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never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today


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Plant Profiles

Gold-needled Himalayan Cedar



The most tender cedar of all, the Himalayan, is also the most double-jointed and loose-limbed.  I had to have it.  The gold-needled form will be in such good company with all the other bright foliage nearby. 


And by training the tree out to a flat plane of horizontal arms—to espalier it, in other words—I could do it a favor.  Here in New England, the Winters are as nasty as it can stand.  By keeping the entire tree—limbs and needles both—no farther out from the wall of the house than, oh, 18 inches, the entire creature is sheltered from the coldest winds, which are from the north and the east. 




In return, the cedar is doing me a favor, too.  By being trained onto horizontal wires strung on a pipe frame in front of this wall of the house, the cedar's horizontal arms bring immense interest to an oddly large and unfenestrated stretch of wall.




In three or four years, the tree will have reached the top of the frame, which is high enough to hide the gutter.  In five or six years, its arms will have stretched the full width of the wall. 


To have a gold-needled Himalayan cedar in Rhode Island is, itself, merely adventurous.  To have one espaliered twenty feet wide and nearly as tall will be astounding. 


I had let the tree grow free-range for eight years before it was time for the espaliering.  Himalayan cedars have characteristic nodding branches, which are a soft yellow in this cultivar.




The branches' graceful droop will only be enhanced by espaliering.  As the arms mature, their new growth will flounce outward as well as down, giving each arm a ruffling gold/green curtain below.




That door at the left, by the way, is one of five that were once all active at this back wing of the house.  Why did anyone need five doors?   There must have been a lot of hasty exiting in the 18th century.  This door has long been sealed, and is now a window into the back hall.  The cedar's arms will cross right in front of the windows, so that both the back and the front of that portion of the arms can be enjoyed.




With the pipe frame and its wires in place, it was time to prune and bend and tie and coax, to create the multi-armed creature in the top picture.



Here's how to grow this golden evergreen tree:

Latin Name

Cedrus deodara 'Aurea'

Common Name

Gold-needled Himalayan Cedar


Pinaceae, the Pine family.

What kind of plant is it?

Evergreen conifer.


Zones 7 to 10.


Upright with wide-spreading branches.  The secondary branches have a characteristic charming droop. 

Rate of Growth

Fast, especially in youth.  Slower at the cold end of its range.

Size in ten years

Speed of growth is greater in milder climates.  At the cold end of Zone 7, to twelve feet tall and across. 


Feathery, open, and graceful. 

Grown for

its habit:  The wide spreading limbs and drooping branchlets give even larger individuals a soigné elegance.  Unlike Cedrus libani, which is often multi-trunked, C. deodara tends toward a single trunk.


its evergreen foliage: New growth is a warm but not strident yellow, mellowing to yellow-green.    


its flexible limbs:  Deodar cedar's wood has none of the "span strength" of, say, weeping beeches, whose bizarrely cantilevering limbs are rigid despite their length and complex trajectory.  Beech limbs grow down to the ground; they rarely wind up there from fatigue or inattention.  Deodar limbs have an entirely more casual approach to fighting gravity.  Older limbs typically angle lower and lower, as if on the sly, and eventually touch the ground.  Younger limbs as large as a couple of inches in caliper can be easily reoriented or even bent around to grow through the opposite side of the canopy.  Deodar cedars, then, are prime candidates for espaliers or even for training atop a pergola.  See "How to handle it—another option or two" below.  


its cones:  Cedar cones are held vertically above the plane of the foliage; whether small or large, they are prominent.  Deodar cones are large (three to five inches) and a dusty blue when young, aging to reddish brown.  They don't fall from the tree entire; instead they disintegrate, scale by scale, while still attached.  Harvest the cones for seasonal bouquets and decor by cutting cone-bearing branches.

Flowering season

Spring.  The inflorescences aren't especially showy but the cones they mature to are wonderful.  See the section on cones in "Grown for" above.

Color combinations

The mellow-yellow foliage combines well with strident yellow as well as dark green.  Burgundy foliage or flowers would be a natural, too.  Years ago, I thought to pair my gold deodar with a blue-needled China fir but, to my surprise, the blue-yellow combination seemed so steadily less festive that I cut the fir down to a stump and am going to train its resprouts prostrately, for maximum separation from the deodar.  I now find I like blue foliage in the company of pinks and burgundies but not yellows.  But this is just a personal quirk.

Partner plants

If possible, plant sturdy wind-buffering trees to the north.  They won't block the all-important sun, and will mitigate what are normally the coldest winds that plants receive.  Conifers would be a repetition of texture; choose broad-leaved evergreens or densely-twigged deciduous species, such as American holly; columnar English oak, Quercus robur 'Fastigiata'; columnar beech, Fagus sylvatica 'Dawyk'; columnar hornbeam (which, despite the name, widens out to a portly oval).  Southern magnolia is the ultimate partner; if it's hardy in an exposed position in your garden, Deodar cedar will be hardy, too.


