Container Grown Emerald Cedars

(Question)

Hi, I planted some 6′ container grown Emerald Cedars a little over 2 years ago (August 2013) and although they have not turned brown, they simply haven’t grown much. The only thing I can think of is that I know I didn’t think at the time of planting to pull apart / opening up the roots just before planting them in their spot. Perhaps their roots continued to grow in a circular fashion? Not sure. I live in Oakville and its a very sunny location – Clay soil obviously too. I don’t need them to grow too tall (10 feet or so would be ideal) however I just want to make sure that if the roots continue to grow in a circular fashion it wont kill the trees. Would it be okay for me to dig them out and open up the root balls or is it too late for that now?
Thanks for your help.

(Answer)

Emerald cedars in plastic containers may have been growing in their containers for as little as one season, or for a couple of seasons: sometimes it is obvious that roots have been growing in a confined space for some time.  This is why experts recommend that when you are planting containerized trees, you gently spread out the roots and make sure that any roots that are tightly circling the circumference of the container are disentangled or pruned back.  Moderate disruption of the root system of plants in containers does not cause undue stress when they are planted in the ground. If circling, or “girdling” roots (roots which wrap around the base of the trunk) remain, the tree can still often survive for many years.

In your case, since your cedars appear healthy and they have been established for more than two years, it may be best to leave them in place rather than digging them up and disturbing their root structure.  On established plants, removal of girdling roots may itself cause greater damage than leaving them in place, because older and newer roots may be intertwined.

Emerald cedar is a moderate grower once established, requiring a little pruning to maintain its shape.  It is tolerant of clay soils, but you should consider amending your soil with organic material to add nutrients.  Here is a previous Toronto Master Gardeners post that gives some helpful general advice on planting and caring for the Emerald Cedar.