Blue atlas cedar is a coniferous evergreen. Its scientific name is Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca'. Originally introduced into the United States fro Europe in 1845, Blue atlas cedar is a true cedar, unlike red cedar, which is actually a type of juniper. It's distinctively colored foliage makes it an interesting choice for planting as a specimen tree.
Blue atlas cedars are slow growing, seldom adding over a foot of new growth in a year. They grow well from USDA hardiness zones 6 through 9. The tree tends to spread and needs considerable room to grow properly. Cold weather can cause winter needle burn, although well established cedars usually recover well.
The leaves of the blue atlas cedar are sprays of blueish-green to silver blue needles no more than 2 inches in length and remain on the tree throughout the year. The male flowers are 2-3 inches long and form on the lower parts of the plant. Larger, purplish, female flowers grow in the top branches, eventually forming dry, scaled cones, between 3-6 inches long, which conceal tiny seeds. The branches of the tree tend to droop, slightly. The bark is brown and smooth, eventually forming a scaly, plate-like surface.
The tree has a spreading, open pyramidal form and can become very massive for a conifer. The average height is between 40 and 60 feet with a maximum width of around 40 feet. The trunk of the tree usually remains straight with branches radiating laterally. Older trees tend to become flat-topped.
Blue atlas cedars grow best in full sun or partial shade. Soil conditions can be clay, loamy or sandy as long as they are well-draining. The tree can be difficult to transplant and should be started from container-grown plants. Protect the blue atlas cedar from windy conditions, particularly when young. The tree looks best when the lower branches are not pruned and are allowed to grow out from the trunk. Somewhat rare, blue atlas cedar can be difficult to find in nurseries and garden centers and may be expensive.
Its interesting form, size and color make the blue atlas cedar a good choice for planting in residential settings such as large lawns and parks. The tree is relatively tolerant of pollution and can handle urban environments.