A Gardening Journal

Weeping Cedar of Lebanon

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One of the grandest "big estate" conifers, cedar of Lebanon is also very happy to grow in compact gardens.  Here, it's swagging across the entrance into the gardens, like the lintel of a doorway.  You can see it in the picture below, in back of the lintel formed by columnar parrotias

 

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I'm growing four of the cedar of Lebanon's unusually flexible weeping cultivar.  The trunks of the trees themselves are upright, but the branches droop gracefully.

 

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As each tree reaches the "lintel"—the pipe that's the top of a galvanized frame—I could start tying the young trunk horizontally.  The West-most cedar is in the picture below.  It needs to grow about fifteen feet farther to reach the pair of trees that lintel the opening into the garden.

 

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Here's the other side of the high galvanized-pipe frame that the cedars are topping, as it looked in mid-Summer.  The opening into the garden is at the right and the East-most cedar is just visible at the left.  I had been using the yellow stepladder to reach the top of the frame. 

 

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On either side of the garden opening, the cedars are being trained atop big sections of beech trees espaliered in a diagonal pattern known as a Belgian fence.  Here's the article on the nest of baby birds that I discovered in one of the cedars over the Summer.   

 

 

Here's how to grow this unusual conifer:


Latin Name

Cedrus libani 'Pendula'

Common Name

Weeping Cedar of Lebanon

Family

Pinaceae, the Pine family.

What kind of plant is it?

Evergreen coniferous tree.

Hardiness

Zones 6 - 9.

Habit

Single trunked and narrowly upright, with side branches that droop outward gently.  Cedars with branches that cascade vertically down like a curtain are C. atlantica 'Glauca Pendula'.

Rate of Growth

Medium. 

Size in ten years

Size depends on the individuals involved—you as well as your weeping cedar.  If you're letting your cedar grow free-range, to twelve to fifteen feet tall and four to six feet wide.  If you're training the cedar—see "How to handle it" below—in ten years it could be smaller, higher, or wider.  But probably not larger than twelve feet in any one dimension.

Texture

Soft and fuzzy. 

Grown for

its habit: The trunk is vertical, from which the side branches gently-descend.  Although their orientation to the trunk is like those of spruces, Cedrus branches are more widely-spaced.

 

its blue-gray foliage: Cedar needles don't have sharp tips, and branches are snugly clothed with them.  Branching occurs readily, so growth is often very thick.  

 

its female cones:  The male inflorescences are narrow, brown, vertical spikes two or three inches tall.  They're effective, but not interesting.  The female inflorescences mature to showy fruit—the cones—that are fat and bluish, and notably lighter in hue than the needles.  Those of Cedrus libani are, with C. deodara, the largest of the cedars, from three to five inches long.  They're held erect, and point skyward along the top of the side branches.  This position enhances the likelihood that male pollen—which, as is the norm for confiers, is shed directly into the air, not transported by animals pollinators—will land on them.  The upward-pointing topside-of-the-branch position also maximizes the cones' visibility; they appear to be studding the dense foliage as if placed by a decorator.

 

its imperviousness to deer:  In my experience, cedars are not appealing to herbavores.  Hooray!

Flowering season

Spring into Summer.  The male inflorescences are not showy; the female inflorescences are showy, either, but they mature to very showy cones.

Color combinations


The blue-gray foliage of Cedrus libani 'Pendula' is a natural partner for pink, blue, white, and burgundy.  Its blue isn't so intense that you'd get a headache if the tree were paired with yellow or red.  In short, the tree can mix and mingle with just about any color.  My first choice for color pairing with the blue-gray color of the needles and the startling blue of the cones?  Burgundy.

Partner Plants


Partner plants need to be comfortable in the cedar's preferred conditions of full sun, excellent drainage, and little or no irrigation in Summer.


Each aspect of the weeping cedar of Lebanon is distinctive enough to provide satisfying contrast.  Broad and mounding plants would anchor its strongly upright habit; that and its well-spaced branches would give lightness and lift to the mounders.  Larger and simpler leaves are the best contrast with the cedar's dense and fairly short needles. 

