'Pyramidalis'
Pyramidalis is the second most popular of the hedging cedars. To the untrained eye, it is hard to distinguish the difference between it and 'Smargd'.

The tell tale sign is in the winter. Pyramidalis is more winter hardy and a better plant for windy or cold locations. It also will turn a slightly different shade of green during the cool months. Otherwise, Pyramidalis is similar in growth and shape to 'Smargd' and can be grown and cared for in the same way.

'Pyramidalis' is also sometimes sold as 'Brandon'. For practical purposes, these two plants are virtually interchangeable.

excelsa cedar

Excelsa Cedar
Thuja plicata ' Excelsa'
'Excelsa' is a cousin of the native western red cedars and is the best choice when you need a tall, large hedge or a you are after a natural looking evergreen screen. 'Excelsa' forms a tall large plant with well spaced branches. While it is not as dense or as bushy as 'Smargd', it will eventually form a solid green wall if pruned well.

Excelsa cedars are fast growing and also have scale-like, deep green, glossy foliage that is fragrant when crushed or bruised. It is known to turn bronze-green in the winter.

It tolerates shearing and pruning well. When forming a hedge, give each plant more space than you would 'Smargd' or 'Pyramidalis'. 3-4 ft between trunks is ideal, but you can plant closer if you want a faster forming hedge.

Exposure / Light:

All cedars should be planted in the full sun. This would be a location that receives 6-8 hours of bright sunlight a day

Moisture / Soil:

Cedars prefer a moist, organic, rich, well drained soil. They dislike both dry, sandy soils as well as excessibely moist clay soils. Water these plants deeply but less often ( especially during the summer or for new plantings).

Adding a yearly application of fresh mulch is beneficial. This moderates root temperate and reduces the likelyhood of weeds. Keep mulch at least 2-3 inches away from the trunks of the trees.


New planting areas should be augmented with a handful of bonemeal into each hole. Transplant fertilizer is also beneficial. After the first year, feed your hedging cedars with Arts GardenPro Evergreen fertilizer in early spring. A balanced fertilizer will also work because you want to encourage both green growth and root development. Do not fertilize after August.

Pruning Cedars

Like most conifers, cedars benefit from light, more frequent pruning. For optimal results, prune only the new soft green growth, 2-3 times per year to form a nice tight green hedge.

If you have to prune hard, be aware that cedars rarely regrow from the old brown wood. Your only hope for a neglected plant is to hope the surrounding foliage eventually covers over the bare patches.If you want quick results, you may be better off planting new cedars as opposed to waiting for the old ones to recover from a hard prune.

When pruning, remember that areas that receive light stay green, and areas that don't turn brown. As a result, prune so that the top of your hedge is slightly narrower than the bottom. This will ensure that as large of an area as possible gets sunlight.

Planting a Cedar Hedge

When using cedars as a hedge, space each plant 2-3ft apart (from the trunks). Add an extra foot between plants for 'Excelsa'. Dig the holes for your plants. Make sure the planting hole is at least twice the width of the rootballs and the same depth, or slightly shallower.  If you are planting a bunch, it may be easier to dig a trench as opposed to individual planting holes.

Check your drainage by filling the holes with water. In areas of good drainage, the water should dissipate fairly quickly. If it does not, you may have a drainage problem. In that case, either amend the planting area or consider planting in a mound instead.

Amend the planting holes with bonemeal and position the cedars into their correct location. Cut away any wire or string, but leave burlap on (if present). Backfill the holes with soil.

Pat it down and water deeply and thoroughly. The best way to describe 'thoroughly' is with a garden hose for 30-60 seconds per plant.

Ordering / Buying Cedars:

Art's Nursery always keeps cedars in stock for your planting convenience. We can also accomodate large or wholesale quantities by special order. Please let us know how many hedging cedars you need for your next project and will make sure you get the best quality plants at great prices. We strive to carry only the best quality, healthiest plants as there are many vendors / growers selling sub-standard or poorly grown plants. Cedars are a classic case of 'you get what you pay for'.

For More Information:

Art's Nursery carries a large variety of all these hedging cedars year round.  If you need more information about hedging cedars, please visit us at Art's Nursery or give us a call at 604.882.1201.



Author: Arts Nursery Ltd. Source: Arts Nursery Ltd.
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