Cedar tree maintenance


Hello, I have recently purchased a house in Toronto with a small backyard. In 3 corners of the backyard leaning against the fence are 3 tall mature cedars (about 2 stories tall – they go higher than my second floor window). One cedar is normal and has branches going all the way to the ground. But the other two have had all the bottom branches chopped off – about 2m from the bottom they are completely bare. To my knowledge this was done by the previous owners who wanted to make more room in the backyard. It was done within the last 7 years (how long previous owners had the property) but also could have been just done last year. Previous owners had not taken care of any of the plants in either backyard or front yard (it was just weeds and dead grass) so I am confident they did not make the decision to cut down the branches with the tree’s health in mind. So far all the trees look very healthy and green – no odd dead patches. Under the trees there were lots and lots of cedar needles accumulated over many years that I have since cleared. The trees are absolutely beautiful and are a main feature of the backyard and I want to make sure I give them the best care. I am concerned that maybe it will be too cold for them in the winder with all the branches gone and trunks exposed like that. Should I be covering them with burlap or put mulch over the area around the roots? Is there anything else I should be worried about considering the damage?
All the trees are all leaning against a very sturdy fence so I think they have enough support from the winds. Backyard is facing east with lots of sun throughout the day. I only have other townhomes on one side and the rest is empty land. Soil is very dry with clay in it I think. Thank you so much for helping me out with this – I am a first time home owner and a new gardener so any advice would be amazing.


Thank you for contacting the Toronto Master Gardeners with your question about cedar tree care.  These trees have clearly thrived in this location for many years. Since they are in a backyard, protected by the fence, and adjacent homes on at least 2 sides, there is no need for burlap protection in winter. In terms of taking good care of these trees moving forward here are some things to consider.

Water – Cedars like moist but not soggy soil.   It is better to water deeply, less often than a light sprinkle frequently.  In dry conditions, like the summer we just experienced, they will need watering approximately weekly.  Use a soaker hose or low sprinkler to water the soil and avoid regular soaking of the leaves and branches.  You can check the soil before and after watering the first few times to ensure moisture has penetrated several inches.  The amount of water delivered by different equipment varies and you will soon get a sense of how long to water each time.  If there is a good rain, then nature is watering for you!  Cedars need water well into the fall, to ensure adequate moisture through the winter.

Mulch – put a 2-4 inch layer of mulch around the base of each tree, ensuring it isn’t piled up against the trunk – like a donut around the base.  Mulch can be something like compost, manure, wood chips, shredded leaves or a combination of theses things.  In future, you can leave the cedar leaves / needles that fall under the tree on the ground.  Mulch helps the soil to retain moisture, deter weeds and can add nutrients to the soil. Mulch will also help to improve the quality and structure of the soil around the trees over time.  Just lay it on top – no need to dig it in.

Fertilizer – If you use compost or composted manure as mulch you may not need any other fertilizer.  This response to a previous question on our website provides additional information about fertilizing cedar trees TMG Fertilizing Cedars

One final thought based on your photo is about soil compaction.  Compacted soil due to foot traffic or paving stones as in your yard, can impede tree root access to water and oxygen in the soil. The tree on the left has a paving stone right up against the trunk.  Lifting this one stone will help to decrease soil compaction and is one more thing you can do to take care of the tree!  If you’d like more information you can find it here.

All the best to you and your cedar trees!  Please don’t hesitate to contact us again for support and advice as you continue on your gardening journey!