Incense Cedar is a beautiful native American tree from California that grows well across the country from west to east. It grows 12 inches a year when young, and it becomes a tall column 30 to 50 feet high, but only 8 to 10 feet wide. This makes it exceptionally useful in small and medium-sized gardens, where it will provide height, without growing very wide. It can be planted on a lawn, or in beds of trees and shrubs. It can form part of a collection of conifers or be planted as a narrow screen. Its soft foliage is aromatic of cedar, and planted in a row it clips easily into a beautiful hedge. It is very easy to grow, yet extremely handsome, with great ‘presence’ and charm.
- Remarkable foliage with 5 narrow, hanging thread-like lobes
- Soft, fern-like foliage in rounded sprays
- Wonderful lawn specimen
- Grows well in many different soils
- Needs no maintenance at all for timeless beauty
Plant Incense Cedar in a sunny or lightly shaded area. It grows well in a wide range of soils, growing best in fertile and well-drained soils. It is hardy in sheltered areas of zone 5 and grows best in zones 7 and 8. It has no significant pests or diseases, and it is moderately drought tolerant when well established. New plants should be kept moist for the first few years.
In smaller to medium-sized gardens there is often a need for a tall but narrow tree – tall enough to have real presence, but not very broad, so that it doesn’t take up too much room. Incense Cedar fits that profile perfectly, but that is just the start of the merits of this wonderful evergreen tree, which should be grown much more often. Because of its relatively narrow profile, it is an excellent choice for a small or medium-sized garden. This is a fast-growing tree, adding at least 12 inches a year in its early years. It will not be long before it is of a substantial size, and in time it will reach 30 and even 50 feet tall, yet it remains less than 10 feet wide. So many gardens are spoiled by over-large trees, but with Incense Cedar that will not happen. Its narrow profile guarantees it will not become wide and engulf your garden, which can eventually lead to expensive tree removal being needed.
Growing California Incense Cedar Trees
Incense Cedar is a narrow evergreen conifer, related to more well-known conifers like arborvitae, cypress and juniper. It has similar foliage, with tiny, scale-like leaves clinging to the stems, but unique small cones, that open to look a little like duck’s bills. The branchlets are flattened, in beautiful fern-like sprays. The color of the foliage is a rich, warm green. The foliage stems are carried on radiating branches, and this tree has a soft, rounded appearance to its leafy parts.
As the name suggests, all parts of the tree are wonderfully aromatic. It has a tall, straight trunk with orange-brown bark that is smooth on young trees, but deeply-ridged and more greyish on old trees. Young trees will have foliage to the ground, but older trees develop a clear trunk several feet tall, making this a dramatic specimen on a lawn or in an open space, where its strong vertical line can be appreciated best. Overall, this tree has great elegance and even grandeur, without being excessively large.
Uses in Your Garden
Incense Cedar makes a beautiful specimen tree in a lawn, alone, or mixed with other trees in a larger garden. It would be effective in almost any garden style, and of course it fits perfectly into a Japanese-influenced garden design. Its special form creates a visual accent, and it will grow without any attention into a beautiful specimen. A row of them would make a unique screen in a confined area, and it can even be clipped into a very special hedge. For screening plant 6 feet apart, and 3 to 4 feet apart for a clipped hedge.
This tree grows best in full sun or light shade. It thrives, and will grow tallest, in deep, rich, well-drained soil, but it grows well in all kinds of soils, from sand to clay. It is moderately drought-tolerant, but in dry areas it should be watered deeply at least twice a month during the summer months. Rather unusually, it grows well in both the west and the east, so gardeners all across the country can enjoy this tree in a wide range of climatic areas, and in many different kinds of soil. In sheltered spots it is hardy into most of zone 5, and it thrives in zones 7 and 8.
History and Origins of the California Incense Cedar
Calocedrus decurrens, as Incense Cedar is called by botanists, grows chiefly in California, but it also extends north into Oregon, and southwards into Nevada and even into Mexico. It is found at higher altitudes, and once occurred in extensive forests. Trees can live to be 1,000 years old, by which time they may be approaching 200 feet tall in the wild. Trees in gardens usually reach no more than 50 feet tall. The lumber of Incense Cedar was once used for cedar chests, and because it is very resistant to water and decay, it was used for fence posts. This is why it is sometimes called ‘California post cedar’. It was also once used extensively to manufacture pencils. The Greek word ‘kalos’ in the botanist’s name means ‘beautiful’, and this is a tree that really lives up to that name.