Blue Atlas Cedar – Give It Room To Grow…Or Else!

Blue Atlas Cedar is one of those fairly common plants that, more often than not, is used incorrectly.  Somewhere along the line it got labeled as a tall, narrow plant that could be used in tight quarters.

At this beautiful home a Blue Atlas Cedar was planted about 5′ from the foundation.  Even at this plant’s young stage of growth, it’s already encroaching into the house.

If you look-up Blue Atlas Cedar you’ll find that it matures in the neighborhood of 50 to 75′ high and 35 to 50′ wide (pic to the left).  You see where I’m going with this, or should I say “where the tree is going”.

Knowing these facts about the tree, here are the homeowner’s options: A) Transplant the tree sooner than later to a wide, open area, or B) Commission an experienced person in pruning to keep this plant as compact and “stunted” as possible for as long as possible.  Maybe…just maybe the plant will be controlled enough in that space for 10 years or so.

The logical solution is to transplant the Blue Atlas Cedar, but if you consider the cost of “professionally” moving a tree like this, the decision is not so clear.  I’d estimate the move to be between $900 and $1200.

Have you ever used Blue Atlas Cedar?  If so, in a tight narrow space?  Let us know what your experiences have been in the comments below.

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    35 Responses to “Blue Atlas Cedar – Give It Room To Grow…Or Else!”

    1. Keith Says:

      I own an 80 year old hoouse with a Blue Atlas Cedar planted about 9 feet from the north side of the house. It’s a beautiful tree that now towers over my home even after obviosly being topped more than 20 years ago. It’s a messt tree without a season going by that it doesn’t drop something. It starts around January when my male tree releases its pollen covering the roof and everything else Chartreuse. In the spring it loses the cones which may require 4 or 5 wheel barrow loads to be emptied from my 20′ x 25′ patio which is only partially under the tree. Needles start dropping in May. You can judge the temperature since the hotter it is, the faster the needles fall. I’ve got to get it removed but first I have to find the $2500 I was quoted to remove it.

    2. Roger Says:

      Hey Keith,
      Thanks for your comment.
      Although there are trees that are “cleaner” than others, they all seem to have seasonal “fallout” of some kind.
      My property is 80% covered by oaks – Red Oak (Quercus rubra) and White Oak (Quercus alba). Other than the winter, there are only about 10 weeks during the “outdoor living” months when those trees are not responsible for dropping something.
      I feel your pain. :-)
      These experiences remind us to research plants well when making selections for our landscapes.
      I don’t know if you’ve gotten other estimates for removal; sometimes costs are lower in the winter/off-season too.

    3. Mike Says:

      My 60 foot tall Atlas Cedar is 3 1/2 feet from my house. The droppings are annoying, but I’m more concerned with it blowing over. I think I have to bite bullet and pay to have it taken down. what do you think?

    4. Roger Says:

      Mike,
      It’s so funny because I have a Blue Atlas next to my house as well. I planted it about 20 years ago. It’s also about 3.5′ from the foundation, but stands about 30′ tall.

      Lately I’ve been contemplating removing it because it has gotten so big. For years I selectively pruned it back, but then started to let it go. I’m not so worried about it blowing over just yet. At this point I think the house itself is still offering some protection. I have no doubt that in the next few years I will remove it.

      Since yours is 60′ I think you should seriously consider taking it down. That tree has a lot of mass & weight over 60′ and because it’s only 3.5′ from the foundation it’s root system is not evenly developed around the tree. I hate to recommend that, but I do think it’s the right thing to do.

    5. Al Says:

      Hi. Mine is only a few years old but appears to be growing rapidly. It’s probably 8 feet tall by now and is in a corner area only 4-5 feet from the house. I guess I should move it now? I am planning on selling the house but still..At this small size with some help and helpful tips on how to do it I could still move it myself I think, no? I chose to put it there because there had been a runaway spruce there previously which completely obstructed the view from the dining room window to the driveway. The Blue Atlas Cedar from pics appears more “aire” so we could still see the driveway through the branches. I figured with diligent pruning over the years-using a tree company/ arborist it would be manageable. If I move it what other tree could I put in that corner to conceal the gutter (need at least 30 or so feet high) and aire enough to allow the visual to the driveway-something that will be green year-round?
      Thanks,
      Al

    6. Roger Says:

      Al,
      That is one challenging set of criteria for a plant. :-)

      I have a blue atlas alongside my house (4-5′ from foundation) for 30 years now, and it’s still working in that limited space. It does require some pruning every now and then, which is not easy because it is 30’+ tall.

