Replace Emerald Cedars with something else

(Question)

Hello, I am looking for a replacement for emerald cedars, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON, zone 7a, clay soil. These were recommended by our landscaper but after three years and drainage issues, and drought, and multiple replacements of emerald cedars, it’s time to move on. Something with a similar shape is what I’m looking for, but something less problematic to grow – skyrocket juniper maybe? The area in question faces south-east but is partially shaded, and would be in a garden bed near the wall of our house.

Thank you

(Answer)

Thank you for getting in touch with the Toronto Master Gardeners.

It is no surprise that you have decided to find replacements for the emerald cedars [Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’] that you’ve been trying to (unsuccessfully) grow for the past several years. This tree grows very well in British Columbia with its cooler summer temperatures and abundant rainfall; Ontario’s summer heat and occasional drought simply cannot support these trees; Ontario winters are also a challenge to these cedars with “a double whammy of frigid temperatures and drying winds causing desiccation or moisture loss of needles”. These trees are very attractive with their dense growth habit and lush-looking needles; they grow quickly in their native habitat and are relatively inexpensive to buy.

There are a couple better choices for your ‘partially-shaded’ conditions. You mention a Skyrocket Juniper (Juniperis scopulorum ‘Skyrocket’); this would probably not be a good choice–it requires full sun for optimum growth. However, you might consider a couple of  yews (Taxus) that will do well in your growing conditions: Pyramidal Japanese Yew (Taxus cuspidata ‘Capitata’) or Hick’s Yew (Taxus x media ‘Hicksii’). [For more information about these suggestions, please see reference links]. Obviously, the pyramidal Japanese yew would resemble the shape of the emerald cedar; however, the upright growth habit of either of these yews would make them good replacement choices for your emerald cedars.

We hope that you will have more success with the suggested possibilities.