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. Doug Kett says:

    Thank you Margaret, It seems to be near the trunk for the most part…..some going toward the tips outward…but not much. I’m on a mountain and have plenty of humidity…. also cold winter winds. Should I be watering it more?
    Thanks again for your help,

  2. Steven Durante says:

    Do you think teh alaskian weeping cedar would survive in the heat of a southern winter. I live in Charlotte North Carolina. While on Long Island recently I saw one of these trees and would love to add it to my yard. Thanks

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Steven. I can tell you that Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh sells it (and grows its close cousin, a bluer form, in its garden) and that another close cousin is grown in the JC Raulston Arboretum at NCSU according to online plans records. A reputable local nursery that offers a good selection of conifers may have more first-hand info for you, but meantime click that link to Plant Delights for their success story.

  3. Julia says:

    Hi Margaret,

    What a great site. We planted a “Cami” almost 2 years ago. It looked beautiful last year and this spring. We just returned from several days out of town, and our weather has suddenly turned quite summer-like after a long, cool, wet spring. I noticed cami had a lot of yellow needles – I wouldn’t call them brown – and they dropped when the branch was moved. Most seems to be inside, so perhaps it’s the normal 2 – 3 year shedding of needles I read of on your site, however I am concerned. More water? Root bound? Other? We haven’t really watered her this year as we had all that early rain and cool until the end of June. Thank you.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Julia, and yes — it sounds like the normal cycle. When I get scared is if there is any tip damage or whole branches looking troubled. It is a wonderful plant as you obviously agree!

  4. Julia says:

    Thanks Margaret. I just looked at our “Cami” again, and it now appears there is some yellowing beginning to happen on the end of the lowest branches that touch the ground. When we planted her 2 years agao she was bare root, wrapped in burlap. We did cut away much of the burlap and had been told to leave it on (but cut open) as it would decompose and be less tramatic for the roots. I’m beginning to wonder if we did a good enough job of cutting it away. Could this be due to bound roots?

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Julia. I’d snap some digital photos and go to the nursery where you got it and just ask if there is reason for concern. I have had conifer foliage killed off where it dragged on the ground and stayed alternately wet/in ice in winter, but without seeing it’s so hard to tell. I don’t think the burlap is the issue, though. The fact that the burn/damage is where it touches the ground seems to hint at some kind of connection to that fact, no?

  5. Maritza says:

    Hi Margaret, in the spring I decided to move my weeping cedar, I call it my monster cause it looks like it’s about to come and grab me, it was situated in a my front yard in a bed along with some oaks and a japeneese maple. I had someone move it very careful as to not to disturb the root ball, (reading the blogs, I guess I made the mistake of taking fertilizer sticks and breaking them up to throw in the hole where the tree would be planted). I made sure it received plenty of water during the first week with dripping the hose around the base, the second week it rained every day, downpours, so I did not water extra. A few weeks passed by and then it started turning yellowish on some of the branches, it still has green foliage, but I am afraid that it didn’t take the transplant very well. It would be ashame that I would lose it now, because it’s very statuesque where it is, It dosen’t look so menecing now and I love it where it is. It still receives partial shade, what do you suggest, did I under water or do you think it was too much of the fertilizer?

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Maritza. So hard for me to tell without seeing it/being there. Some transplant shock is inevitable, but regular watering through the first year is very important, not just a week or two, unless the rains are heavy and regular. If the yellowing is toward the inside of the branches (toward the trunk) it’s probably just normal shedding.

      As for the fertilizer, if it was slow-release stuff (best of all all-natural organic, no burning) and not something too intense I doubt that was the culprit.

  6. Doug Kett says:

    Hi Margaret, I have been watering mine every day. It now looks as good as it did the day I planted it last fall.


  7. Judith Best says:

    You have never answered the question about whether or not to remove the brown branches. The garden center from which I purchased it advised me to cut them off. I did remove some but inately thought this a bad idea. The new green growth seems healthy, but has not progressed up the trunk. The new growth is close to the ground. In answer to your previous question, I live in NJ and planted the tree in late summer last year when it was about 4′ tall. I did place a miracid spike at the drip line and I water it about once/wk, but it appears to be static. Your opinion would be appreciated. Thanks.

  8. Judith Best says:

    I fund that if you cut the small brown branches next to the “trunk,” you will not get new growth. The new groth I’m getting is stating on the bottom brown branches, most proximal to the trunk. Note, the new groth is not originating from the trunk itself, but rather on the existing seemingly dead branches. You are correct about the watering. Frequent and ample watering makes a big difference, Thanks for sharing!

