beloved conifers: weeping alaska cedar

weeping-alaska-cedarAS MANY BEGINNERS DO, I CREATED MY GARDEN BACKWARDS: planting herbaceous things first and trees and shrubs later, when their different time to maturity would have made the opposite strategy smarter. Worst of all, I forgot conifers almost entirely in those first years.

I’ve stayed put long enough to outgrow my early mishaps, and have some favorite evergreens to share including the weeping Alaska cedar, which I have always known as Chamaecyparis nootkatensis ‘Pendula’ (above, in my far borders to the west of the house). Lately it has been placed in a new genus, Xanthocyparis, but my old habits die hard.

Two weeping Alaska cedars grow here now, the first a 40th birthday present from my garden mentor; the other (above) a few years younger. Each one is about 25 feet. Though they are said to reach 60 or even 90 feet in the wild (Alaska to Oregon), half that is the expectation in cultivation. A mature tree in the garden will be about 12 feet or even a bit more across at the base, so don’t put them up against the house. Each individual is distinctively shaped–some fuller, some more wispy in demeanor.

A Zone 4-7 or 8 creature, the weeping Alaska cedar is happy here because I have the good soil moisture that it craves–well-drained, but never dry–and I can grow it in sun or part shade. It has become somewhat popular (though not commonplace) in the Northeast in recent years. In the warmer end of its hardiness, I suspect relief from mid-day summer sun and careful attention to moisture will be appreciated, but for me these have been carefree plants.

weeping-alaska-cdear-detailSpeaking of moisture: What distinguishes Chamaecyparis nootkatensis ‘Pendula’ from other conifers is that it seems to drip.  Despite a vertical trunk, its pendulous branches are made even further fluid-seeming by the way the rich green foliage positively hangs from them (above).

There isn’t a time of year when I don’t love this conifer…well, perhaps just on my mowing days each week in summer, when its shaggy, built-in tree skirt requires special treatment to get around and up under. Not much of it to ask, really, for such persistent, year-round grace.

Growing tip: Don’t panic if inner (oldest) foliage shows some browning. Though we commonly call them “evergreens,” conifers lighten their load of old needles in late summer and fall to varying degrees depending on the species, with a show of yellowing or browning that can scare a gardener at first. Like this.

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  1. Fred green says:

    Hello, it is late June here in southern NJ.
    I have a weeping Alaskan cedar as my focal point in the front yard. It has been planted for close to 3 years.
    I am noticing some heavy yellowing on the branches this year. Large amounts of yellow needles are in the mulch below the tree. The tips of the branches are a bright green color with new small green berries.
    Any idea why my tree is turning yellow?

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Fred. How much of the interior of the branches is browning? Conifers shed their oldest (inner) needles/foliage every one to several years, depending on the variety, but it really is a matter of how much as to whether to fret or not. Here’s what I have written about this before. If the brown is from the tips backward, that’s bad news. Inside out, can be normal — unless it’s extreme.

  2. Brentleigh Church says:

    I have just moved an Alaska weeping conifer to another site, it stands about 2 meters tall and is in lovely shape we saved most of the root ball (about a meter across) but lost several long root runners, it is mid winter here in Victoria Australia so there is no immediate stress but is there anything you can suggest I could do to help it, we do love this beautiful tree! I have staked it well and it is well secured in the ground, actually for being there 2-3 weeks it look amazingly well.
    I look forward it hearing from you.
    Kind regards

  3. Gerard says:

    My weeping Alaskan spruce has turned all brown. I live in North Jersey and did not have a very bad winter but did have very hot July in the upper 90s for two weeks strait. It is also becoming sparse. The tree is 9 years old and I never had this happen before. My local nursery told me it is spider mites and gave me a spray to use. It has been about a week since I sprayed it but no noticeable change. It is my favorite tree and I am worried the tree is going to die.
    What can I do?

  4. Lou says:

    My Alaskan weeping cedar is about 12 years old. I live in New Jersey,USA. It is over 20 feet tall and was doing fine until recently. Starting from the top, it seems the branches are turning a rust color mostly on the sunny side of the tree, from the inside out. I have noticed there are brownish sacks at the end of some branches with a slimy green wormlike-shaped thing inside. I have no idea what that may be. I’m not even sure if it is an animal.

  5. Chris says:

    I just saw these trees at the Niagara Falls area and fell in love. I live in Iowa and can’t seem to find any to purchase. Any ideas?

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Chris. Have you asked the best local nursery (whichever has the best selection of woody plants, I mean) to order it for you? That’s how I often get the best things — by asking that they include one on the next wholesale truck they have coming. Getting one mail order, it will be so small…

  6. yvonne conners says:

    Hi! 2 yrs ago we had our yard landscaped, they asked us what we like and went with it. I LOVE my weeping cedars, but they planted 3 about 3-5 feet apart and only 3-10 ft away from the house! i was looking to see if and how to prune them but i see from other sites it shouldn’t be done. are there dwarf weeping cedars?even after the few years should I question their, planting and make them move 2 of them?

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Yvonne. I think you need to move them (2 of the three probably). No way they can grow up so closely spaced, and it will be torture to have to cut two down in a few more years. There are other cedars that are tighter configuration but not the basic weeping Alaska.

    2. Jane Adler says:

      I too have an Alaskan Weeping Cedar that was professionally planted 8/2016. It seems to have survived the unusually warm northern Michigan winter. Branches cling close to the base for about 2 feet then branches out with about 3 ft. branches……then narrows for the remainder to the top. I have very sandy soil and in the fall of 2016 I fertilized with “Dairy Do”.
      I would prefer for the tree not exceed 8-9 feet and not exceed 4-5 in width. When and how do I prune this tree?

