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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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. Just like pruning Japanese maples, 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:
What’s your favorite evergreen tree? We’d love to hear about it in the comment section below.