Weeping Alaskan cedars are among the most beautiful evergreen trees.

Weeping Alaskan cedar: An elegant, easy-to-grow evergreen tree

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Some horticulturists might have trouble choosing a favorite evergreen tree. Not me. If you ask, I won’t hesitate to tell you the evergreen tree I adore above all others is the weeping Alaskan cedar. Botanically known most commonly as Chamaecyparis nootkatensis (or occasionally by its newer genus, Xanthocyparis), this tree is a winner in every sense of the word. I’d like to tell you more about the weeping Alaskan cedar in hopes that you’ll fall in love with it, too.

Chamaecyparis nootkatensis is the weeping Alaskan cedar and it is among the loveliest evergreen trees for gardens.

Here, a weeping Alaskan cedar graces a front garden in Buffalo, NY.

What is a weeping Alaskan cedar?

One look at this beautiful tree and its easy to see why so many people adore it. The texture of the flat-needled boughs is soft and wispy. No sharp or painful needles here. With a blue-green cast, this tree is also sometimes called the weeping blue Alaskan cedar, too.

The softly pyramidal shape of this tree, along with its weeping habit, make it an ideal landscape plant. During the growing season, small 1/3 inch brown to burgundy cones appear at the tips of the needles, but primarily on mature plants.

Also known as the Nootka false-cypress and the yellow cypress, this tree is more closely related to the cypress than it is to cedars, hence the recent genus change I mentioned above.

The soft needles of the Alaskan cedar

The soft, fan-shaped needles of the weeping Alaskan cedar drape from the boughs beautifully.

How big do weeping Alaskan cedar trees grow?

Native to the northwest region of North America, you’ll find these trees in the wild from Northern California up to Alaska. In backyard cultivation, Chamaecyparis nootkatensis has grown quite common, in particular the cultivar known as ‘Pendula’ (more on this later). In the wild, weeping Alaskan cedars reach up to a whopping 100 feet in height with a width of approximately 20 to 30 feet after decades of growth. But, in garden settings, they tend to top out at around 30 feet in height with a spread equal to half of that.

Winter hardiness of Chamaecyparis nootkatensis

Weeping Alaskan cedars, as you can imagine if you’re at all familiar with the climate in their native range, thrive in consistently moist soils where plenty of moisture is present year-round. The hardiness of a weeping Alaskan cedar, according to the USDA hardiness zones, is 4 through 7. Translated into the corresponding temperatures on the hardiness zone map, this means Chamaecyparis nootkatensis is winter hardy down to about -30 degrees F. This tree is a great fit for the entire northern tier of the US, the majority of Canada, and equivalent climates globally. It will not, however, thrive too far south of the 40th parallel where the summers and soil are too hot and dry.

The Nootka false cypress makes a great specimen tree in the landscape.

Give weeping Alaskan cypress the conditions they prefer, and they’ll reward you with decades of beauty.

Weeping Alaskan cedar varieties

Beyond the straight species of this plant, there are a few cultivated varieties that are very common in the nursery trade.

  1. Chamaecyparis nootkatensis ‘Pendula’ : This is the most common cultivar found for sale, especially in the eastern US. I have two in my Pennsylvania garden, and they perform beautifully. The branches are even more pendulous on this selection, with the lower branches often touching the ground. It’s quite an elegant evergreen tree. This variety grows to 35 feet tall and 12 feet wide.
  2. Chamaecyparis nootkatensis ‘Green Arrow’: Known commonly as the green arrow weeping Alaskan cedar, this variety grows into a very narrow spire. With a height of 20 feet and a width of a mere 2 feet, ‘Green Arrow’ is the best selection for small yards and gardens, or for narrow areas along a driveway or fence. It creates a strong, vertical accent in the landscape.
How to grow weeping Alaskan cedars.

This is one of two ‘Pendula’ trees I have in my backyard. It’s 8 years old and about 8 feet tall.

Where to plant a weeping Alaskan cedar

Because these beautiful trees grow so large and their graceful branches spread wide, don’t try to sandwich them into a small space (unless of course you’re growing the small-space cultivar ‘Green Arrow’). Give these trees plenty of room to show off.

Choose a site that receives full sun throughout most of the day. The ideal location should have moist soil, but not waterlogged. Consistently moist soil is key, so if you have a low-lying area, this tree is a great choice. However, standing water is a big no-no.

Also try to choose a location that’s protected from harsh winter winds. Strong winds can cause needle or branch desiccation and even die-back if winters are extremely cold and windy where you live. Though the weeping Alaskan cedar is very cold hardy, it does not do well in high-wind areas.

Problems with Chamaecyparis nootkatensis

Thankfully, there are few problems that plague the weeping Alaskan cedar. Their pest resistance is yet another reason to love this tree. It has no serious pests in the landscape, though occasionally I find a bagworm or two clinging to the branches. Upon occasion, spruce mites can be problematic. However, if you encourage a good population of beneficial insects in your garden by including lots of flowering plants, mite numbers seldom become an issue.

The weeping Alaskan cedar is also fairly tolerant of road-side pollution, though I suggest keeping it away from sidewalks, roads, and driveways that are routinely treated with road salt in the winter time. Or, use a plant- and pet-safe ice melter to protect your plants from damage.

Growing Chamaecyparis nootkatensis in the garden.

