Gardening Hedges

Yellow Cedars After Fertilisation


We planted a cedar hedge last spring and everything seemed to be going well. Since it rained regularly, I didn’t have to water often. Recently, my neighbor put some cedar fertilizer and did some light pruning. Since then, the cedars have been turning orange and yellow. What should I do?

Marie Gauvreau

Cedars burned by excess fertilizer
An example of arborvitae showing one type of yellowing. However, Marie didn’t send us a photo of her hedge, so hers might have a very different appearance.. Photo:

Answer :

Editor’s note: The plants under discussion in this article are arborvitaes (Thuja occidentalis), not cedars. The arborvitae is a North American conifer commonly used in hedges throughout the temperate world. Cedars (Cedrus spp.), mostly Asiatic and much less hardy, are very different and, being tall trees, are rarely used as hedges.

You didn’t include a photo and it’s hard to tell what’s going on without seeing the plants. However, chances are your neighbor simply applied too much fertilizer to plants that are still fragile from a recent planting. Remember that chemical fertilizers can be toxic to plants: they should only be applied sparingly, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. You should never exceed the recommended dose and even then, it is wiser to always reduce it by half.

Hand holding chicken manure fertilizer great for cedars
You don’t need a “cedar” fertilizer, just use an organic slow-release type. Photo: Mathieu Hodgson.

Cedar Fertilizer?

Besides, “cedar” fertilizer is actually more or less a rip-off. Often it is very, very high in nitrogen: 30-10-10 or some other staggeringly high number. Yes, a huge boost in nitrogen (the first number) can cause arborvitaes (well-established ones, not newly planted young ones) to green up, but often causes winter dieback afterwards. Note that fertilizing in late summer encourages cedars to make new shoots that may not have time to harden off before winter.

So, whatever you win by using such fertilizer is largely lost due to the winter damage they cause! Better to simply apply an all-purpose organic slow-release fertilizer. Such a fertilizer will likely not bear mineral numbers higher than 8 or 9. And use it in the spring or early summer, certainly not at the end of the summer or in the fall.

Too Much Fertilizer!

What to do in the case of too much fertilizer? Water thoroughly to dissolve the fertilizer. With luck, the contaminated water will drain out of the root zone. As for the arborvitaes, you can only wait until early next summer to see if there has been any improvement. If there are new green shoots, eureka! They are recovering. You can then prune to remove dead parts.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

5 comments on “Yellow Cedars After Fertilisation

  1. This is really a well written and well researched article, thank you for your time and effort.

  2. You’ve done a great job with this article, Larry Hodgson! Your expertise is evident in the valuable advice you’ve provided for those dealing with yellowing cedar hedges. Your clarification on the difference between arborvitaes and cedars, and your guidance on the judicious use of fertilizers, is particularly enlightening. This article serves as a reminder to all of us about the importance of understanding the specific needs of our plants and the potential consequences of over-fertilization. Keep up the great work, and we look forward to more gardening wisdom from you!

  3. A number of dissertation websites on the internet textbooks get unsurprisingly discovered inside web-site.joseph neville goddard

  4. Thank you. I finally located my plant roommate, who I’ve known for more than 20 years. Maybe setting a few little stones may help keep them upright.

  5. That could be either mean waiting 2 weeks or so after it feels dry to the touch before watering, or not watering it at all over the winter. Pick up with regular waterings as days become longer in the spring.

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