  9. Jean Miller says:

    We added one of these beautiful trees last fall but are disappointed in the
    results. The tree isn’t “weeping”; instead it’s “drooping.” I’ve been told by a couple landscape people, including the one who put it in for us, that its shape is natural, but it certainly doesn’t look like any of the pictures I’ve seen of this georgeous tree where the branches stand out from the tree and the green weeps from the outstanding branches. We’re in southern Missouri. The tree in a landscaped area so it gets watered regularly. We removed a lot of brown from the bottom of the tree. Do the experts out there think it will snap out of it and hopefully resemble the picture above?

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Jean. Each specimen of this tree (as with all plants) will be a slightly different shape when mature — some are tall and lean compared to others, some stockier — but they do take time to fill out and shape up. One of mine is very thick and wide, almost bushy, the other is more lacey and irregularly shaped. I don’t know how old/large your tree is? Also there is at least one named cultivar (‘Green Arrow’) that is drastically different in shape so I don’t know if they sold you a specific cultivar or the basic species?

      Again, the plant will really change as it matures. The only thing I worry about is “removed a lot of brown” and I hope a lot doesn’t mean many many tiers of branches, but perhaps just a bit of what got damaged in transplanting?

  10. jean says:

    I just planted a Alaska blue weeping cedar…I ordered a 4 – 6 foot tree and received a
    14 foot tree. It is beautiful. I know that deer will eat most anythig and I have sprayed it twice. In all your comments there was only one question that refered
    to deer. Are these trees less likely to be eaten by deer? They eat all the cedar
    Around here ( northern Michigan on Lake Superior ). I was thinking false cypress
    When I ordered the tree, thinking deer don’t like cypress and now I find out it, the tree,
    Is neither a true cypress or true cedar. Will I have to spray it for the rest of my life?
    the Latin name on the label was ‘chamaecyparis nootkatensis’.

    1. Margaret says:

      I don’t know for certain, Jean, but I am encouraged to find a few decent sources that call it deer-resistant (meaning they will eat other things instead if available — not they they will never eat it).

      Lazy S’s Nursery says it’s not much loved by deer. So does the wholesale nursery Monrovia, which grows them to sell to garden centers. The Mid-Atlantic Group of the Hardy Plant Society says it’s deer-resistant, too.

      I’d call or email to your local botanical garden or cooperative extension service to see whether locally it is browsed or not so that you know how paranoid you have to be. :) Deer tastes do vary by region considerably.

  11. Rick says:

    Hi, I just bought three trees about 16-18 tall, I am wanting to plant these around my patio to soften up the hardscape. How much room to I need between them?

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Rick. No less than 12 feet and maybe 15 is better, I’d estimate. Each tree is a little different in the way it shapes up, but the base gets to at least that wide. If they are already 16-18 feet tall, aren’t they already 10 feet wide at the base or more? Unless you got the cultivar ‘Green Arrow,’ which gets to half that or even something less. My older one is 20ish feet tall and a dozen fete wide at least, and still growing.

  12. Judy Best says:

    Last year as I was redoing all my plantings which I had planted almost 30 years ago, I has seen a star magnolia which was stunning. Just the tree I wanted in my yard until I saw the weeping Alaskan cedar. I was so taken by the tree that I bought 2 of them.

    One was more mature than the other, and that was planted in the center of the front yard. The younger tree was planted in the back yard. After their 1st winter, the front tree was thriving, and the one in the back yard looked near death. Through this site I learned that it was not uncommon for the branches to brown out in the 2nd. year. I dug it up and took it back to the nursery from which I purchased it only to learn that they had not stocked any Alaskan’s this season. They recommended that I replant it, fertilize it, and remove the brown branches – a suggestion I thought nothing short of ludricus. Though I had removed some branches, I realized that if I removed them all, the trunk would be bare and I couldn’t imagine that the trunk would grow all new branches. The site, with other’s stories and Margaret’s sage advise, I did no more cutting and as suggested, “to my utter fascination,” new healthy green branches began growing from the base of the brown branches. I thought the tree had been saved. but I soon noticed that the production of the new, healthy green branches had slowed, then stoped. Soon, they too were brown, but I was hopeful that this was just another cycle until all the branches began to “grey out.” In short, the tree died.

