Eastern Red Cedar Facts – Learn About Caring For An Eastern Red Cedar Tree

Eastern Red Cedar Facts – Learn About Caring For An Eastern Red Cedar Tree

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Found primarily in the United States east of the Rockies, eastern red cedars are members of the Cypress family. These medium sized evergreen trees provide outstanding shelter for many birds and mammals during the winter and make for excellent color in the landscape during otherwise drab months. Interested in growing eastern red cedars? The following article contains information about caring for an eastern red cedar tree and other eastern red cedar facts.

Eastern Red Cedar Facts

Eastern red cedars (Juniperus vinginiana) are also known as juniper, savin evergreen, cedar apple, and Virginia red cedar. The trees are shaped like a pyramid or column with grayish to reddish-brown bark. The foliage is blue-green to green and needlelike. Female and male cones are borne on separate trees.

Female trees have little blue balls adorning the branches – the fruit. Inside the fruit there are 1-4 seeds that are spread by birds. The inconspicuous flowers are small and spiky. Male trees have tiny tan colored pine cones, which are the pollen bearing organs of the tree. Pollen is released from these tiny organs at the end of the winter to pollinate the female structures. Red cedars then flower early in the spring.

Native Americans used red cedar for incense or to burn during purification rites. The Blackfeet made a berry tea of the red cedar to combat vomiting. They also boiled the leaves in water and mixed the resulting brew with turpentine which was then rubbed on the body to soothe rheumatism and arthritis. The Cheyenne steeped the leaves and drank the tea to calm coughs or throat problems. A tea was also used to hasten childbirth. Other Native Americans used the eastern red cedar for everything from asthma, colds, diarrhea, fevers, tonsillitis, and pneumonia. Topical concoctions were used to slow bleeding as well. Eastern red cedar information could also be found listed in the U.S. Pharmocopoeia from 1820-1894 for use as a diuretic.

Red cedars can often be found in cemeteries as ornamentals. The wood is used for furniture, paneling, fence posts, and novelties. Both the fruit and tender young branches contain oil that is used in medicines. As mentioned, many birds and small mammals rely on the cedar for shelter during the winter months. The tender branches are also eaten by larger hoofed mammals. Many birds, from juncos to waxwings to sparrows, feast on the red cedar berries.

Caring for an Eastern Red Cedar Tree

Growing eastern red cedars saplings can often be obtained from a nursery or if they are common in your area, they might just pop up unbidden from seeds deposited by birds.


Red cedars can also be propagated via cuttings. Cuttings should be taken in late fall, winter or spring when the tree is dormant and the sap has slowed. Try to take the cutting in the early morning.

To grow a cedar from a cutting, you will need a 3 to 6 inch (7.5-15 cm.) piece of current year’s growth. Choose a branch that is flexible and light brown and cut it at a 45-degree angle. Pinch off any foliage from the bottom of the cutting and wrap it in wet paper towels place in a bucket of ice to keep them cold until you plant them. Plan to get them in the ground within an hour or two.

Fill a medium sized pot with a soilless potting mixture. Dip the cut portion of the cutting in rooting hormone, tap off any excess and put the cutting into the soilless mix. Pat the mix firmly down around the cutting. Place the pot into a clear plastic bag that is sealed with a twist tie. Store the cutting in a warm room with bright but indirect light. Mist the cuttings daily with a spray bottle and reseal the bags afterwards. In four weeks, test the cuttings by giving them a gentle tug. If they resist, rooting has taken place.

Transplant the cuttings into pots of regular soil after 3 months and take them outside to acclimate gradually. They can then be planted into the garden in the late fall.

Seed propagation

Propagation of eastern red saplings can also be done with seeds, but it will likely take longer. If you aren’t in a hurry, gather fruit in the fall. Try to pick only ripe berries and pick plenty since germination rates tend to be iffy. The seeds can then be stored as berries or cleaned seeds.