      Clearly blue atlas cedar is too big a grower to be considered a permanent plant in these applications. But I think it does do the job for a reasonable amount of time.

      Frankly, I can’t think of many alternatives. Perhaps if you visit local nurseries in your area there may be a columnar, evergreen that they have. There are numerous, unique cultivars that are bred — and possibly one is available (in your area) that would also work.

      Re transplanting: It’s probably too late to risk transplanting (with the plant actively growing now). Early fall would be your next opportunity. Here’s an article I did on transplanting that may help.

    7. Christi Says:

      Hello. I currently live in the Midwest, and adore the blue cedar trees here in my neighborhood! They are so pretty! My family is moving in a little over a month to the central Texas area; could I possibly get one to grow in that climate? I’d love to plant one in the new yard..

    8. Roger Says:

      Christi,
      I would say yes. And although I live in the Northeast, I checked my plant reference books and Blue Atlas Cedar is hardy in zones 6 to 9. Central Texas appears to be in and around zone 7.

      It is fairly adaptive to different conditions, but I would make sure the area is well-drained. Wet soil would not be good.

    9. Terry G. Says:

      I planted a blue atlas cedar about 4-5 ft. from my foundation about 10 years ago. It had grown to over 20 ft. and was beautiful. We has some storms that blew off some gable vents and the only way to replace the vents was to cut the tree down so we did. I was contemplating this anyway because it was encroaching on my house….plus the yellow belly sap sucker drilled holes up and down the trunk. I think I’ll go back with a dwarf Hortsman cedar in the same spot —- slower growing and only reach about 20 ft.

    10. Roger Says:

      Terry,
      Thanks for your comment. I was not familiar with Cedrus atlantica ‘Horstmann,’ a dwarf version of the standard Blue Atlas Cedar. I’m going to check with suppliers in our area. And if it’s available I’ll definitely use it.

    11. Rich Phillips Says:

      We have a blue atlas cedar planted about 4′ from the house. Does it have the potential to have its roots cause problems with the basement (crawl space) walls?

    12. Roger Says:

      Rich,
      I also have a blue atlas planted close to my house — been there now for 25 years. I keep it pruned so it stays within bounds.

      I’ve not had any issues with it’s roots impacting the building in any way. And I’ve seen quite a few similar situations on other properties. Of course I can’t say for certain that it will never be an issue.

      My blue atlas has never really “taken off”. The tree does have tremendous size potential, but perhaps the closeness to the house and the regimented prunings have kept it in-check. For me, if I ever noticed the tree threatening the building in any way, including getting unreasonably large, I’d remove it. Perhaps you could take a similar approach.

    13. shane Says:

      They cannot handle clay soils with average rain fall. Too much moisture. They will die.
      Austin, TX

    14. Roger Says:

      Shane,
      That makes perfect sense. Folks sometimes don’t consider soil type when planting and/or thinking of acceptable moisture levels.
      Thanks for your comment and making this point.

    15. Robert Gulley Says:

      Hey everyone! This thread has been helpful. I too have one of these trees planted just a couple feet away from my home. What makes me nervous is how close it is to my water line. Does anyone know anything about the root system of this tree? It’s a young, beatiful tree. I’d love to keep it where it is if it’s safe to do so! Thanks!

    16. Roger Says:

      Robert,
      As I’ve mentioned before I too have a blue atlas next to my house. And there is a water line from my well that goes right under the tree. But that water line is at least 42″ down from finished grade — a requirement (and smart move) here in the northeast. :-) The root system is fibrous and relatively shallow on this plant, so I’m not too concerned.

      Do you know how deep your water line is?

