These graceful, sometimes gigantic trees are often mistaken for pines because they naturally grow in the pyramidal form associated with pine trees. Though the Deodar cedar, or Cedrus deodara, is a member of the pine family, it is among the few true cedars, none native to North America. The Deodar cedar can grow to immense heights--160 feet and taller--under ideal conditions, though much smaller cultivars are available.
The Deodar cedar, native to the Himalayas, has been cultivated since 1831, and is appreciated here and elsewhere as a timber tree. In the U.S. it is primarily a specimen tree--truly stunning on first sight, with a gracefully drooping leader and pendulous lower branches that sweep up as it matures. The tree grows quite rapidly when young, two feet or more per year, though that rate slows in time. Branches are delicate, with short gray-green needles and tips that droop downward. Wood of Deodar cedar is resistant to storm damage and breakage.
Light & Air
The deodar cedar prefers full sun, but light shade for seedlings and young trees prevents them from drying out during hot periods. The deodar cedar doesn’t tolerate air pollution well, however, so think twice if that’s a problem in your neighborhood.
Well-drained soil is absolutely essential. The few diseases that can doom Deodar cedar include root rots, invariably traced back to soils with too much heavy clay or that otherwise lack adequate internal drainage. Good drainage is not enough; rich, deep loams encourage the rapid growth so important for young trees, and provide the fertility to support optimal long-term growth. Shallow, rocky soils will either stunt the growth of cedars or cause their early death due to drought.
Locate Deodar cedars well away from buildings, driveways, walkways and streets so its beautiful lower branches won’t need to be amputated. As trees mature they retain a pyramidal shape, but lower branches continue to grow and eventually sweep upward--a development that means trees end up wider than they are tall. A small yard-sized cultivar that also comes in a sunny color is ‘Gold Cone’ Deodar cedar. It grows to 20 feet tall and six feet wide, and is safe to grow beneath power lines.
The Deodar cedar generally does well in the ocean-moderated climates of Zones 7 to 9, though below-freezing temperatures will still damage trees within these areas. Cold winds can also inflict harm. The hardiest cultivar is ‘Kashmir,’ which can tolerate cold temperatures to minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit. The hardiest cultivar commonly planted in the U.S. is ‘Shalimar,’ with very appealing blue-green foliage.
Water & Fertilizer
Cedars stand up to environmental stresses well, but they do appreciate adequate water and generous mulch when it’s hot. Mulch two to three inches thick also helps soil retain moisture. They respond well to fertilizer too, but don’t overfertilize. Deborah Brown of University of Minnesota Extension suggests applying a balanced, slow-release fertilizer such as 10-8-6 in early spring, before new growth expands.