When you think Afghanistan, plant material is probably not the first thing to come to mind. Yet this is precisely where one of our landscape’s most elegant and beautiful trees originates. The tree I am referring to is the deodar cedar, and to be honest, it is not just from Afghanistan but the Himalayas as well.
Columbus, Ga., has more of them planted than any other community where I have lived. We have ones that appear to be very old and stand so statuesque as if they have a story to tell to all who pass by. In the city, we have them in all ages, including an abundance that must have been planted 15 to 20 years ago. These look like paintings in the landscape with their silvery blue-green pendulous branches.
During this time of the year, my eyes seem to pick out every conifer in the landscape, especially the deodar cedar. Conifers are the cone-bearing trees or shrubs, and when everything else goes brown or dormant, the evergreens really stand out. They are important to the winter landscape, giving us that needed evergreen structure.
Used in landscaping
Deodar cedar, or just deodar, is known botanically as Cedrus deodara and is used in the landscape along with Cedrus libani, or cedar of Lebanon, and the Cedrus atlantica, or Atlas cedar. Deodars can reach more than 150 feet tall, but we typically see them maturing in the 50- to 70-foot range after 30 to 40 years. Lower branches bend gracefully downward and then up again. The stiff, needle-like, silvery blue-green leaves are about 2 inches long and borne in dense whorls.
Most are sold generically, which in this case is just fine, but keep your eyes open for cultivars. Argentea is fast growing and has silvery bluish gray foliage. This one is my favorite. Aurea is smaller, reaching to 30 feet and has golden yellow new foliage. Pendula has long, weeping branches and grows no taller than 10 feet. The deodar cedar is cold hardy to zone 7, but Shalimar released by the Arnold Arboretum is known for superior cold hardiness for landscapes in zone 6.
The deodar is fairly fast growing for the first decade or two, reaching as high as 30 feet in its first 10 years. I think it is most beautiful at this stage. Between years 10 and 20, it will slowly broaden at the top. Older specimens generally show some top die-back, but don’t let this keep you from experiencing 10 to 20 years of deodar bliss in your landscape.
They perform best in full sun and are drought tolerant once established. This tree likes well-drained locations. Most deodar cultivars will grow into large, handsome specimen trees that need plenty of room. Plant them in the back of a large landscape.
Deodar is the most popular landscaping cedar in America, transforming the winter landscape like few other trees can do. I hope you will give it a try in yours.
Norman Winter is executive director of the Columbus Botanical Garden, Columbus Ga., and author of “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South” and the highly acclaimed “Captivating Combinations Color and Style in the Garden.”