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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. Elaine says:

    I recently discovered the Weeping Alaskan Cedar at a local nursery. It took my breathe away and I purchased it on the spot My tree is about 8′ tall (6′ wide) and the soil is well drained. Was given instructions for planting, but not sure how much water per day is enough. It seems to be looking a little weepier in the week it’s been home.
    Do you happen to have a video course on these trees? I love this tree and want to treat it right!
    Thanks-
    Elaine

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Elaine. No video at the moment, but here’s the thing about watering: Think about the size of the root ball that was on that plant, and how much water it would take to moisten all of it…not just the surface. A lot, and you can’t apply it fast; it takes time to trickle in and down deep.

      You want to soak it very slowly (so the water doesn’t run off) and all around the roots. This would be easiest with an inexpensive piece of “leaky pipe” soaker hose snaked around the root area on the soil surface (and probably “pinned” down with soil staples (the U-shaped metal pins you can buy to hold landscape fabric down, or can fashion out of clothes hangers or other heavy wire); it would take hours to soak the area thoroughly with this slow method of application. You could also use a “rose” (the hose-end device that’s often on those watering wands, not unlike the end of a watering can), run the water on slow, and lay the wand on the ground and move the nozzle around on the root zone every hour or so till the whole mass is well-watered.

  2. cindy says:

    Two weeks ago I purchased two weeping alaskian chedar trees. We have had off and on rainy days since I purchased the trees. Getting water hasn’t been a problem. I recently have noticed the color in the leaves have lightened up and the limbs appear to weeping more than when I bought the trees. Can you give me your advise what is happening? I live in Virginia.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Cindy. For woody plants to wilt and perhaps even discolor so quickly sounds like some other transplant-shock symptom, perhaps a water issue. Even if it has been raining, did you thoroughly water the plants, soaking the entire root system deeply, after planting? Rain won’t suffice with a new transplant.

      Often the rootballs are damaged in transplanting (especially with ball and burlapped plants — was this in a nursery pot, or field-dug?). Sometimes rootballs of either kind are dry and difficult to re-moisten, which i why I ask if the plant was thoroughly soaked on planting.

  3. lisa says:

    I just bought one of these – it’s about 6 1/2 feet tall. Is there anything I should know or do before I plant it? Any special instructions or tips would be greatly appreciated!
    Thankyou!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Lisa. I have never seen this beauty miss a beat here, and I have two of them that have been with me for more than 10 years each. Wonderful tree, graceful and easy, and relatively fast to grow once it settles in. I think you will be delighted. Simply be sure to plant it at the same level or a tiny bit higher than it was in the pot or rootball (depending how you purchased, in burlap or a pot) so it doesn’t get buried — true of all woody things, not just this. Water thoroughly (which will take some time) and regularly this season to help it settle in. Nice to see you and hope to again soon.

  4. Alan Lait says:

    I live in the upstate area of South Carolina, which is near Greenville, SC. Two years ago, I rescued three Alaskan Cedars from the yard of a local, burned down house. They are about 6-8 feet tall now. I had to trim alot of singed foliage, but they seemed to be doing ok and had some new growth last year. This spring they are not looking so great. I don’t see any new growth and there are a very few brown branches. We have been getting plenty of rain this season and the soil drains well. They are in a flower bed with mulch and lots of sun.
    I don’t know what to fertilize with, when or how much. Sure, we got them for free, but we so want to make them flourish after surviving the fire. They had only been in the ground at the burned house for a month. They are so neat with their uneven branching. After reading your info on them, I realize they are landscape cultivars. Hope you can help.
    Thanks
    Alan

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Alan. Sounds like the poor thing went through a lot! With these conifers I believe the “leaves” last three years, so you will see some brown on the older ones that are going to shed, but it sounds like you have more going on than that.

      In the hottest part of its hardiness range (which is Zone 8a I think but barely) it will appreciate shade from afternoon blazing sun, or will suffer. Like other Chamaecyparis, it can also be injured by dry winter winds or the harsh combination of freezing/wind/sun in the winter (winterburn). I don’t know about your location precisely sun and exposure-wise, but stressors like fun sun or a windy, exposed sits in winter can contribute to injuries. (In my cold zone it will take full sun, but can still get winterburn.)

