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The Incense cedar is a slow growing plant that after many years will grow into a tall coniferous tree mostly within the range of 25-40 ft. in urban environments. Pine-scented foliage is comprised of dark green scale-like leaves that develop on flat branchlets. Flowers are insignificant; seeds develop in pairs and are valued by wildlife when the mature in late fall.

Incense cedar is native to California and other western States from central Oregon to Baja California. It inhabits mountain slopes in both coastal and inland ranges, with its best development occurring in the central Sierra Nevada at elevations between 2,000-8,200 ft., on slightly acid sandy loam soils in meadow habitats.

The Incense cedar is a handsome and tough coniferous tree with rich green foliage and a uniform shape. While not widely known, a number of specimens can be found growing throughout the Inland Empire where it provides a bold conifer character. It grows best on sandy loam soils with moderate water during winter and spring, and periodic deep watering during summer.

Over the years, this species has been used for a variety of landscape purposes, including street and lawn trees, in parks and in residential and commercial landscapes. It is slow growing and well suited to civic and institutional landscapes where it can be appreciated for many years as it matures.

Water Needs

The Incense cedar grows best in Southern California with the support of moderate irrigation water throughout spring and summer, and when winter rains are light and infrequent. Established plants show good drought endurance, however, summer water is usually important for good health and character.

The chart shown below provides a baseline guide to the monthly irrigation schedule and volume of supplemental water needed to maintain healthy growth throughout the average year. It should be noted there are several months indicated by an asterisk (*) when winter rains can provide sufficient moisture and irrigation is not needed.

Irrigation Schedule and Graph

Moderate Water Use Plants

Irrigation Schedule 3

  Jan* Feb* Mar* Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov* Dec*
Runs per Month 0x to 3x 0x to 3x 0x to 3x 2x to 3x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 2x to 3x 0x to 3x 0x to 3x
Inches per Run 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1"
Inches per Month 0" to 3" 0" to 3" 0" to 3" 2" to 3" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 2" to 3" 0" to 3" 0" to 3"

Range of supplemental summer water: 9"-16"
Range of supplemental winter water: 0"-15"

  Jan* Feb* Mar* Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov* Dec*
For more information on how to use this Irrigation Schedule and Graph, follow this link.

For information how to calculate your irrigation system’s schedule and precipitation rate, please follow this link.

Plant Properties

Plant Type: Tree, Native
Foliage Character: Coniferous
Habit: Upright, Narrow
Growth Rate: Slow
Height: 40 ft. - 80 ft.
Width: 10 ft. - 20 ft.
Water Needs: Moderate 3
Foliage Color: Dark green
Flower Color: Insignificant
Flower Season: Spring
Soil Adaptations: Sand, Loam, Clay, Calcareous soil
Exposure Adaptations: Frost, Fog, All day sun
Function: Wildlife value, Specimen, Residential spaces, Monumental scale tree, Foliage accent plant, Commercial spaces, Civic spaces, California native, Fragrant foliage


Generally needs little pruning. If the main growth leader breaks or dies back, choose a single new one from the ones that begin to grow in its place and remove the others so that it does not have competition. It will grow best as a "single leader" tree (3). Plant fall through spring. Prune late fall into winter. Organic mulch 3-4 inches deep under the canopy but held away from the trunk and root crown is ideal (D).



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