    I learned these things. 1.) purchase a tree more mature than 2 years old. 2). If the branches brown out, do not cut them off as new green branches will begin to grow from them. 3). Frequent watering is essential. On a positive note, the tree in front continues to thrive, and as Margaret has pointed out, the tree developes it shape as it matures. I don’t know the age of my surviving tree, it’s 6′ – 7′ tall, with a lot of growth this summer, and of late, I can see the “weeping” profile. This tree is simply beautiful!

    And thanks Margaret for all the oversight!

    1. Margaret says:

      Thanks, Judy, for your tale of growing this great plant. I don’t know why they always say to prune hard and fertilize ailing things — seems like the last thing I’d do when a conifer was in decline like that. Sounds like you have it licked, though, now. See you soon!

  13. Judy B says:

    Dear Margaret,
    As you may or not be aware, New Jersey experienced a very unexpected snow/ice storm in early November, as as might be expected my beautiful young weeping cedar was damaged. Prior, the tree was quite symmetrical, but a lower, harty branch was torn away just past the trunk and had to be removed, Naturally, the tree is no longer symmetrical. My questions are as follows:
    1. How close to the trunk should I prune the destroyed branch?.
    2. Will the tree ever produce another branch to restore the symmetry of the tree?
    3. The tree has 3 separate “trunks,” with an obvious dominant trunk. As the tree grows, how do the 2 other trunks develop? I’m concerned that the 3 separate trunks will eventually “split” the tree. How should I deal with the multiple trunks?
    Thanks, Judy

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Judy. Here, too. Terrible mess. What you don’t want to do is shave off the trunk bark behind the natural “collar” where the branches attach. What species of plant is your “weeping cedar” — it is a Chamaecyparis or a Cedrus or ????

      As for the multiple trunks, that is not uncommon in certain conifers — my Alaska cedars here have them, and so does my Japanese umbrella pine (which lost one of three in storm years ago. Whether the tree will become symmetrical again depends on what species it is and also how severe the damage is — maybe email me a photo at awaytogarden at gmail?

  14. Judith Best says:

    Please say it isn’t so…a few months ago we had a freak snow storm and I lost one branch from my beloved Alaskan cedar. I wrote a post and you, as usual, provided good advise. I don’t go out to the driveway every day and therefore don’t look at my tree so often in the winter. A few weeks ago, I thought it was looking lean. This week when I pulled into the drive way and glanced over to look at my tree, I saw a skeleton. I think the deer have eaten my cedar along with my arborvitae. I’m in a stste of shock…grieving the damage actually. Do you know if deer do this and what is my prognosis? Thanks much.

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Judith. Oh, my. Yes, they will do this (especially tip growth I think — but if they are hungry enough, they’ll eat anything). If the damage is only tips then it may be OK, but if it’s severe…hmmm…

  15. Pam says:

    My Alaskan cypress get full sun on one side and a lot of shade on the other. The side with full sun looks healthy and the branches are full the opposite side the branches are spare and are turning a rust color and dying. Is this lack of sun? Also the yard has a rock fault going through it and I have wondered if the roots are competing with the rocks.

    1. Margaret says:

      Him Pam. Hard to say for certain, but I can say that if it’s really getting very little light on the one side it will get sparse. I have another Chamaecyparis (different species/variety) that as it has agreed has its back in the shade and that side is skimpy.

  16. Valdet says:

    Is it normal that during the winter foliage in my two Alaska cedars turns red/brown somehow?! On April 2007, I purchased here in Kosovo (Europe) two Alaska cedars each 1.5 feet tall . This year, both are 7 feet tall.

    1. UGQ says:

      Hi, Valdet. I am never worried if the late-season foliage on the INSIDE of the branches (closer to the trunk than the tips of the limbs) turns brown. Conifers shed their oldest inner foliage to literally “lighten the load” in winter snows, and of course oldest/brown foliage isn’t photosynthesizing any longer, so why hold on to it? Tip burn I worry about much more, or wide-ranging brown. In an exposed and windy spot in cold winters, some conifers get winterburn (brown, dried out) and that is another matter — sometimes just all over the windy side of the plant. Not sure which you have?

  17. jean says:

    I am so happy that my new Weeping Alaskan Cypress has survived the winter , or should I say Deer. I did check on it after receiving your email and all is well, however I did spray it again with deer-off just to be on the safe side. You can’t trust those 4 legged animals

  18. Larry says:

    I hope someone can help solve a debate my wife and I have regarding a weeping alaskan cedar. We purchased our home 10 years ago and we were told the tree planted in front was a weeping Alaskan Cedar (it seems to match pictures on the web). At the time the tree was maybe 14 feet, today it is easily 35 feet. my concern is that the tree is planted maybe 6 feet from the foundation of our home. What kind of rooting system does these this tree have? Should I be concerned? My wife would love it if you can save her tree, I’m less optimistic.