      I don’t feed ailing plants, normally, but rather try to see what is going on with them first (following the theory that if I was sick I probably wouldn’t feel like digesting a meal on top of everything else). I would keep it watered regularly and thoroughly (deeply) and keep an eye on it.

  5. Alan Lait says:

    Thank you Margaret,

    The trees are protected from afternoon sun year round. They are in a somewhat open area, 50 feet from the woods. There is a very tall poplar 10 feet away, but it towers over these three trees and poplar’s branches start way up there. I am in the foothills of the Appalachains, considered zone 7. We have been getting good rain until this last month or so, I will start soaking them every other day.
    My homestead is in a small holler, so high winds are not a regular thing at this level.
    Thanks again for the help

    Alan

  6. Richard Wisniewski says:

    Hello Margaret. I live in New York on Long Island. I’ve had a Weeping Alaskan Cedar for about 11 years that has been very healthy and growing well. Last summer I noticed some yellowing of the foliage, particularly on the bottom branches. This year I am noticing quite a bit more yellowing of the foliage and it appears that the foliage on the lower branches has thinned quite a bit too. Any idea what could be causing this? Thanks for your help.

    Richard

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Richard. Is the tree just aging — starting to show its legs a bit — as many conifers do as they grow up, or is it really advancing and bad? Most of my Chamaecyparis of various kinds that are in semi-shady spots (which is better here for preventing winterburn) are kind of loose and a little bare below because they are shading themselves more and more as they grow. But maybe this is something more serious? Maybe you want to take a photo and email to awaytogarden [at] gmail?

  7. Richard Wisniewski says:

    Margaret:

    Thanks so much for offering to take a look for a potential problem with my Alaskan Cedar. I’ve emailed a few photos that show the full plant and two close-ups.

    Thanks again for your help.

  8. Debbie says:

    Hello. Wondering if you — or others on the follow — can help. We had a beautiful 10 ft. weeping alaska cedar planted about 4 weeks ago — mid Michigan. It’s yellowing from the trunk out, lower branches up. At first I thought too much water (we’ve had a great deal of rain), but seeing your post makes me think this is not the issue. Full sun. So, I’m back to square one on the issue and how to stabilize this beautiful tree. Thoughts and recommendations welcome.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Debbie. They will shed some of the interior and lower needles normally each year, but if this has been a dramatic occurrence perhaps something went wrong during transplant (plant wasn’t well-hydrated before planting, or dried afterward or somehow stressed from root damage or ????). Have you contacted the nursery where you got it? It’s hard for me to tell without seeing the tree, sad to say. If it’s getting crispy quickly I would always guess not well watered during its stress of transplant, but again, i can’t see how extreme the thing is.

  9. Lisa says:

    Hello,

    I planted a beautiful weeping cedar about 6-8 weeks ago. Almost half of the needles are completely brown! I planted it a little high and was very diligent about watering after reading your advice; could I have watered too much? Also, I noticed when I planted it that there were almost no roots – just a few scraggly ones. I suspect that there weren’t enough roots. Should I do anything else other than keep watering? I’d hate to lose it!
    Thanks!! Lisa

  10. Michele says:

    Hi – I am on the hunt for one of these beautiful trees. I live in Northern NJ (Zone 5) and my local nurseries are done for the year. I’d like to plant one within the next month or so before the ground freezes. Can you suggest a good online source for puchasing a healthy tree? Also, I had my heart set on a corner near the front of my house and the entryway, but further up your post I noted something about planting 15 feet away from the foundation. Just what kind of damage can these trees do to a foundation? Any advice you can give will be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Michele. How strange that it’s not available locally now. By mail you will only get a very small one, so that won’t do. Would you want to drive to a nursery in maybe Westchester (NY) to get one? I’d call Rosedale in Hawthorne, for instance, to ask if they have them in stock etc. if you’re willing to drive. As for the foundation what I meant is that this tree is very wdie at the base when fully grown — so putting it closer that that to the foundation won’t give it room to develop properly.