 

Drought-tolerant partners with purple, comparatively large, and simple foliage include smoke bush, Cotinus 'Velvet Cloak'; beech, Fagus sylvatica 'Spaethiana'; and catalpa, Catalpa erubescens 'Purpurea'.

 

Drought-tolerant pink-flowered partners include Buddleia 'Pink Delight' and Panicum 'Dallas Blues'.

 

Drought-tolerant "mounders" include bayberry, Myrica pensylvanica.  If you're growing your Cedrus where it will get regular water in the Summer as well as the Winter, you could partner with mounders that require reasonable moisture, such as rhododendrons, inkberry, Japanese holly, and blue hollies.

Where to use it in your garden

Cedrus libani 'Pendula' is too interesting in form to plant casually.  Site the tree in a prominent spot so it can get the star treatment it deserves. 

Culture

Full sun, please.  Almost any well-draining soil, including lean and rocky.  Excellent Winter drainage enhances hardiness.  Cedar's native climate is hot and dry in the Summer and cold and snowy in the Winter, but the trees tolerate typical East Coast humidity.  Good drainage and moderate Winters are key.

How to handle it:  The Basics

If you are going to let your Cedrus libani 'Pendula' grow free-range, you need only plant it, as in "Culture" and "Where to use it" above, and stand back.  If you're gardening where it's colder than Zone 7, pay particular attention to providing excellent Winter drainage—plant on a slope if possible, no matter how modest—and site where the tree isn't cruelly exposed to Winter's worst. 

 

The trees are very drought-tolerant.  As long as they experience a cool or even cold Winter that brings reasonable precipitation, they don't need supplemental watering in the Summer.  Free-range cedars usually need just to be left alone, although you may need to groom the tree in Spring in case there are Winter-damaged branches. 

How to handle it: Another option—or two?


Like those of the deodar cedars, the limbs of cedars of lebanon are unusually flexible.  That said, all cedars are susceptible to damage from heavy snow or ice; there's a limit to how flexible any limb can be without just snapping, especially if it's weighed down, all of a sudden, by hundreds of pounds of winter's worst.  And while cedar of lebanon is definitely hardier than the deodar cedars, it could be hard to provide too much heat and sun. 

 

Synergize all three of these realities 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? 

 

Cedar of lebanon's dangling young branches will soon create a nice flouncing beneath the espalier's arms, so you shouldn't 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 cedar of lebanon, but the tree is hardy enough in southern New England to thrive in the exposed position a pergola would require. 

Quirks or special cases


The erect cones of the cedar species are unusual; most conifers hold their cones so that they point outward or downward.  The cones disperse their seeds by shattering when still on the branch.  They don't dry, therefore, and can only be used indoors when still attached to their branches, and even then only when the branches have their feet in water, just like any other component of an in-the-vase bouquet.

 

Training a cedar of lebanon keeps the tree low enough so that the cones are readily visible.  Training the tree into a horizontally-limbed espalier enhances the display of cones still further.

Downsides

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.

Variants

Even by biblical times, Cedrus libani and mankind had already had millenia of interaction.  By one count, the word "cedar" itself occurs 71 times in the bible.  By 188 A.D., logging had already become so extensive that Emperor Hadrian issued a decree protecting the trees. 

 

Over so many centuries, a number of naturally-occuring cultivars as well as hybrids have been identified.  Habits can be prostrate, mounding, dwarf, or full-sized.  Branching can be shorter or wider.  Needles can be gold, green, or blue-gray.  Hardiness varies as well; there has long been interest in extending the tree's cold tolerance, as well as the ability of its usually wide-spreading limbs to withstand snow-load.  C. libani var. stenocoma grows atop the highest and most exposed mountain of southwest Turkey.  It's hardy into Zone 5, and has thrived for decades in Boston.  It has shorter branches that are less susceptible to breaking under heavy snow than the widely-cantilevering limbs of trees of the straight species. 

Availability

On-line and at retailers.

Propagation

By grafting; cultivars are unlikely to come true from seed.   Cuttings are difficult-to-impossible to root.

Native habitat

Cedrus libani is native to higher altitudes of the eastern Mediterranean: Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, and Syria.   

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