These sturdy and beautiful weeping trees are seldom bothered by pests or diseases.

Caring for a weeping Alaskan cedar

Thankfully, these trees need very little in terms of care and maintenance.

  • Keep the plant mulched with a 2- to 3-inch layer of shredded hardwood mulch. This maintains consistent soil moisture and limits weed competition. Do not pile mulch against the trunk of this or any other tree.
  • Do not prune weeping Alaskan cedars. Its lovely form is easily ruined by poor pruning technique. It’s best to give your weeping Alaskan cedar all the room it needs. That means it will grow to its full size right from the start, and don’t prune it at all.
  • Keep the tree well-watered until it’s established. If you site it according to its needs, once established, you won’t need to add any supplemental water except during periods of extreme drought.
  • Fertilize weeping Alaskan cedar trees every few years with an acid-specific granular organic fertilizer.

An all-around great evergreen tree, the weeping Alaskan cedar is well worth including in your garden. Be sure you have the right conditions and site it properly. I hope you’ll consider making room for one of these beauties; you’ll enjoy its gorgeous good looks for many years to come.

To discover more great trees and shrubs for your garden, check out these related articles:

Dwarf Evergreen Trees
The Best Trees for Privacy
Flowering Trees: 21 of the Best
Evergreen Compact Shrubs

What’s your favorite evergreen tree? We’d love to hear about it in the comment section below.

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12 Responses to Weeping Alaskan cedar: An elegant, easy-to-grow evergreen tree

  1. Ryan Heyl says:

    Hello there. I could really use some help with my Alaskan Cedar. It’s about ten years old. It was on a farm and I transplanted it this last fall. It did really well all winter long but now has start to turn brown. I live In oregon. What should I do or is it to late?

    • Some of that could be delayed transplant shock. If it’s just the interior turning brown but the tips of the branches are still green and producing new growth, the plant will outgrow the shock. Be sure to give it deep waterings, nothing shallow. Set the hose on a trickle and place it at the base of the tree. Let it trickle for 3 to 4 hours. If you do this once a week, the plant will receive ample water for the roots to adjust.

  2. Karen says:

    I’m in northwest montana. I am having a similar problem with my weeping cedar. The tips of the needles are turning yellow then brown. If it were a plant I would guess too much water. I have not deep watered it this year but will do that. My tree has been in the ground 10 years and about 25 feet tall. Any suggestions.

    • I worry that it’s a soil-based fungal issue for a tree that large and established. I suggest reaching out to your local cooperative extension agent and asking if they have a way to take a sample of the tree for a laboratory diagnosis.

  3. Scott says:

    Looking for some advice on my Weeping Alaskan Cedar. It is about 8’ tall, been in the ground for a year now. It seems very healthy and green.
    The lateral branches on mine hang straight down so it appears very slim, full but slim. Also the top 15 to 18” do not point skyward, it drops off to the side. The guy at the nursery said as it starts growing the top would straighten out and up. I like the look of the tree regardless but was the seller right? Should I stake the top of the tree to straighten it?

  4. Kristi Cunningham says:

    Like you, I LOVE Weeping Alaskan Cedars. Two years ago, I planted 3 of the ‘Jubilee’ variety in my backyard and they are unquestionably thriving! Last summer I planted 2 ‘Green Arrow’ Weeping Alaskan Cedars in my front yard that I am a little concerned about. I’m seeing a lot of leaf/needle yellowing and dropping. I live in western Washington state so need to water in the summer only. I read that they do prefer moist soil, so I’ve been watering them every other day (sometimes daily if it’s been hot). There is new growth that looks healthy, but I want to make sure if there is a problem or if I’m doing something wrong, it gets corrected ASAP. I would be devastated if I lost these. They are 14 & 16 feet tall.

    • Yellowing needles at the center of the plant (closest to the trunk) are not a sign of trouble, as long as the new growth/tips are green. Yellowing interior needles are likely a sign of transplant shock. Be sure to water deeply. I turn the hose onto a trickle and set it at the base of the plant for 3-4 hours at a time about once per week. Deeper, but less frequent watering is always better for trees and shrubs than infrequent, shallow waterings.

  5. John Petrof says:

    Just moved into our home in NE Ohio with 2 Alaskan weeping cedars at our patio. They appear very healthy but are taking up too much of the patio. When is it best to trim them? I would like to take maybe 12″ off the ends of the branches. The trees are about 16 to 18′ tall. Thank you!

    • Prune in mid-winter, if you have to prune at all. Remember, these trees get HUGE, so no amount of pruning is going to be able to contain them if they’re planted that close to a patio.

  6. Ted Kochen says:

    My 18 year old Alaskan Cedar has been slowly thinning and browning for a few years. At this time the leader has turned brown and half the tree is brown. Sadly I assume this tree will not survive. Would this be a disease, drought/flood issues or something similar? Would I have trouble replacing the tree in kind, or is that a no-no due to possible disease in the soil?

    • How sad! I suggest you send a plant tissue sample off to your local extension service for a lab analysis. Alternatively, you could contact an ISA certified arborist who can come out and take a look at the tree and perhaps do a tissue analysis for a disease pathogen. That’s really the only sure-fire way to know what’s going on with a tree that’s this established. If it is a disease issue (especially a soil-borne one), I recommend choosing a different tree species for that site.

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