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What’s the Difference Between Cedar and Pine Trees?

Cedar trees and pine trees are both in the pine family, Pinaceae. Does that mean they’re the same? Not exactly. It’s a little more complicated than that. Most simply, they fall under different branches of the same tree family. Cedar trees fall under the genus Cedrus, and pine trees make up the genus Pinus. Each type then has many different varieties, so if you’re looking to plant one in your yard, you’ll have plenty of species to choose from. But which would be best for your yard? Let’s take a closer look at the difference between cedar and pine trees.

Close-up of pine tree needles

Cedar Trees

Cedar trees are tall ornamental trees. They are evergreen coniferous trees and are typically used in decorating and designing gardens, yards, and landscapes. They survive best in areas of temperate weather, especially places that don’t get colder than -13 degrees Fahrenheit. There are four different species of cedar tree: Atlas cedar, Cyprus cedar, Deodar cedar, and Lebanon cedar. Some common types of cedar trees include northern white cedar, eastern white cedar, western red cedar, Spanish cedar, Alaska cedar, incense cedar, and Port Orford cedar.


These trees typically reach 95 to 130 feet tall, but some have been known to reach closer to 200 feet. Cedar tree trunks can reach a diameter of about 8 to 10 feet wide. The bark is usually either square-cracked or thick and ridged. Their needles grow in an open spiral form and are about half an inch to two inches long. The branches the needles grow on are broad and grow horizontally. When cedar trees are young, their crowns are conical. When they are fully grown, it becomes broader and flatter.

They grow at a moderate or fast rate each year and have very long lives. Cedar trees usually live anywhere from 100 to 150 years, but some have lived up to 300 years.

Growing conditions

They can grow in many places across North America, in Hardiness Zones 2 to 9. To stay at their healthiest, these trees should be planted in areas that received full sun to partial shade and in soil that is well-drained, moist, and slightly burned or tilled. They have a moderate drought tolerance.

Cedar trees have an aromatic oil that pine trees do not. Not only does this mean that cedar trees smell good, but their shavings are also used to make potpourri. Both their oil and wood are natural moth repellents. The oil also helps the tree have a slow decay. Additionally, to protect the tree from predators, such as squirrels, the seeds of cedar trees have two or three blisters on them. These blisters have bad-tasting resin that deters animals.

Pine Trees

Pine trees are also evergreen conifers and are the most common type of conifer found worldwide. There are about 115 different species of pine trees. Some popular kinds of pine trees are white pine, ponderosa pine, sugar pine, mountain pine, and western yellow pine.


The needles on pine trees are long and narrow and can be anywhere from an inch to 11 inches long. The color of the needles ranges from blue to dark green, depending on the species. The needles are usually bundled in groups of two, three, or five. You can use the needles to identify what kind of pine tree you’re looking at. and whether it is a cedar tree or not. The needles on pine trees tend to be softer and not as thick and pointy as the needles on cedar trees. If the needles are longer and easily bendable when you touch them, that means it is most likely a pine tree.

As there are many different species of pine trees, the size of the tree at maturity depends on the species. Some can stay as small as 4 feet tall, whereas others can reach up to 150 feet tall. They are long-living, and some are known to have lived close to 5,000 years.

The branches on pine trees are lateral and run straight up the trunk. This makes them easily climbable. Both the branches and the bark are flakey. Pine trees also can release a strong scent, but it’s not as aromatic as cedar trees. Instead, pine trees let off a strong pine smell whenever it is overheated or disturbed.

Growing conditions

Pine trees are one of the easier trees to plant, grow, and maintain. They should be planted in areas that receive full sun and don’t do well in areas of drought or shade. This means as long as they get enough sun and are well irrigated, they will survive well. They should be planted in soil that is moist, meaning it’s not too wet and not too dry. Using two to three inches of mulch six inches away from the trunk is recommended, as mulch helps with moisture regulation. They grow best in Hardiness Zones 4 to 9, which makes them less versatile than cedar trees.

As you can see, while cedar and pine trees share the same family and have some similarities, they also have many differences. Both are great trees if you’re in search of trees to plant on your property, and the differences between cedar and pine trees can help you determine which will do best in your yard.

Consider the growing conditions in your yard—the soil type, the Hardiness Zone you live in, and how much sun your yard gets. How much space do you have for the tree? Don’t choose a species that will outgrow your yard. Maybe you’re looking for a particular aesthetic in your yard. Look at the differences in the trees’ needles. Pine trees will have softer needles than cedar trees. And don’t forget to take smell into consideration.

If you need a hand deciding whether to grow a pine or cedar tree in your yard, or if you’re trying to identify a tree already planted in your yard, contact the experts at Mr. Tree. We can help with all of your tree needs.