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Cryptomeria Is A Good Evergreen For The South
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Over the past few months I have begun to pay particular attention to a group of stately evergreens that are performing well from the Coast to North Mississippi. This fast growing evergreen starting to be recognized as an outstanding tree is the Japanese cedar, or cryptomeria.
In the winter landscape where evergreens are the primary source of color, the Japanese cedar, cryptomeria japonica, certainly fills the bill. It is a tall, Christmas tree-shaped conifer related to the bald cypress. The bald cypress, however, is deciduous ñ or loses its leaves ñ and the Japanese cedar is evergreen. In the colder areas of the state, the green foliage gives way to a bronze purple that is equally attractive.
The Japanese cedar came to America in the mid 1800s but is just now being recognized in the South. The trees can reach 50 to 60 feet in height and their columnar habit makes them suitable for most urban landscapes. They excel as specimens or planted in odd-numbered groups. They prefer sunny areas, but perform in light shade as well.
I've noticed many gardeners planting them too close to each other and the house. The tall varieties average 20 feet wide. It will be almost unbearably sad to have a fine, healthy specimen that has to be removed because it is under the overhang of the house or flat up against a wall.
The foliage of the Japanese cedar is very unique. It is similar to a Norfolk Island pine and the pendulous branches give it a graceful appearance in the landscape. The trunks are straight with reddish-brown bark reminiscent of another relative, the sequoia or redwood.
The Japanese cedar prefers acidic, moist, well-drained soil, but does well just about anywhere. Fertilize the Japanese cedar in early spring with one pound of a slow release 8-8-8 fertilizer per inch of trunk diameter. Broadcast the fertilizer evenly under the canopy of the tree extending out past the drip line.
Keep it watered during the first year of establishment. Should you plant in the late spring or summer you will want to form a berm around the rootball large enough to hold five gallons of water. Remove the berm at the beginning of the second year.
Little pruning is required; in fact the tree looks best if all lower branches are left hanging to the ground. It is not uncommon to have to remove a little shoot dieback, but unlike a lot of evergreens, it fills in nicely and you'll most likely never look at a blank spot.
Unfortunately, you will probably have to hunt a little for your cryptomeria even though their popularity is on the rise. This is one area where variety is important when you shop.
The variety Yoshino was a Georgia Gold Medal winner and excels in Mississippi, too! Yoshino and the Elegans are tall, columnar trees. In some states they are being tried on Christmas tree farms.
The varieties Lobbii Nana, Pygmaea and Vilmoriniana are dwarf forms that stay under 4 feet in height and work exceptionally well in Japanese gardens and rock gardens. This fine tree is also known as Sacred Cedar of Japan.
When you look at a mature specimen or group standing like sentinels, then you, too, will probably think the cryptomeria's name is very appropriate.