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(Thuja occidentalis)

Eastern white cedar (the name 'cedar' is a misnomer - true cedars are native to Africa and Asia) is an evergreen native to the north-eastern part of North America roughly bounded in the north by a line drawn from the southern tip of Hudson Bay west to the Ontario/Manitoba border and east to Nova Scotia. In the south, it occurs along the southern shores of the Great Lakes and most of the New England states. The leaves are yellowish-green and scale-like. The fibrous bark is reddish brown and peels off in narrow strips. Both wood and foliage are highly aromatic. The wood of Eastern white cedar is long lasting, making the specie ideal for bonsai featuring deadwood.

When growing in the open, cedars are straight-trunked with a slightly conical, columnar crown which extends to the ground. The foliage is dense, and the tree has an almost pruned appearance. The root system is shallow and wide-spreading, making the trees adapt easily to life in a bonsai pot.

In areas where they are subjected to abuse by wildlife and the elements, cedars attain the trunk shapes that make them ideal bonsai subjects. Because of poor soil conditions and periods of extended drought during the growing seasons, cedars growing under those conditions are naturally dwarfed, and can frequently be found with shari and jin in place, although requiring some refinement. Cedars are suitable for all bonsai styles.

If cedars have a drawback, it must be their foliage. It is similar to the foliage of Hinoki cypress but not as tight. On the other hand, it is not as curly. Fronds will grow every which way, and the view of regular cedar foliage can be daunting for the bonsai novice. However, with judicious pruning and pinching it can be forced to behave and form foliage pads not unlike those of junipers.

Cedars grow throughout the growing season without a period of rest if conditions are appropriate, which they should be if they are being grown as bonsai. They therefore need to be pruned and pinched frequently. If you time your pruning sessions to coincide with the appearance of Haley's Comet, your cedars will not look good. Each of my trees is subjected to at least two scissors pruning sessions per growing season in addition to being pinched whenever something sticks up down or out. Unless this pruning is carried out religiously, cedars will develop elongation shoots with long internodes.

While I have seen cedars bud back on 300-year-old trunks in the bush, I have never had that happen on the trees I grow as bonsai. There must be special ingredients in the air 'up north'. Anyway, they do bud back on younger twigs, and also on areas of the trunk where branches are or have been growing

As all trees, cedars shed old foliage in fall. Some time in September, part of the foliage, usually in the interior of the tree, will turn rusty brown and slowly fall off. If you're not sure whether your tree is shedding or dying, pulling at the brown foliage is a reliable test, because the foliage about to be shed comes off easily, while the foliage about to die requires a lot of force to come off. I believe to have noticed that this natural shedding can be reduced by timing one of the heavy pruning sessions to occur around the middle of August.

Cedars like lots of fertilizer, and I feed mine bi-weekly with a full strength 30-10-10 chemical fertilizer beginning about the end of May and ending the middle of August, and another couple of applications in late September and early October. I alternate between different products, including Miracid. Such fertilizing gives the trees dark green foliage and lots of growth, which, of course, is mostly pruned off, but does contribute to the denseness of the foliage pads. I start with the fertilizing regimen in the year following collecting.

Cedars are relatively free of pests. The only ones I have ever encountered are scale and leaf miner, both controlled by spraying with a systemic insecticide. A cedar suffering from a leaf miner infestation is not a pretty sight, and ever since almost my whole collection of cedars was attacked by these insects in 1994, I give them two precautionary applications of a systemic insecticide - one in early May and another about two or three weeks later.

I spent much of the spring of 1995 plucking all the dead foliage off the trees, but I am happy to be able to report that they all survived.

Winter care:
As you would expect from a tree that is native to this region of the American continent, cedars are very winter hardy. If you have marveled at the pictures of growers in some parts of Japan leaving bonsai on their benches all year round, marvel no more, because that is what I have been doing with some of my cedars. Why not all? Well, better safe than sorry, so while it is true that I have left cedars sitting on the bench all winter long, I do use some judgment, mainly relating to the size of the root ball. But putting the trees on the ground in a shady spot is quite adequate to ensure their survival in the Toronto area.

Cedar foliage, like that of some junipers, changes colour in winter, becoming grayish-green with maroon undertones. This also can be startling to those not familiar with the tree's habits, but checking the underside of the foliage should still reveal a healthy light green shade and signal that all is well. The winter colour disappears within a few days in spring.

Cedars are very particular when it comes to wiring the young fronds. There is no problems wiring branches, other than that old ones are very stiff and somewhat brittle. When wiring the foliage fronds, care has to be taken not to change the growing angle too drastically.

As I hope the accompanying pictures show, Eastern white cedars can make good bonsai. Because of their foliage and trunk characteristics, they are best suited for larger trees - good specimens smaller than 12" or 15" are difficult to find and even more difficult to make into convincing bonsai. If you live in an area where cedars are native, it is well worth looking for spots where they are naturally dwarfed - usually associated with poor soils - and get permission to dig up a few. When you do, keep them in the shade for about a month afterwards and spray the foliage frequently (four or five times a day, if you can) with water through a fogging nozzle. In the second year, start fertilizing heavily and do some initial pruning as required.

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