      Yes, roots of trees can be damaging to foundations, but I was speaking more of the reality of the tree simply fitting in the spot. So be sure to space it far away from the house edge to allow it the space it will someday require.

  11. David says:

    From the Pennsylvania Poconos.

    The Alaska Cedar makes a stunning specimen.
    I have two of them on my property, neither in an
    ideal location because of partial shade from giant
    oaks. Nonetheless, they are performing well. The
    older of the two was planted as a 3′ container plant
    [1989], and is now about 25′. The local Chili’s Restaurant
    had two wonderful specimens in the landscaping
    to the sides of the front doors. They were in full
    sun and were magnificent at about 30′ and were then
    removed. I suppose they were afraid they would
    “detract” from the restaurant. So it goes. All the
    nurseries locally have Alaska Cedars for sale.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, David. I gasped to think of the trees at the restaurant being cut down. Oh, dear. It definitely is one of my favorites, and everyone always asks about the ones I have here. Nice to “meet” you and don’t be a stranger.

  12. Cece Ann says:

    I think I have two in my back yard in northern Virginia. I just moved here and have been looking for photos to figure out what these trees are and this is the closest by far. They are extremely tall, soaring, against the back fence line of my house and the house behind me so no real obstruction for the roots, which are large, extensive, some above ground (I like to stand on them with bare feet in summer). They are as tall as the big oak in the neighbor’s yard. I kept saying to people, it is an everygreen, but like a weeping evergreen. It has the little yellow-green bud-like things on it, too, like your picture. Thank you for posting. This may be it. I had never seen anything like it.

  13. Cece Ann says:

    Oh, and further re my beautiful mystery conifers, the cones are long, skinny and smooth, like the tree itself. There obviously is something about the spot where they are planted that the trees like because they are giants, skinny but very tall. We are too urban for deer here (Arlington, VA), unlike neighbors to the south and west. But we are near trails and streams that were never developed so the yards etc. are little gardens of Eden. Some sort of morphic field of radiant growth seems to be sent out from that wild area, I think. But I’m getting a bit off topic!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Cece Ann. If it has cones bigger than very small marbles, it’s not the Alaska cedar. Maybe start with the conifer identification tool here. That site has more ID info in the left-hand sidebar. I have various books here and that would be easier…but I can’t see your tree!

  14. Shawn Gabauer says:

    We have a Weeping Alaskan Cedar. We were told it was deer resistant, however, just recently they have fed on the greens. My tree is now a stick so to speak with no green. My question is will this grow back or will I have to get another tree and try to protect from these deer. We love the tree and didn’t think this would be an issue. Any help is appreciated

    1. Margaret says:

      Oh, Shawn, I am so sorry. Years ago, everyone was so excited that Thuja plicata (the Western Redcedar), a Western U.S. native, was “deerproof” in the East. Um, NOT. Eaten to the bone in weeks. Many conifers will try to rebound from what you have described injury-wise, but frankly, they’ll never be the same. If the chewing has gone into the inner portions of the branches, forget it. If a few tips were nibbled, I’d say don’t worry.

      I’d start over – and get a fence! :)

  15. Sabrina says:

    We recently ordered one from a nursery and it was much taller than we thought (thought we were getting an 8 ft, but its closer to 11 ft). This all sounds great but our tree does not have any of the beauty the two pictured has. Its a very tall skinny stick with very short limps. Will this correct over time? or do we need to train/develop the limps? Any advise would be great.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Sabrina. Mine were definitely gawkier than they are now, but without seeing it, it’s hard to say. I would be in touch with your source (where you ordered it from) and register your concern with them, in case it does not shape up. I have seen fat ones and skinny ones — each one is somewhat distinctive — and yes, they do beef up, but 11 feet with disproportionately short limbs sounds extreme.