To get to the seeds, soften the fruit with a drop of detergent in some water. The detergent will help make the seeds float to the top. Gather the floating seeds and allow them to dry on paper towels. Store the dried seeds in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

You can also lay the fruit out to dry and then shake the seeds out of the cones after a few days. Then clean the seeds of any dirt or debris by gently rubbing them; don’t use water or the seeds may begin to rot. Store them in the refrigerator or other dark area of between 20-40 degrees F. (-6-4 C.).

To take advantage of natural chilling, sow seeds in the fall. Otherwise, seeds may be sown in the spring or summer, after a period of stratification. Prior to planting, stratify seeds for a month. Layer seeds between layers of moistened peat moss. Place the entirety into sealed containers and store in an area that has temps of between 30-40 degrees F. (-1-4 C.). Once the seeds have stratified, sow the seeds in the spring at a depth of ¼ inch (0.5 cm.) in moist soil.

America was built on the Pioneer Spirit – the ability to persevere in difficult situations, and survive adversity, thriving in the toughest situation. If you want a plant for those situations, it makes sense to look for one with that same spirit – not a plant that hangs back until conditions have improved, and only comes along when all the comforts are available. Some plants are called ‘pioneer species’, and they are good at colonizing poor land, new areas, and places where other plants can’t yet survive. Across most of eastern North America the Easter Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana, is an important pioneer species. It gets into barren grasslands and abandoned farms quickly, coping with full sun and dry soil. It grows on rocky slopes which dry fast, and where roots can’t even get down deep into cooler and damper areas. If this sounds like your garden, in country or city, then Eastern Red Cedar is a tree you are going to want.

Although called a ‘cedar’, this tree is actually a juniper – an evergreen bush with small leaves, either triangular and pointed, or flat and scale like, and small round cones. Called Juniperus virginiana, it can be found growing wild across all of eastern North America, from the Atlantic west to Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas. It is found from Maine to Florida, and into southern Ontario, Canada as well. It was called ‘cedar’ because of the attractive scent of the leaves and wood, reminiscent of the true cedars of Europe. It grows into an upright tree, much taller than it is broad, and wild trees can be anything from 15 feet tall to over 60 feet tall, depending on the growing conditions. These trees live to a great age – a tree over 900 years old was found in West Virginia. Beginning as a conical bush, it will in time develop a short, sturdy trunk, covered in attractive reddish-brown bark that peels and sheds, giving a rugged look to the tree that matches its toughness. Trees vary in their width, so some garden forms are especially narrow and conical – great for limited spaces. Others have a more open form, developing into trees with interesting jagged profiles that bring a lot of character to garden spaces.

Young trees have small triangular needles tightly packed along the stems, and jutting out, giving the plant a rough, bristly texture. This ‘juvenile’ foliage protects the tree from deer and rabbits, along with its aromatic smell. Older parts of the plant have ‘adult’ foliage. These are tiny, scale-like leaves that grow flat on the stems, making a smooth stem that is softer to the touch and has an almost coral-like look. Foliage color varies from bright green to bluish, so you can grow a tree with the leaf coloring you find most attractive. Most green forms grown in gardens hold their green color through winter – a big plus.

Our Vision

Addressing the spread of cedar poses challenges of a magnitude that dwarfs the capacity and resources of any one agency or organization. Taking a collaborative approach, in 2013 the members of the Nebraska Conservation Roundtable came together to develop a vision for addressing the rapidly expanding population of cedar in Nebraska, define the extent of the problems, determine the opportunities cedar presents, and identify specific actions to achieve this vision.

Our Vision: Roundtable partners envision a future where:

  • grasslands and pastures are managed in ways that reduce cedar populations to improve grass health, vigor and resilience, enhance and conserve native wildlife habitat in grasslands, and protect species diversity at the landscape scale
  • forests containing cedar are managed to enhance timber quality and economic value of all species, increase plant and wildlife diversity within forests, enhance forest ecological resilience and function, and reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire and
  • cedar is a valuable tree species on the Nebraska landscape, with multiple and profitable markets for its wood, contributing to landowner income, job creation, and economic development.

