Very dry cedar with curled branches – suffering from drought or root rot?


Hi there, I have three cedars – two in backyard with south exposure and one in front with north exposure – and they are all extremely dry and their leaves are curled and look pale, almost yellow. I’ve been watering a lot with a spray hose over the last week and a half rather than once deeply. I started watering when I noticed a patch of brown on the cedar that gets the most sun exposure. The ground is moist a few inches down. I’ve now removed all the brown branches and raked them away from the base of the tree. I’m not sure what to do to help these trees – are they suffering from drought and I should water deeply, or have I overwatered and they have root rot? Thanks for your help!


Your cedars appear to be Emerald Cedars, the most common variety for sale in garden centres.  While these are an affordable option, they are typically imported into Ontario from the west coast, and often do not transplant well.  We receive many questions about browning cedar foliage and dying cedar trees.  Often, unfortunately, these trees do not return to health.  Foliage that has browned cannot be rejuvenated, but can be carefully pruned back to allow any newly emerging foliage in the interior of the tree to receive the sunlight it needs.  It is difficult to tell from your photo whether there is healthy green foliage there.  You were right to make sure that all dead branches and foliage are removed from around the base of the tree.

In general, regular, less frequent deep watering is recommended for trees and shrubs, rather than spraying frequently with the hose.  Although cedars are moisture loving, a site that is consistently damp with poor drainage can cause root rot.  Cedars will benefit from a top dressing of organic material such as sheep or cow manure compost from your local garden centre will help improve the nutrients in your soil.   You could consider removing the lawn from around the base of your cedars so that your trees are not competing for nutrients with the grass.  A layer of mulch applied on top of your soil is also a good idea to help keep weeds down and preserve moisture in the soil.  Avoiding mounding compost and mulch up at the area where the trunk meets the ground.   It is hard to tell from your photo but it looks as though these cedars are sited in a rather shady area, rather than full sun, which is the preference for these evergreens.

Here is a link to one of the many questions the Toronto Master Gardeners has received.  If as suggested you search for “Emerald Cedar” you will find answers to many other questions related to this cedar.