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Sequoia sempervirens (photo courtesy of Linda Lamb Peters)
Sequoia sempervirens (photo courtesy of Linda Lamb Peters)

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Zone
Zones 4-9, 14-24
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Full, Partial
Regular Water
Moderate

Sequoia sempervirens

Redwood, Coast Redwood
Cupressaceae
Evergreen, Trees

Native to Coast Ranges from southwest Oregon to California’s Big Sur coast. One of the West’s most famous native trees (equally renowned is its close relative Sequoiadendron, called giant sequoia or big tree). Coast redwood is among the tallest of the world’s trees: some individuals in the wild are more than 350 ft. tall. Fine landscaping tree—almost entirely pest-free and almost always fresh-looking and woodsy smelling. In its native range, a young redwood tree grows 3–5 ft. a year but will reach only about 70–90 ft. tall and 15–30 ft. wide in 25 years. In less favorable areas, it grows more slowly and tops out at perhaps 50 ft. Typically forms a symmetrical pyramid of soft-looking foliage. Flat, pointed, narrow, inch-long leaves are typically medium green on top, grayish beneath; they grow in one plane on both sides of the stem, giving the stem a featherlike look. Small (1/2–1 1/2-in.), roundish brown cones. Red-brown, fibrous-barked trunk goes straight up. A trunk with nearly parallel sides indicates a healthy redwood; one with a noticeable taper means the tree is struggling. Habit is somewhat variable, but most redwoods have main branches that grow straight out from the trunk and curve up at the tips; slightly drooping branchlets grow from these.

The tree’s natural variability has led to selection of distinct variants. ‘Aptos Blue’ has dense blue-green foliage on nearly horizontal branches with drooping branchlets. ‘Emily Brown’ is columnar, green, and very fast growing. ‘Kelly’s Prostrate’ grows flat, at about 6 in. per year. ‘Simpson’s Silver’ has silvery green foliage and quick-screening growth of up to 12 ft. per year.

Fine-textured ‘Soquel’ bears blue-tinged green foliage on horizontal branches that turn up at tips. ‘Filoli’ and ‘Woodside’ are similar if not identical to each other; both are nearly as blue as Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens glauca). They have an irregular habit, with branches that tend to droop, and need careful training when young to establish good form. ‘Adpressa’ (‘Albo-Spica’), to 3 ft. tall and 6 ft. wide, is a dwarf variety for rock gardens; it has white-tipped new growth that turns solid green as summer advances.

Grow redwood trees singly or in groves with trees spaced 7 ft. apart; can also be used for a hedge (plant 3–4 ft. apart and top at least yearly). One of the best planting locations is in or directly next to a lawn, since the tree thrives on regular moisture; in 10 to 20 years, however, it may defeat a lawn. Away from lawns, it needs occasional feeding and regular summer watering for at least the first 5 years. Where it is best adapted, an established tree gets most of the moisture it needs from fog drip. Resistant to oak root fungus. Troubles the tree encounters are mostly physiological. Inadequate moisture or a hot, dry site will make it sulk and grow slowly; too much competition from bigger trees and structures makes it lanky, thin, and open. Lack of available iron makes needles turn yellow in summer, especially on new growth; treat with iron sulfate or chelates. Remember, however, that it is normal for the oldest leaves to turn from green to yellow to brown, then drop in late summer and early fall.

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