Eastern red cedar trees produce reddish brown bark that begins to peel as it ages.

How to Plant Bare Root Eastern Red Cedar Trees

by Jessica Westover

A multi-sensory tree, the eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) produces lush, fragrant, scale-like foliage. During the growing season the eastern red cedar appears dark green, but changes to a purplish-green in the dormant season. Hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9, this evergreen tree reaches heights of 40 to 60 feet and a spread of 10 to 25 feet. Bare root specimens become available for planting in the late fall or very early spring while the plant remains dormant.

Call your local utility companies to notify them of your intended digging. Wait for a representative from each company to come and mark the location of any buried power lines, water pipes, phone or sewer lines.

Put on a pair of gloves to protect your hands from injury. Place a large tub or 5-gallon bucket outdoors in a fully shaded location. Fill the container one-half full of water from a garden hose. Remove the wrappings from around the eastern red cedar's roots. Place the roots into the tub or bucket, adding water if needed to fully submerge them. Leave the tree to soak for three to six hours.

Pull weeds and pick up debris from a planting site that receives full sunlight, contains fast-draining, nutrient-rich soil with a pH of 7.0 to 8.0 and has 40 to 60 feet of open vertical space. Dig a hole in the site with a shovel, making it two to three times as wide and equal in depth to the cedar tree's root system. Space the hole 20 to 25 feet away from other trees, buildings and permanent objects. Build a conical-shaped mound of soil, equal in height to one-third the hole's depth, in the bottom center of the hole.

Pull the tree from the container of water and transport it immediately to the planting hole. Cut off any black, mushy, dead, shriveled, broken roots with a pair of clean pruning shears. Cut back any extremely long roots to match the general length of the others.

Place the tree in the center of the hole, position the center of its root system on top of the soil cone. Spread the roots outward over the sides of the cone and the bottom of the hole. Adjust the height of the soil cone as needed to position the tree at its previous growing depth, with the top of the root flare, or point where the trunk begins to flare and meets the roots, level with the surrounding ground's surface. Adjust the tree until it sits vertically straight in the hole.

Fill one-half of the hole full of soil, tamping it down firmly around and in between the roots. Break up any clods of dirt before placing them in the hole. Fill the hole with water. Wait for the water to drain completely into the soil.

Fill the hole's remaining space full of soil in the same manner as before. Water the ground slowly to allow the soil to settle further. Add additional soil to fill in any resulting depressions. Don't overfill the hole or bury the eastern red cedar deeper than it was previously growing.

Gather the remaining displaced soil from the planting hole into a 3-inch tall ring. Position the soil ring around the outer edge of the buried root ball.

Spread a 3-inch-deep layer of mulch over the planting site with a rake. Keep the mulch 3 to 4 inches away from the cedar's trunk to prevent its bark from rotting.

Fill the soil ring with water when the top 2 inches of soil becomes dry. Apply 1 to 2 inches of water to moisten the entire root zone. Do not allow the soil to become soggy.

Items you will need

  • Gloves
  • Large tub or 5-gallon bucket
  • Garden hose
  • Shovel
  • Pruning shears
  • Mulch
  • Rake


  • Don't fertilize the eastern red cedar during the first year after planting.

Photo Credits

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