Raising a Redwood

June 5, 2004

By Mary Giambalvo,
Master Gardener

 Selecting a tree to plant is akin to choosing a pet to join the family.  They are all adorable as babies, but do we have the space and resources to care for them into adulthood?  Most of us would be hard pressed to rear an elephant on our small plots, and it might be judicious to think of that lacy potted redwood at the garden center as our baby elephant.  There are three types of redwoods: the coast redwood, the giant sequoia and the dawn redwood; all are beautiful, and all get very big.

The coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) is a regal coastal
California native, growing three to five feet a year.  Up north in Humboldt County some have measured over 360 feet tall, and there are coast redwoods documented as living 2000 years. 

In fog-prone areas, the coast redwood survives nicely from year-round dripping skies and moderate temperatures.  Elsewhere, it requires copious amounts of precious supplemental water.  This makes the coast redwood very thirsty but also, surprisingly, compatible with lawns, at least until it grows to a point when it provides too much shade for the grass.  A number of variations of coast redwood have naturally developed with different foliage colors and branch shapes.  It pays to look around to choose a favorite.  It will be in the family a long, long time.

While it is not susceptible to oak root fungus or most pests, the coast redwood, according to
University of California research, is vulnerable to the same fungal pathogen that causes Sudden Oak Death.

The giant sequoia (Sequoia gigantea), called the largest living organism on the planet, is more at home in higher altitude areas like the Sierras.  It grows a little slower than the coast redwood and needs a little less water, but taking it from its natural habitat may increase its susceptibility to pests and diseases that attack it.

The dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) is native to
China.  Because it was discovered in the 1940s after being thought extinct for thousands of years, this redwood is, in tree years, relatively new to California.  It grows rapidly but is the family runt to 110 feet.  Dawn redwood differs from its relatives in that it tolerates cold, and it loses its leaves in winter.  It would be a better choice for areas that have cooler winter temperatures such as Paso Robles.  It also needs a great deal of water.

Some folks plant redwoods about eight feet apart and treat them as hedges, topping and trimming to keep down the rampant growth, but most gardeners stand back and let these behemoths surge upward.  This requires more than a small plot of land.  One might consider the rapid growth and its impact on views and sunlight for the entire neighborhood.  Companion plants that do well near redwoods, and have similar needs, include Rhododendron, azalea, Arbutus and a variety of ferns.

It is easy to fall in love with the delicate greenery and powerful auburn trunk of the mighty redwood.  It is not always so easy to provide it with the space and water it needs.  If after careful consideration, your heart is set on the elephant rather than a house pet, give it plenty of space and water and jump back.

University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Volunteers can provide additional gardening information upon request.  Call the San Luis Obispo office at 781-5939 on Mondays and Thursdays from 1 to 5 PM, the Arroyo Grande office at 473-7190 on Wednesdays from 9 AM to 1 PM, or the Paso Robles office at 237-3100 on Wednesdays from 9 AM to Noon.  The San Luis Obispo Master Gardener website is at http://groups.ucanr.org/slomg/.  Questions can be e-mailed to mgsanluisobispo@ucdavis.edu.