Instrumentations for measuring water use by individual trees was installed to measure sap flow. We measured water use by trees of different sizes and trees grown in open-canopy and closed-canopy stands.

Watersheds were equipped with an H flume, stage recorder, datalogger, rain gauge, and sensors for solar radiation, wind speed & direction, soil temperature, air temperature, and relative humidity.

Soil water content is lower where Red Cedar trees have encroached Red Cedar trees used water year-round, averaging 0.5-21 gallons/day — more for larger trees in less dense stands

Only heavy rains break through the tree canopy to the ground. Rain captured by trees does not run off to replenish streams or groundwater.

Red Cedar trees can thrive in various soil types and tolerate extreme temperatures and drought, but young Red Cedars area no match for fire.

Researchers in the department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management measured water use and interception of redcedar trees in stands of different densities to learn how redcedars affect the quality and quantity of water falling in the watershed.

See what they found inside this leaflet.

These NREM department faculty are part of the Oklahoma Water Resources Center and the Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.

Researchers: Chris Zou, Rodney Will, Donald Turton, and David Engle

Department of Natural Resource Ecology & Management and

The seedlings should be protected from direct sunlight during the spring and summer months. Consider hanging shade cloth over the rows, or using another source of shade such as burlap. The seedlings may be fertilized if needed. Nitrogen is especially important at thisstage. The young trees are especially susceptible to drought, high temperatures, flooding, crowding from weeds, and pest damage, so much care is needed to protect these seedlings as they mature.

In the early fall, the seedlings may be ready to be replanted into small, sheltered transplant beds. If there is not enough growth, it is possible to wait another year before transplanting. Plant the seedlings 6 inches apart from each other in rows that are 1 foot apart, ensuring that the root system stays hydrated during the transplant process.

A conifer tree nursery growing seedlings in rows. Image by Jonathan Billinger.

In the following autumn, the rootsystem may be pruned in preparation for replanting the trees in open nursery rows 6 months later in the spring. Root pruning can be accomplished by sliding a sharp spade under the plant on opposite sides and lifting the plant up in order to completely sever the plant from the rootsystem below. This will encourage vigorous root growth that will help the plant during the process of being transplanted or transported.

Eastern Red Cedar

Mature Eastern Red Cedar with small blue berry seeds growing near the Smoky Mountain Expressway.

If you are out on any pastures or old farm fields you may notice an evergreen tree with small blue berries at this time of year. It is not a prolific tree for our counties like over in Eastern Tennessee or down east in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, but nonetheless it is a native tree to our area and beneficial for several reasons.

Eastern red cedar, sometimes called pencil-cedar, is the most widespread juniper in the eastern United States. The tree was once the primary wood used to make pencils but has been replaced with cheaper woods and synthetic materials.

Eastern red cedar is found in all states east of the Great Plains, from southern Canada to Florida and west into Texas. It is primarily located in low mountains and Piedmont regions. It grows well along fence lines and dry ridges in both Jackson and Swain county. This species can grow in a variety of soil types, but prefers moist, well-drained soils with a limestone base. It is most common in sunny, upland woods, or moist hammocks. It also is found in dry, shallow, rocky areas, such as old fields and ridges.

Wildlife benefit greatly from red cedar trees, using them heavily as a source of refuge, shelter, and food. The dense branches provide a hiding place for many birds, while the bark that peels off in long, flexible strips provides nesting material for squirrels and other small mammals. White-tailed deer browse on redcedar vegetation, but the most important food source coming from these trees is the seeds, which are covered with a fleshy, berry-like layer. These seedcoats provide food for foxes, skunks, opossums, rabbits, mice, ground birds, and many songbirds. The Cedar Waxwing birds that frequents our mountains later this summer can devour the berries off a single tree in a day.