    17. Jill Says:

      We just had three blue atlas trees planted in our yard yesterday. Had plans to plant them grouped in triangle in middle of an area about 30′ x 20′, however our plans were curtailed because of the irrigation system that somehow zigs and zags back and forth across this area and the map we had didn’t come close to where the actual lines were located! ! I would like to wring that irrigation guy’s neck! Anyway, I had to choose a different place for them and decided to put them about 3′ away from the foundation. As I read this blog, I think I made a big boo-boo! Since they were just planted yesterday, I figure now would be the time to transplant them to a better place but would really like to keep them where they are now. My husband and I are in our early 70’s and I am selfishly thinking that we could keep the trees pruned nicely for at least 10-15 years and by then they could be someone else’s problem…not nice, I know! Advise please!

    18. Roger Says:

      Jill,
      First off, I do think that even in 10-15 years those blue atlas will need to be pruned diligently if they’re to be contained within 3′ of the house. Are you able to do that — or can you find someone capable of doing that (correctly)?

      With regard to the sprinkler lines, are they the black poly plastic lines? If so, these are not too difficult to modify and adjust to go around your planting spots. We often do this on jobs. If you’re pretty handy this can be a DIY job. Otherwise, a sprinkler guy, or even an experienced landscaper can do this for you.

    19. Tim Says:

      I’ve seen them planted under a canopy of Oak trees , it looks really cool but I do wonder how things will look 10 or 15yrs later. How fast do the grow?

    20. Roger Says:

      Tim,
      For plant descriptions & details I’ll always reference Michael Dirr’s books, such as his Manual of Woody Landscape Plants.

      When I looked up Blue Atlas Cedar in his book, he states that the plant growth rate is: slow, but fast when young. My experience with Blue Atlas is similar to that.

    21. Jeffrey P Miller Says:

      I grew up in the Willamette Valley in Oregon and we had a huge Atlas Cedar tree growing about 15 feet from our house. The lower branches about 9 feet from the ground were big. I’d say about 30 inches diameter and I loved the bark and needles. My mother finally had it cut down after a big storm broke a large branch that nearly crushed her bedroom roof a few years ago. It would be nice to have trees like that down here in the Houston area, but I really think it’s too hot for them since it hardly ever gets colder than 40 degrees.

    22. Roger Says:

      Jeffrey,
      When researching plants, my “go-to” book is “Manual of Woody Landscape Plants“. And in his book Michael Dirr classifies Blue Atlas Cedar as hardy in plant zones 6 to 9.

      Houston, Texas is zoned as 8 to 9 on the planting zone map. So it should be alright in your area. Even though, I would visit local garden centers and nurseries and ask. They’ll definitely be able to tell you how well Blue Atlas will do in the area.

    23. I bought a Blue Atlas and I am very disappointed . The large plant died 4 months ago. I love the plant and wondering if I should purchase another one. Very unhappy with the purchase. Says:

      I am very disappointed with the purchase. Fell in love with the plant and made the purchase for my birthday, however the leaves began dropping and I believe the plant is dying . I paid roughly $98.00 . Considering making another purchase, Is there any way I can get the plant to survive. Need HELP !

    24. Roger Says:

      A Blue Atlas cedar dropping its needles does not always mean the plant is dead or dying.

      If you’re able to, I’d let the cedar be over the spring season and see if it pushes new growth. I’ve seen cedars rebud and come back nicely. If nothing shows through the spring, you’ll know it’s not recovering.

    25. Darla Says:

      I planted a Blue Atlas Cedar about 20′ from our house in hot dry West Texas about 28 yrs ago. Our winds (sometimes up to 60 mph, but frequently 20-30)keep trees stunted to about 40-50 ft but this tree planted with an Afghanistan pine and red oak is just stunning at that height. We are dry and our water is alkaline but this tree makes me feel I am in a forest. Woodpeckers have been a problem but only when they migrate. easily 35′ ft spread. Much loved addition to the neighborhood

    26. Roger Says:

      Darla,
      Thanks for your comment.
      It’s interesting how the Blue Atlas adapted to your site conditions and became such a beautiful plant.
      The few larger ones I’ve seen (like yours) have amazed me. You’re lucky to have one to enjoy everyday! :-)

    27. Donna Says:

      I planted 3 blue atlas cedars 11 years ago and planted them in the back of the yard. They were beautiful trees until this spring I noticed most of the needles have turned an orange color mixed with blue. We had a particularly cold and wet winter with 2 feet or more of snow lingering until it really began to warm up. They were all fine in the fall and the color looked good all winter. Am I losing these trees. There’s no evidence of holes in the trunk that I can see. I also have a small weeping blue atlas that did the same thing. Any comments would be appreciated.

