Cedar trees provide beauty
We have ended a summer growing season full of challenges and surprises, especially in the farming and gardening aspects of our community. The record-breaking heat and drought kept gardeners focused on keeping treasured perennials and landscaping features alive. I had a special interest in finding plants that actually thrived right through it all! Front and center of those plants were cedar trees, who kept themselves maintained and have produced a bountiful crop of gorgeous blue berries. Juniperas virginiana are evergreens with prickly, wax-coated needles and are well adapted for retaining moisture in dry conditions. Their berry is protected from desiccation by a layer of wax.
Jefferson County Master Gardeners shared a watering schedule at the Maasdam Barns grounds. The north lawn area of the visitor center has several cedar trees. In early October while watering, I found many of their tiny, blue berries had fallen, completely covering the sidewalks. The amount of berries was unreal, besides being a beautiful sight. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture.
Cedar trees have had various uses over the years. Storage chests are made of cedar because cedar oil is a natural moth repellant. A cedar chest was a treasured furniture piece for new brides. An extract from cedar tree’s fruit is what gives gin its distinctive flavor. Gin is a derivative of “genievre”- a French word meaning “juniper berry.” Last but not least, a cedar tree can also be a Christmas tree. As a kid, our family chopped down a cedar tree at Thanksgiving, watered it with green water (green food coloring added to water) and had a very green, prickly tree by Christmas!
Cedar trees growing in our area are Red Cedars. When cut the tree yields a red center. While visiting La Crosse, Wis., over the weekend, we drove up to see the view at Grandad’s Bluff. They labeled cedars in their landscaping “juniper.” These are the same as our cedars with prickly needles and blue berries.
They grow best in full sun and are well known for multiplying in fence rows. These trees are seeded primarily because birds eat the blue berry and pass the seeds undigested while perching on barbed wire and utility lines. Combine this with a little natural fertilizer in the bird droppings and many blue berries will germinate. No wonder fence rows can show an unbroken chain of cedar trees! Needless to say, these natives are not popular with cattle owners, our family included. We’ve cut many seedlings from fence-rows and pastures. You may notice cedar trees growing randomly in CRP acres also. Left to grow they can reach 15 to 20 feet tall. Cedar needles can be many different shades of green and trees have varying shapes.
Despite the hot season past, cedar trees are alive and well. Normally, the red cedar is not a favored landscape choice. But left unattended in that old fence- row, they do provide a beauty all of their own. See you down to earth,
Gerri Lyon is a Master Gardener.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Questions are welcome and can be directed to Master Gardener Intern and Ledger photographer Julie Johnston at firstname.lastname@example.org.