Monday, April 16th, 2012...12:00 am

Deodar Cedar Issues – Part I

TheGardenLady received this question from Katherine.

We have a 1911 Craftsman home in Hollywood with a giant deodar cedar in the front yard (photos above). I’ve tried planting salvia, heather, dahlias, azaleas, camellias, succulents, annuals, etc. and nothing really thrives or looks right. Someone suggested ferns, but I can’t see this front yard full of ferns. Do you have any suggestions? The problem is the needles. They blanket the ground year round. We’ve also tried grass, and it looked very patchy. This year, I planted some cyclamen and threw some wildflower seeds in frustration. The cosmos are actually sprouting. There is dappled light. The camellia seems to be the happiest, but it is away from the base of the tree. My gardener once tried impatiens, but I did not like the look of the ring of flowers by the base of the trunk.  I’ve looked for photos, etc, and nothing seems to work under these gigantic, and I mean GIGANTIC, trees. Help!

Having a big evergreen growing in one’s yard creates a difficult planting situation for anyone, that is why you do not see photos of plants growing under them. Plants like to grow in an area that provides its needs, which the huge evergreen tree may be using. This GardenLady may not be any more helpful for what you are wishing for than anyone else. Let me explain why.

Deodar Cedars, one of only four true cedars, are native to the Himalayan forests and India. Large specimens have been found over 200 feet tall with a spread that can be 50 feet across and have trunks almost three feet in diameter. Theses fast growing trees are beautiful specimen trees but really should be grown in arboretums or really large gardens or estates not in small front yards. Hopefully you have one of the smaller varieties, but none of these trees are really small.

The Deodar cedar tree is usually not limbed up; you don’t want to cut the lower branches because the gracefulness of the lower branches shows the beauty of the shape of the tree which is what makes it a specimen. Therefore under the tree there is quite a bit of shade- too much to successfully grow most plants. If you were to go to a forest you would see that not much grows around the tree.

When you have a tree that large, its root mass is also very large- covering much of your lawn area. Tree roots are in the shape of a pancake and the larger the tree the more space the root takes. This root mass takes up a lot of moisture as well as nutrients for the tree so it does not allow for successful planting around it or for much else to grow around it.

As you comment, even evergreen trees shed their needles. They just don’t shed them all at once as a deciduous tree does. The larger the evergreen tree the more needles are shed. And lastly, evergreen needles tend to make the soil very acidic which makes it difficult to grow most plants.

So you see why you have a difficult situation for attempting to plant flowering plants around your tree. People or landscapers who see a pretty tree should not always plant the tree just because it looks so cute in its container- they should consider its final growing size. At this point in the tree’s life, you may have to consider your front yard an arboretum, not a garden and be happy that you have such a magnificent healthy tree.

Most plants that like acid loving soil and take shade like moisture, too. You said that your camellia did the best. I am surprised that the rhododendron or azalea did not thrive. There are rhododendrons that are also native to the Himalayans. Rhododendrons and azaleas are most tolerant of the acid soil. You should call the American Rhododendron Society to see if they can suggest one that would work (see here). Though different plants grow in the four different growing areas of the Himalayas, the rhododendron and the Cedar might not grow in the same forests there.

Another suggestion is to consider native plants that will grow in dry shade and acid soil. In California there are native plant nurseries like Las Pilitas Nursery that might have a suggestion for what will live in your front lawn or contact the Native Plant Society of California.

Some people have had success with liriope in acid, shady soil. For a list of perennial plants that grow in California check out this. There is a list of plants that grow in dark shade.  See here.  However, the website means the shade of an oak tree, NOT a cedar tree. Oak trees have more light under them.

Good luck. And please let TheGardenLady readers know if you find something that successfully grows under your Deodar Cedar Tree. Growing plants under evergreen trees is a problem, so it would help all of us when you have success.

Stay tuned for Part II of this series, where TheGardenLady will talk some more about what you might want to do to deal with your Deodar Cedar problem.


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  • Thank you, Garden Lady for your post. I am going to look into liriope, Las Pilitas and the Native Plant Society of California.
    I’m not sure what happened to my azalea…one completely wilted, while the other two are doing okay.
    I am wondering if you think it might be okay to brick some of the area, so that I can have flowering plants in containers in the yard. Otherwise, it’s just plain earth on the ground—no ground cover is taking. Or is that not good for the large roots of the deodar?
    Looking forward to Part 2!
    I will definitely let you know what takes under this incredibly beautiful old tree.

  • I have a deodar in my front yard. We successfully grow a ring of agapanthas around the base of the tree. (They were here when we got here). Surrounding them is a ring of rocks, and beyond that, grass, probably fescue. The north side grass is great, the south side is weeds and dirt, so I feel your pain.

  • Columbine is flourishing under my giant Deodar Cedar tree and also my Pachysandra ground cover is doing fine !

  • During this drought, I noticed my deodor cedar had developed a lean that I don’t believe it had previously. It was always crowded by a very large pine nearby which was removed a few years ago, but it seems to have developed a wrinkled section of trunk and the lean is more pronounced from the wrinkled part up. I suspect this is from the wind. I had not been watering it because there is an aquifer running beneath the property and I assumed it was getting water there but the aquifer may have been drained during the drought. It is about 40 years old and very, very, tall. I had an arborist look at it and he suggested trimming it to control windsail, but the lean worries me so much, I’m wondering if I should just go ahead and remove it. It is a beautiful tree … the most beautiful tree on the property, but it looks dangerous leaning the way it does.

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