      1. margaret says:

        In theory, you can pinch back all the new growth from every tip every year when it expands, I suppose, once the tree reaches the desired size…but this tree doesn’t want to be “pruned” as in harder into the wood or I think it will lose its graceful shape — the main reason to grow it. And here’s the thing: Though I am saying I suppose you could try that (and it’s no small task each year by the way to “pinch” a big conifer) I don’t think a tree that wants to be 30 or 40 feet tall in a garden and more than 10 feet wide at the base can be kept to the dimensions you suggest. Maybe move it and choose something that’s more the right size for the spot?

  7. pam bonovitch says:

    Hi Margaret. My Alaska weeping cedar is over 10 yrs old and planted at the front corner of my house. I’m wondering if it can be limbed up and look ok?

    1. margaret says:

      Oh, Pam, hard to say without seeing. You know, I have seen conifers turned into dramatic big “topiaries” that are awful and some that worked fine. This tree’s charm is its graceful habit and wider-at-the-bottom shape — so I don’t think without its skirt it will be very nice to look at. But I could be wrong.

      1. pam bonovitch says:

        Thanks Margaret for your input. I really appreciate your prompt reply! I think you are right about the skirt, so no limbing up for my tree!

  8. Terry says:

    I have two weeping cedars that appear to have some severe damage from the harsh winter this year in Wisconsin. A lot of brown “burned” limbs. Are the trees likely doomed at this point ? I sprayed them with Wilt-Pruf in the fall as I have the last four years. What could I have done different to protect them ?


  9. Shawn Gabauer says:

    I have an Alaskan Weeping Cedar that is about 4 years old. We love this tree. Has been doing well until this spring we noticed it was turning a golden yellow color on the outside. The inside still seems to be ok and nice and green. I was curious if putting a deer repellent spray on would have caused this discoloration or should I worry about our tree dying. If the case is due to the spray, I will change my regimen if the tree would be ok. I would submit a picture of inside and outside if I could. Any help is appreciated.
    Thank You

  10. Michael Dupont says:

    I have had my Weeping Alaskan Blue Cedar planted for 3 years now. It’s about 10 – 12 feet tall. Last year, I noted the browning and falling from the inside and was assured by an arborist from the nursery from where I purchased it that this was natural and normal. This year I’m noting the same thing, only more so. As a result, it’s looking more sparse. In addition, this year I’ve noticed many little ‘green balls’ at the tips of branches. Are these the makings of seeds? Could this be where the energy and nutrients are going. Is this a natural process? If not, is there anything I should do. Naturally I want to do anything in my power to save this beauty.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Michael. Those are the green females cones, I suspect (though tiny compared to cones we think of on a pine tree, for instance). It is normal for inner needles to shed, but if the plant is too shaded that can be even more than normal, and result in a too-loose or even sparse effect. Is the plant in a spot where it gets sun?

  11. amy says:

    I am getting a 6-7 foot Alaskan weeping cedar! I won it as a raffle prize and am so happy because I have wanted one for so long! I have a question about how far from my foundation should it be? How close can it bevplanted safely? I have a long yard but it is not long from the foundation to the road! Some sites have said 14 feet from the foundation. I think that will put me at the city line. Help!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Amy. Remember that a mature tree will be 15 or more feet wide at the base when full grown…so I’d say at least 10 feet from the foundation, yes.

  12. Karen says:

    I have two beautiful Weeping Alaskan Cedar trees and I am concerned about sap oozing from the trunk. I live in Northern Idaho. The trees look healthy but I want to make sure they stay that way because they are large and my favorite trees! I’m hoping sap is usual but if not I’d like to attack the problem right away. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Karen. I can’t see it from here, of course, but close examination of the affected areas is important, to see if there is any evidence of a pest making holes (that allow the sap to flow), such as bark beetles. More on them. Disclaimer: Pests and diseases are often regionally specific, and I am in the Northeast. I don’t know what pests you have there…so I’d be inclined if I were you to examine closely at the source of each flow of sap, take photos, and call or email your Cooperative Extension or an excellent local nursery that specializes in woody plants. Start here for that.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Nancy. It’s a native of a cold-winter zone, maybe appropriate for Zones 4-7 or 8 at warmest.So not for Florida.

  13. Georgia Cinq-Mars says:

    Oh my goodness, the first sentence of the article made me laugh out loud! My front Native Wildlife Garden was designed by a Master Gardener the trees went in first. You would think I would have learned, right? Nope, I am figuring the back gardens out on my own and the trees have been going in intermittently and I forgot about conifers!

    The strange part is that I love trees and would love to have a woodland garden with trees, shrubs and shade plants but because of their size I am afraid of making a mistake and needing to remove one. On the other hand, I am in my sixties, the mistakes will be someone else’s problem!

  14. Debbie says:

    We have 3 Alaskan weeping cedars for about 5 years now and they are not growing very much. Can you tell me why? Neighbor up the road has some and there huge.

  15. Steve Osman says:

    Hello everyone, is it OK to trim the bottom limps of weeping Alaskan cedar tree that are touching the ground ?. the tree is almost 10 years old and I live in southern Ontario Canada. Cheers.

    1. margaret says:

      I think it’s fine to prune off the lowest tier if need be for management (like to mow around the tree perhaps?).

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