    1. margaret says:

      Good question, Larry, but I don’t have an answer, and none of my reference books that include the tree really go into detail on its root system in such a circumstance. I do, however, think that any 35-foot tree in place for a decade already has a substantial root system by now — but assume you have seen no evidence of issues (leaks in the foundation, etc., or heaving, or …)? If it were out in a more open spot you could have an arborist root-prune it to sort of keep it in check (the way they trench around big trees before doing construction, for instance) but it sounds like a very tight spot. I’m afraid I don’t have x-ray vision to see beneath the ground, either — though I have read about what amounts to MRIs or x-rays of trees and their roots that are used in some circumstances for such analysis.

  19. larry aufiero says:

    Hi there,
    The foliage on the inner part of the branches – closest to the trunk – turns yellow every spring-summer. I give it plenty of water but it doesn’t seem to help.

    The yellow branches eventually fall off and the tree seems to rebound well. Should I be concerned? Is there anything I can do. I do not fertilize; will that help?

  20. Roger Mathison says:

    My Alaskan Cedar is about 18 feet tall and was planted in a sunny location in our front yard before be purchased our home. For the first three years it was doing fine, then last summer it began loosing foliage on the ends of the branches and more recently, on the top. It’s a beautiful tree and a showpiece but I’m at a loss as to what is happening to it.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Roger. Not sure how your comment got lost in the mailbox here for a bit, so sorry. They are prone to burn as many Chamaecyparis can if they get dry, or windswept in a sunny but cold/windy winter, or baked too long in a hot season. Is the issue progressing?

  21. psayli says:

    We have a weeping cedar (Chamaecyparis ) that was planted at least 20yrs ago. It isn’t as “thin” looking as the ones I see on your site. It is drapey but very full like a more traditional shaped xmas tree. I am concerned about how large (wide) it has gotten over the yrs….does it ever stop getting wider and wider…I don’t mind the height. Also, is this tree one that an arborist could prune back in any way without jeopardizing the tree. Thanks so much.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Psayli. I think at about 20 feet wide at the base is will be pretty mature for a garden setting (I’d say 15-20 but it sounds like yours, like one of mine, is of the boarder habit). If absolutely needed you could go in a one branch at a time sort of head back the worst offenders — this is a very tedious and careful type of pruning, not shearing the overall tree! I explain it here. And remember, with the weeping form we’re talking about, even these careful cuts will be more noticeable that in a bushier form of Chamaecyparis. Careful!

  22. Keith says:

    I just picked up 4 Weeping Alaska Cedar (Chamaecyparis Nootkatensis ‘Pendula’) trees from a Kmart in Olathe Kansas where these were very dry, brown foliage and parts of roots were exposed in buckets. I am trying to save them and any advice you could give me would help. I added some potting soil to them and water them every few hours. It’s been over 100 degrees here for over a week or two and will be for at least another week or so. I have them in some shade and also water the whole tree, not just the bottom in the bucket……Can these be saved?

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Keith. Sounds like all you can do for such stressed-out and damaged plants with watering. Hard to say without seeing (and without the trees telling us by starting to perk up!) whether they can be saved. Fingers crossed.

  23. Wendy B says:

    Oh Margaret I do like this one . . . we live in northern NJ, 40 minutes from Midtown Manhattan and my husband is an Arborist (42 yrs!) . . .conifers are his favorite tree . . .we have 10 norwegian spruces, 7 colorado blue spruces (seedlings left over as favors from our wedding!) , 6 hemlocks and 3 aromatic red cedars around the perimeter of our corner suburban lot . . .great privacy fence . . .:-) . . .I wish we had been a little more adventurous in varying the species . . .I think I want to find a spot to tuck at least 1 Weeping Alaskan Cedar . . .it is so beautiful . .. thanks for sharing it!

    1. margaret says:

      You are welcome, Wendy. What a beautiful story about your former wedding favors! Love that. Sounds like you live in a magical forest! See you soon, I hope.

  24. jacqui says:

    This tree reminds me so much of our Deodoras in California. I love the beautiful hanging branches. The Alaskan Cedar has those beautiful berries, tho, our Deodoras do not.

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