    28. Roger Says:

      Donna,
      I suspect it’s related to the weather — probably a circumstance of temperatures getting too low and other “extreme” conditions.

      In my experience with blue atlas it’s not unusual for them to be shocked and lose their needles due to “extreme” temperature/weather conditions. And in many of these situations they will recover and push new growth/needles as the season progresses.

      Boise, Idaho has a similar plant zone to where I am, i.e. zone 6. That is the top cold zone for blue atlas. When your temperature/weather conditions went beyond that the plants were shocked. This is likely the cause of their discoloration and needle drop.

      I’d be patient with them and see how they respond over the spring into summer.

    29. Donna Says:

      Roger- Thank you for the information. It gives me hope that they may survive this!

    30. Dan Says:

      I have two blue atlas cedar trees in my front yard – each about 35′ tall with nice spreading canopies. Unfortunately, both have some dead branches. I’ve received a few quotes to have the, thinned with varied responses. One said that I should thin asap to prevent the termites in the dead branches from spreading. The other said I should wait until cooler temperatures because the dead branches are due to drought stress and carpenter beetles will enter through open wounds in the tree during the summer.

      I’m about 25 miles from the coast in Southern California so our summers are warm and dry.

      Can you help me decipher these conflicting messages?

    31. Roger Says:

      Dan,
      A certified arborist in your area would be best qualified to answer these questions. They would be familiar with particular insect problems in your area, including what could bother blue atlas cedar at a particular time of year — and then relate that to the pruning situation you have.

      Another idea would be to contact your local Cooperative Extension Service. Every county in every state has a Cooperative Extension Services office. Through your respective office you should be able to get information about your blue atlas cedar and the possible insect threats. Here’s a link to the webpage to find the Cooperative Extension Offices in your area.

    32. Michael T Says:

      I want to plant a 5 ft tall blue atlas cedar next to my fence (1 ft away from it) along with Emerald Green Arborvitae to create a nice design and mixture of green and blue colors. The nursery I am buying it from is saying it’s totally fine since I will prune the cedar later on.

      Please advise if it’s doable. Thabks!!!

    33. Roger Says:

      Michael,
      With regard to the the Emerald Green Arborvitae, appreciate the mature size of the plant (particularly the width, approx. 5′). You don’t want to have to prune or shear this plant because it’s too close to another plant, fence or building. A major part to its long-term health and beauty relies on having enough room to develop.

      With regard to the Blue Atlas, while it’s true you can selectively prune the plant to force it into a particular design situation, there are limits. One foot away from the fence is very close, so clearly you’re anticipating (ultimately) not having branches on the backside. I’d have to see the situation to comment further, but with diligent pruning I think you can make a go of it.

    34. annie Says:

      hello,

      i’m writing just to give a little information about blue atlas cedars in the southwest. I am a landscaper in Santa Fe, NM. The elevation is between 6700 and 7200, depending where you are in town. Our planting zones also vary a bit (5 – 6) depending on elevation and whether you are planting in a small courtyard with a lot of heat in summer radiating off of adobe walls. One condo complex where I work has 4 blue atlas cedars and 3 weeping blue atlas cedars. They all love it here and do very well despite cold winters and hot summers. The weeping blue atlas cedars do very well when planted next to a wall. They stay narrow (depth-wise) with light pruning. Three of the blue atlas cedars on the other hand are quite large and require more aggressive pruning to fit into the small spaces where they were planted 20 years ago. One of the blue atlas cedars is planted in a 30″x30″ container. It has stayed quite narrow because of limited root growth I assume and needs only light pruning. Our hottest months are July and August and all of the blue cedars slough off needles then. Thanks for the interesting article and comment thread!

    35. Roger Says:

      Annie,
      Thanks for sharing your experiences and observations of blue atlas cedars in your area of NM. So interesting to hear about the behavior of the same plant in different parts of the country (and the world for that matter). You mention the one being in a 30×30″ container. Isn’t it remarkable how some woody plants adapt, what can be for many years, to “container living”? :-)

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