  16. Jessica says:

    The plan for Mother’s Day is to plant one of these Alaskan Cedars in Mom’s backyard. The 5 month anniversary of her passing happens to fall on Mom’s Day. Mom was a huge part of our life and as this tree will continue to grow, so will our memories of her. We want it to be as large as our love for her….

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Jessica — and what a beautiful tree to select for this honor. Graceful, and providing shelter for happy birds…you will love it. Hope to see you here again soon, and thanks for saying hello today.

  17. kathy says:

    I saw these beautiful trees and new they would compliment our home. Queston is will they make a nice wind break? I have had poor luck with our Blue Spruces and Norway’s as they are 30+ years old now. Also, how fast will they grow? Ours are now (to the tip) approximately 8-9′ and how wide will they be at the base? Do they need supported?

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Kathy. They are pretty fast among conifers, but not instant by any means. :) The mature height might be 30 or 40 feet in a garden (and about 20 feet wide at the base) but I think you can tell they are somewhat open and loose and graceful, and narrower at the top, so as a windbreak you have to take that into consideration. What about a mix of trees rather than all one kind?

  18. Terry says:

    I ordered a weeping alaskan cedar from the nursery. I went to view it today. It is about seven feet tall. My concern is the branches are much more compacted than others I have seen so it is currently a tall skinny tree. The branches are a good length but hug the tree so it currently does not have that graceful look. They said it would branch out over time. Is this correct and if so how long will it take ? Should I request a different tree as this is the only one they had ?

    Thanks – Terry

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Terry. It will change a lot over time, but each individual plant is somewhat distinctive, of course — some wider, some more narrow. So if it looks extreme to you, it may in fact grow up to be somewhat narrower than wide…however, again, it really does take time to shape up, Impossible for me to judge from words of course. :)

  19. Anthony says:

    My wife and I would like to plant an Alaskan Cedar in front of our home. The planting area is in a bed approximately 5 feet from our home and along the walkway to our front door. Our nursery claims that the tree can be pruned to be kept to a 15 ft height and 6 ft in width at the bottom. We really love the look of this tree. Would you recommend this application? Thank you.

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Anthony. Yes, you can prune it — but I think that sort of defeats the idea of choosing this plant, with its cascading structure (wide at the bottom, loose and drapey like fabric). Five feet is too close — in not so many years, it will overgrow the path (and the house) and then you will have to disfigure it (or you’ll have to do so gradually year after year in anticipation to keep it in check). Why not choose something more columnar and narrower at the base at maturity, or a plant that responds well to shearing?

      By the way, at maturity it will be 20 feet wide at the bottom or even more — so 5 feet just isn’t going to accommodate it.

  20. Judith Best says:

    Margaret,
    Thrilled to have found your site. I bought 2 of these magnificant trees last year and planted them appropriately. This Spring, the older one in the front yard developed some dried, dead yound brabches which I removed. I was told they need acid soil and was told to buy the miracid fertilized tree spikes. I would appreciate being educated on soil/water/care requirements.

    The 2nd tree was planted in the back yard with sun for half the day. Through the winter, the tree began to turn a sort of light brown. It’s a younger tree, and I just assumed it was dead. Finally it looked totally deaf, but when I went to dig it up, it had some new green growth at the base of the trunk and further up, just growing from the trunk. I dug it up to return for an exchange and when I got it to the garden ship, we discovered that even though the branches were brown, they were supple – as though they were still alive. I was told the tree needed fertilizer and to replant it and see if I could “nurse it along.” I was also told to cut off all the brown branches which would leave the young trunk bare. What should I do, and can I save this very young tree and do I need to continue to provide it acid fertilizer?

    Any info, education, suggestion, “hope,” would be so very much appreciated. Thank you!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Judith. Particularly while they are trying to settle in after the stress of transplanting, evergreens can suffer from winterburn from wind or sun/cold combination, or dry out easily from underwatering. I don’t know where you live, how late in the year it was planted, and what your winter is like.

      Also, I don’t feed things when I am transplanting them — sort of like having a big meal after surgery, you know?