If you're careful to keep its growth from invading the cedar's, tall bamboo would be ideal.  Phyllostachys nuda is the hardiest, and grows to thirty feet; the canes of Phyllostachys vivax 'Aureocaulis' can be even taller, and are a nicely-coordinating bright yellow.


Underplantings and foreground plantings are most exciting when their foliage is large and, if possible, dark green.  Vinca and pachysandra would thrive if—if—you establish them at the same time you establish the cedar.  Ivy is great, too, provided you don't let it climb up into the cedar.  Rhododendrons, bush hollies, and viburnums would also be very satisfying companions.

Where to use it in your garden

Cedrus deodara has such an engaging form that the temptation is to plant one as a "lawn feature," all by itself, as a solo tree surrounded by lawn.  And, indeed, the fullness and consistency of its form is best then.  But the trees are susceptible to snow, wind, and cold damage—See "Downsides" below—so if you're not gardening in its preferred habitat, plant with caution.  Better to include a deodar cedar as part of a larger-scale planting, so if it loses a few limbs after a freak ice-storm, all isn't lost.  See "Partner plants" above.   


Full sun; as a rule, cedars are not interested in anything less.  Drought tolerant when established, so soil that tends to dry isn't a problem.  Good drainage, as usual, enhances hardiness.

How to handle it: The Basics

Plant container-grown specimens; cedars aren't very adept at being transplanted. 


Be alert after and even during blizzards.  Deodar limbs are flexible—until they're not.  I have gone outside in the teeth of a storm to thwack heavy snow off the limbs of mine with an old-fashioned broom-straw broom.


If you're gardening in a favored climate—mild and rainy winters, warm dry summers—you can just plant a deodar and not worry about or even attend to it.  Just let it burgeon.

How to handle it: Another option—or two?

The limbs of deodar cedars are unusually flexible.  And the tree wants shelter from winter wind.  And cedars are susceptible to damage from heavy snow or ice.  Finesse all three conditions by creating an espalier against a south or west wall.  Cedar limbs can be trained right down to the horizontal and yet still grow eagerly, so why not train your tree's limbs out into ranks of parallel arms instead of into a more casual fan?  Don't worry: Your garden won't be "fan free."  There are plenty of other trees and shrubs that, for one reason and another, are more practical when trained into a fan.  Fruit trees, ornamental quince, magnolia, rose, hardy orange, and loquat come to mind first.


The deodar's dangling young branches will soon create a nice flouncing beneath the espalier's arms, so you shouldn't to space the arms closer than two feet apart.  Trim back the flounce in early Spring, if needed, to keep a nice separation between arms.


I've never even heard of, let alone seen, a pergola'd deodar cedar, and my climate's not mild enough to grow any I'd want in the exposed position a pergola would require.  The pendulous branches would be thrilling as they trail down through the pergola's crossbeams.  Someone gardening in solid Zone 7, or better yet, out in California: Please do this! 

Quirks or special cases

Espaliering is as quirky as it gets.


No surprise that Cedrus is well-suited to its native environment of hot and often dry summers alternating with chilly and wet—but rarely truly freezing or deeply-snowy—Winters.  The trees also succeed in climates that are mild but wet year-round, but with little or no snow-load, such as the British Isles.  Or in climates that are similar to that of the Mediterranean, such as California north to the Pacific Northwest. 


East of the Rockies, though, one or another element of the climate is often nipping at a deodar cedar's heels.  Even if the Winter is mild enough, temperature-wise, snow-load can still be so heavy that the widely-cantilevering limbs of older trees can collapse.  But while trees that grow so far South that heavy snow-load isn't such a danger don't seem to mind the high daytime heat, their tops are often dead.  Perhaps it's the high humidity or the high temperatures at night. 


The continued longevity of a magnificent free-standing specimen of deodar cedars, then, is not something to be relied upon east of the Rockies.


The bark on younger trees can be very tempting for animals that feed on tree-bark.  Wrap the base of young trunks for several years, until the tree is old enough that its bark is no longer appealing.     


Cedars are generous in their ability to hybridize and mutate, so new cultivars appear regularly.  Deodar cultivars tend to the blue-needled; see my own caution about blue foliage in "Color Combinations" above.  There are cultivars that are taller but denser as well as shorter and denser—a Deodar theme; most of them have blue to green-blue needles, although there are also variants with cream or white needles.  'Well's Golden' is one of a number of other newer regular-habit gold-needled cultivars, others are dwarf as well as full-size. 


Increased hardiness has always been a priority, and cultivars that are reliably Zone 6 are now available.  'Shalimar' is the hardiest, superior even to 'Kashmir'.  With other cedar species, cutting-grown plants are hardier than grafted ones because C. deodara is usually used as the root-stock for Cedrus grafting despite being the least hardy.  But if the graft itself is also deodar, well then cutting-grown is no longer a hardiness advantage.




By grafting as well as by cuttings. 

Native habitat

Cedrus deodara is native to the Himalaya.

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