The Truth About Deodar Cedar

deodar cedar (Cedrus deodorus)

Learning the origins of plant names tells you a lot about how people relate to the botanical world around them.  Take deodar cedar.  Deodar is derived from devadaru, a Sanskrit word that combines deva, a word meaning divine, with daru, a word for tree.  But the origin of another important word is traced to daru as well and that word is truth.  Thus, the English words for tree and truth are etymologically joined at the hip.  There is a permanence about trees that suggests truth, which is timeless.  Perhaps that is why, in the Bible, there is a prohibition against planting trees next to God’s altar.  Tree or nature worship was incompatible with recognition of a single, all-powerful, yet invisible God.

Deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara) is among the most magnificent trees in the world.  It is found growing in the western Himalayas at elevations between 5,000 and 10,000 feet and may live for 1,000 years.   But it is also a tree that is found in the San Fernando Valley, and I have to thank Sharon Klek, of Granada Hills, for bringing several beautiful specimens from her White Oak Avenue neighborhood to my attention.
Klek is concerned that “due to this drought, quite a few people are either letting their lawns (under deodar cedars) dry up or putting in some kind of drought resistant gardens where they hardly water at all.  Are the deodar trees deep rooted where they can reach water under the ground or shallow rooted? I am worried that they will start to die if people stop watering.”
Klek’s concern is well founded.  During the drought of the 1990’s, I recall observing many native oak trees that were stressed from lack of water.  As long as we get average Los Angeles rainfall, which is slightly less than 15 inches per year, trees such as deodar cedars and native oaks grow just fine without summer irrigation.  But during several consecutive years of drought, it would be advisable to take a slowly trickling hose and, over the course of several hours, move it around the drip line – the imaginary circular soil line directly below a tree’s canopy perimeter – once a month. between July and September.  Alternatively, you could put a temporary drip irrigation line over the tree’s drip line — so named because that’s where water drips off a tree when it rains — and just leave it on for 12 hours at a stretch, two or three times during the summer.
Yet deodar cedars have a distinct advantage over other trees, in terms of water conservation.  Their pyramidal form and low hanging branches create significant shade below so that evaporation from the soil is minimized.
Los Angeles water regulations permit watering with a hose any day of the week, or watering with sprinklers three days a week, as long as watering is done after 4 p.m. and before 9 a.m.  Odd number addresses water Monday, Wednesday, Friday while even numbers water Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, eight minutes per valve or water station.  Drip irrigation is permitted around the clock, seven days a week.
The fact that deodar cedar longevity is linked to a mountainous habitat may not be a surprise to Californians, who are perhaps familiar with the oldest trees on earth, which happen to reside in the White Mountains, above Death Valley, at elevations of 8,000-12,000 feet.  I refer to bristlecone pines (Pinus aristata), some of which are more than 4,000 years old.
“What’s going on with birch trees in the Valley?  I see many dead ones as I drive in my neighborhood.  Mine has some dead and spare branches.  I recently fed it and plan to give it iron. Should I invest in lacing (pruning) or is it on its way out anyway?”
Marylyn Margalit, Porter Ranch
Birch trees are often short-lived.  They need lots of water and I don’t know 
if 3 day a week watering (per municipal water code) is sufficient.  You 
may try soaking, as opposed to sprinkler irrigation, as explained above regarding deodar cedar.  I am not recommending daily soaking but the kind of heat we have experienced lately certainly demands more than 3 days per week of sprinkler spray.  A three inch layer of mulch out to the drip line or canopy perimeter is also useful in reducing water loss from the soil.  Just make sure mulch does not touch trunk which could result in fungus problem. Keep in mind that at 15-20 years of age, most Valley birch trees go into decline, unless they grow in a well-drained soil that is constantly moist.  Trimming them, however, is usually a mistake, since it reduces vigor, and I would only do so if they are growing over your roof or against a structure.
Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame,’ a new plant introduced into the nursery trade this year, has already begun to make waves.  It’s a hybrid between the familiar North American foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) and a cousin (Isoplexis canariensis) from the Canary Islands.  It’s a sterile hybrid and doesn’t form seeds but still attracts bees and butterflies.  Lack of seed production means more energy is always on hand for making flowers, which is does from spring until fall. Color is an unconventional fuchsia-peach. 
I spotted two non-stop flowering selections that you should also strongly consider this summer.  One is bat-faced cuphea (Cuphea llaeva), with an uncanny resemblance to those famous flying rodents, and the other is strawflower (Bracteantha/Xerochrysum).  Available in pink, dark pink, red, salmon, gold, yellow and white, strawflowers are daisies that have an almost artificial look due to their papery, straw-like consistency.
To keep them for everlasting bouquets, detach strawflowers when they have just begun to open. Hang them upside down in a protected, dark, airy location. Strawflowers open fully as they dry and can last for a year or more without losing their color.
Tip of the Week:  This week’s tip, from Maureen Gerwig of Woodland Hills, is as follows :  “A reader wrote to you expressing an interest in replacing his lawn with natives and/or drought-resistant plants. Before proceeding further he should go to and read everything you need to know about planting and growing California natives.  This website is not only comprehensive and informative, but fun to read at the same time.  It’s also a great resource to refer back to again and again.  There are little green tabs across the top of the page for you to click open, and a whole drop box of various categories will offer you a wide range of topics to read about. Since this person lives in the San Fernando Valley, perhaps a trip to the Grow Native Nursery ( at the West Los Angeles VA should be considered.  It’s a sub-nursery of Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont, which is devoted exclusively to California native plants.  The people who work there are employees of Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden.  California native plants can also be purchased online from Las Pilitas Nursery.  I’ve done it on a few occasions.  But before ordering the plants online, or purchasing any native plants, you need to understand how, when and where to plant them.  Hence the recommendation to first educate yourself by browsing through the Las Pilitas website.”

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