      Here’s some more information about them, including the fact that they prefer LIGHT shade (more sun than shade) and a moist but not swampy soil, and good humidity — again, I don’t know where you are located? Drying winds, particularly when they are settling into a new home and there has been root disturbance, could cause lots of browning. It is normal for a portion of the foliage (after three, or sometimes two) years to shed, as all “evergreens” do, but not for whole branches to dry up.

  21. Doug says:

    Hi Margaret. I really appreciated reading through this forum and gaining some additional knowledge of this tree. I really admire it’s beauty and have been considering one for my front yard for some time now. I just bought this house about 9 months ago and am planning additional landscaping. I’d like to place this tree in the front corner of my yard in a somewhat raised bed. My concern has been the over-all width of 20 feet. I have a small front yard and this would take a nice size chunk of it up. I do like the idea of the privacy it would provide though. I just came across a 12′ tree in burlap at a local nursery who told me that this is their third season with it and that it needs to be put in the ground. He was willing to knock it from $200.00 to $100.00. I hate to pass it up. It is a little brown in some areas and somewhat skimpy. He told me that with a special fertilizer to draw nutrients to the roots for $13.00 he would guarantee the tree for 5 years. Can you also tell me what the difference is between the cypress and the cedar. Seem to be referred to interchangeably. I also realize that these are sometimes referred to as false since they are not true cypress/ cedars. Link for last comment (http://www.paghat.com/alaskacedar.html). Thank you in advance for your response.

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Doug. I suspect mine shaped up a foot or so a year early on, yes. I would be aware with a “skimpy” tree that has been B&B’d for several years that it probably is stressed to the max, and also if it’s narrow that some varieties of this tree are more than way — almost columnar rather than wide like mine — so what you see shape-wise may be what you get even when it’s bigger.

      As for cypress versus cedar, Chamaecyparis is just Chamaecyparis to me, and this is a great example why common names are so awful and misleading and Latin ones preferabke. It’s neither a cypress or a cedar, but has the common name “falsecypress” and also “Alaska cedar”. I prefer to say Chamaecyparis nootkatensis ‘Pendula’. :) (Don’t get me started on common names — think of how many things have “rose” in their name, or “lily” (from daylily to lily of the valley to real lilies, meaning the genus Lilium to …). Confusing!

      Monika: The inner foliage will brown and shed every couple of years (its lifespan) but in too much shade the plant will have less of it and be looser and more see-through. So from here I cannot tell if it’s normal shedding/renewal of foliage as all conifers do, or if it’s complaining about the light or something else.

  22. Monika says:

    I transplanted my weeping alaska cedar in May 2010. It had been growing at my house on Long Island for about five years at the time. It gets full sun for about half the day. It seemed fine until just a few weeks ago when A LOT of the inner foliage started to turn yellow with some of that turning brown. The outer foliage is still green. Is this ok? Should I do anything? I think it is getting enough water. Thank you.

  23. Judith Best says:

    Margaret,
    I’ve read through all your posts and clicked on some of the additional sites. One of those sites did describe the “browning” of the branches, but no resource has explained what to do with/about them, Again, they are very supple and not dried and dead.Should I remove them which would leave the trunk bare? The 2nd thing is what are the soil requirement?. I was told they prefer an “acid” soil. How often should it be fertalized? Please clarify. Thanks.

  24. doug kett says:

    Hi Margaret,
    I planted an Alaskan weeping cypress last year and some of it is turning brown on me now. What can I do?
    Thanks, Doug in NJ

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Doug. Not sure how much of it is browning off — it is normal for a portion of the foliage to go brown as part of the two- or three-year cycle of renewal that conifers go through. With the Alaska cedar, I’d expect that on the insides of the branches, nearer the trunk. If it’s brown from the tips inward, or whole branches are brown, it could be stressed from various things: the aftermath of winterburn (would have shown up right away, not just now) from too windy/exposed a site, damage to the root system during transplanting, perhaps having dried out at some time or been exposed to drying winds (it likes humidity), etc.

      As far as what to do it depends on the extent of the damage. Are we talking foliage renewal or loss of whole branches or tips or????

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