Managing northern white cedar forests
- Northern white cedar grows best on limestone-derived soils that are neutral or slightly alkaline, and moist but well-drained.
- Northern white cedar is shade-tolerant and can be managed using either single-tree selection or clear-cutting systems
- Rotation lengths range from 70 years for posts to up to 160 years for poles or small sawlogs.
- White cedar is relatively free of major insect and disease problems.
- A mixed species stand with 50 to 80 percent white cedar is best for multi-use purposes.
There is a strong demand for good northern white cedar lumber, but many mature stands do not have enough volume for a commercial harvest. White cedar is also used for fence posts and poles.
The white cedar forest type is valuable for deer yards, but some have inadequate shelter or food. Deer habitat is best if white cedar stands at different development stages are interspersed throughout the forest.
Northern white cedar grows in pure stands but is more common in mixed stands. On wetter soils, it is commonly mixed with balsam fir, black spruce, white spruce, tamarack, black ash and red maple. On better-drained and upland soils, you may find white cedar with aspen, eastern white pine, eastern hemlock, yellow birch or white birch.
Northern white cedar may perpetuate itself in pure stands, but other tree species seem to gradually replace it in mixed stands, particularly after disturbances.
A mixed species stand with 50 to 80 percent white cedar is best for multi-use purposes.
Northern white cedar grows best on limestone-derived soils that are neutral or slightly alkaline, and moist but well-drained. It also grows well on well-decomposed, neutral or slightly alkaline organic soil derived from woody plants or sedges, and on organic soils that have poorly decomposed sphagnum or other mosses in the upper 4 inches.
The best sites have moving soil water and are usually near streams or other drainageways. The worst sites have poorly decomposed acidic soil throughout the whole root zone that is derived from plants such as sphagnum moss. These sites have little water movement (except during snowmelt) and often are far from drainageways.
Regenerating northern white cedar
Northern white cedar is shade-tolerant and can be managed using either single-tree selection or clear-cutting systems. Trees are regenerated by natural seeding following single-tree selection, clear-cutting or shelterwood harvest, which is partial harvesting that allows new stems to grow up under an overstory of maturing trees.
A rotation is the number of years required to establish and grow trees to a desired size, product or maturity.
Rotation lengths range from 70 years for posts (trees with a diameter up to 6 inches) to up to 160 years for poles or small sawlogs (trees with a diameter up to 10 inches). When managing stands for deer shelter, rotations should run at least 110 years.
If there are not plenty of seedlings in the understory, your forester may recommend that you combine clear-cut and shelterwood harvests in strips to optimize natural seeding.
You may need to control competing trees before the final harvest if you want to get 50 to 80 percent white cedar on good sites that you are managing for timber or deer habitat.
Kill undesirable trees, especially hardwoods, that regenerate by root suckers or stump sprouts at least five and preferably 10 years before you try to regenerate cedar.
Rely on natural seeding to reproduce a stand only if there are at least 600 trees per acre of relatively young (less than 50 years old) and healthy white cedars remaining after harvest.
Remove heavy slash (woody debris generated during logging) that buries residual trees or seedbeds. Full-tree skidding (in which trees are felled and transported with their branches and tops intact) in winter is recommended if you will be relying on residual trees for reproduction.
To get rid of slash from clear-cut strips, you can either use full-tree skidding or burn them.
Young white cedar stands overgrown with shrubs or hardwoods may benefit from an herbicide treatment, if there is no surface water nearby that could be contaminated. Alder, black ash, aspen, paper birch, willow, red maple and balsam poplar are the main competitors to control.
To produce timber, your forester may recommend thinning middle-aged stands at intervals to benefit the tallest trees.
White cedar is relatively free of major insect and disease problems.
Wind may cause breakage and uprooting, mainly along stand edges and in stands opened up by partial cutting.
White-tailed deer and snowshoe hare commonly feed on, or browse, northern white cedar so severely that a stand cannot become established. When regenerating stands, you can minimize overbrowsing by completely clearing large patches of 40 acres or more.
Roads, beaver dams and pipelines that impede the normal movement of soil water will kill northern white cedar.
Reviewed in 2018