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Attributes: December is the month of conifers in the United States. We see them everywhere, department stores, television specials, and in our own living rooms. Most of these, of course, are either artificial or cut trees, which are grown specifically as a crop for the holiday season.It takes a little bit of effort to identify species, which will be successful in our mid-south gardens. The Deodar cedar is one of those conifers that can be used well in our area if we site it correctly.
First of all, what we call Red Cedar here in the South is not a cedar at all, but a juniper, Juniperus virginiana. There are only three true cedar species in the world. Atlas cedar, Cedrus atlatica from Algeria and Morocco. Cedar of Lebanon, cedrus lebani from Lebanon, Turkey and Asia Minor. Finally Deodar cedar, Cedrus deodara from the lower reaches of the Himalaya from India to the Eastern Afghanistan.
Deodar cedar is an extremely graceful plant. Its needles are in whorls of 15 to 20, silvery green in color on arching limbs. The tree is generally conical in shape but usually asymmetrical giving it a very picturesque appearance. Even a relatively young specimen can give a feeling of age and in fact is sometimes used as a bonsai specimen.In the early 80's many older specimens of Deodar cedar were damaged or lost due to cold winter temperatures. Since that time, new plantings have been made and many can be seen in our area.It is rated as a zone 7 plant (Memphis is in zone 7) and should be winter hardy to -12º F.There are a number of named varieties available. ‘Shalimar', has the reputation of being the most cold tolerant. It was grown from seed collected in Kashmir and grown at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, MA.
Planting tip: Deodar cedar wants good drainage, at least average fertile soil and some protection from cold winter winds. A site with a building or some larger trees northwest of it would be ideal. Sun most of the day is best, although partial shade is not a big problem.Planting can be done in spring or fall and a container-grown specimen is best. The species can grow from 100 to 150 feet in its native habitat. Under cultivations, expect 40 to 70 feet after 30 to 40 years. I would expect the selection ‘compacta' to achive about half that in stature.
New planting should be watered deeply at regular intervals - especially during the hottest part of the summer.
Landscape Value: Deodar cedar can be a magnificent lawn specimen or part of a larger planting composed of other conifers and deciduous trees. Its classic appearance against other more typical landscape forms draws a lot of attention, particularly in the winter, when conifers are at their best. Deodar cedar can be seen at Memphis Botanic Garden in the Conifer collection, north of the Rose Garden. Cedrus deodara pruned in Bonsai form can be seen at the Moon Gazing Pavilion in the Japanese Garden.