Eastern red cedar heartwood is prized for its pleasant fragrance and insect-repellant properties and is frequently used to line closets, wardrobes, or cedar chests. It is attractive, fine-textured, and easily worked and is commonly used to make woodenware, gifts, and novelty items. Large trees are harvested commercially for paneling, poles, fence posts and logs for cabins. Sawdust and wood chips are used in kennel bedding to minimize odors and repel fleas. Cedarwood oil is extracted from the trees as a fragrance base for soaps and cosmetics. So go out into the fields and old farm fields of you counties and see if you can locate an eastern red cedar. If you do, and are lucky enough to locate a cedar with the small berries, go crush the small blue berry seeds and smell Christmas during July!

Red cedar is frequently grown as a landscape tree to provide natural fencing, soil stabilization, and wind protection. The trees withstand extreme drought, heat, and wind.

The only down-side of the Eastern Red Cedar is that it causes an alternate host for cedar apple rust, which can kill apple trees. So don’t plant apple trees in close proximity to red cedars or remove eastern red cedars before planting an apple orchard. You can remove the “orange galls” from the cedar trees and/or treat apple trees with fungicides. For more information on “cedar apple rust,” please contact either Jackson or Swain Extension at 828-586-4009 or 828-488-3848.

Shape or Form:

Tree & Plant Care

Best in full sun with well-drained soil.
Adaptable to high pH (alkaline) soils.
Tolerant of dry, windy conditions once established.
Prune in early spring.

Disease, pests, and problems

Cedar rusts (cedar-apple, cedar-hawthorn and cedar-quince) and bagworm are common.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 2
East and central North America often found in sunny, limestone outcropping, along fencerows and roadsides.

Bark color and texture

Trees often develop exfoliating reddish brown bark.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Prickly, silvery-blue foliage (needle-like and/or scale-like).
Winter needles often turn a bronzy-green. Some cultivars keep their color all winter.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Male plants produce small, inconspicuous cones that produce pollen.
Female plants produce berry-like cones that, if pollinated, ripen to a bloomy blue-gray color. Fruit often persist throughout winter.
A favorite for many birds and wildlife.

Cultivars and their differences

This plant is a cultivar of a species that is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research. Cultivars are plants produced in cultivation by selective breeding or via vegetative propagation from wild plants identified to have desirable traits."

Blue Eastern red-cedar (Juniperus virginiana 'Glauca'): Narrow, upright, columnar evergreen tree, 20 to 25 feet high and 8 to 10 feet wide. Silver-blue spring foliage turns blue-green in summer. Use as a specimen, in groups, or as an informal hedge.

Blue Mountain Eastern red-cedar (Juniperus virginiana 'Blue Mountain'): Spreading evergreen shrub, 3 to 4 feet high and 5 to 8 feet wide. Blue-green foliage is softer and more needlelike than that of most junipers. Plants of this female cultivar produce berry-shaped cones that, if pollinated, ripen to a bluish color. Use as a foundation plant, in shrub borders, or on slopes.

Burk Eastern red-cedar (Juniperus virginiana 'Burkii'): Pyramidal cultivar, 20 to 25 feet high Good blue color with purple tones in winter male (no fruit).

Canaert Eastern red-cedar (Juniperus virginiana 'Canaertii'): Pyramidal tree, 20 to 35 feet high and 15 to 20 feet wide. Dark green foliage tufted at ends of branches open crown, attractive bluish-white clusters of fruit reddish-brown bark exfoliating into long strips. Use as a specimen, in groups, or for informal screening.

Hillspire Eastern red-cedar (Juniperus virginiana 'Cupressifolia'): Pyramidal form grows to 15 feet tall foliage more cypress-like female form.

Grey Owl Eastern red-cedar (Juniperus virginiana 'Grey Owl'): A low growing, spreading shrub reaching 3 to 4 feet high and 6 to 8 feet wide. Silver-grey foliage attractive all year. A female form that develops attractive blue berries.

Taylor Eastern red-cedar (Juniperus virginiana 'Taylor'): Narrow, columnar form grows 15 to 2o feet high and 3 to 4 feet wide silvery, blue-green foliage.

Watch the video: Red Cedar: Friend or Foe? Exploring Management and Markets