How to Grow and Care for Dawn Redwood

Dawn redwood tree with feathery bright green needles on branches

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Sequoia trees are the largest trees in the world, typically too big for gardens and landscapes unless you have acres to spare. They were once thought to be extinct until a population was discovered in China in the 1940s, and seeds were brought to the US so populations could be established in the US. Best planted in the fall, you can expect the fast-growing dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), a sequoia tree, to grow about 2 to 3 feet taller every year, quickly evolving into a large tree with a pyramidal shape and base that forms a wide flare. The bark becomes deeply fissured as the tree matures. The feathery, fine-textured needles are opposite with lengths of approximately 1/2 inch. They turn shades of red and brown in autumn before falling; this is one of the few deciduous conifers. The fruit is a 1-inch female oval cone.

Common Name Dawn redwood
Botanical Name Metasequoia glyptostroboides
Family Cupressaceae
Plant Type Tree
Mature Size 75-100 ft. tall, 15-25 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full
Soil Type Loamy, well-drained
Soil pH Acidic
Hardiness Zones 4-8 (USDA)
Native Area Asia

Dawn Redwood Care

The most famous members of the family are the coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervires) and the giant sequoia (Sequoiadenron giganteum) of California, but neither are commonly planted for landscape purposes. However, the dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) does have a role in landscapes. Although it is too big for most private gardens, it can be a wonderful addition in public parks, as a boulevard tree, and on large estates or farms. It does quite well in damp soils, so it can be a good choice for large rain garden locations.

Given that the dawn redwood has existed for many millions of years, this is a remarkably trouble-free tree. It can be susceptible to frost damage, as it grows until late in the season and may be caught by early chills. Try to find a spot that can offer some shelter from the elements, if possible—especially if you live in the northern end of its hardiness range.

Plant this tree in acidic to neutral soil that stays consistently moist—or where a water source for irrigation is near at hand. Dawn redwood will not do well in dry soil, and it needs full sun to grow its best. Choose a location with plenty of empty space surrounding the tree, as this huge specimen will need the room.

Dawn redwood tree with extended branches with feathery, fine-textured needles

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Dawn redwood tree with bright green feathery needles on branches in backyard

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Dawn redwood tree trunk with wide flare and sprawling branches next to bushes

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Dawn redwood tree branches with feathery fine-textured needles in sunlight closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova


This redwood needs full sun (at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days) to reach its mature height.


The dawn redwood does not do well if grown in alkaline or dry soils. If your spot is somewhat alkaline, there are methods to make your soil acidic, though you may need to repeat this treatment often. The difficulty of changing the pH increases if the soil is quite alkaline. 


Ideally, this tree should be planted not far from a water source to make irrigation easier. It can tolerate loamy, waterlogged soil well. Provide at least 1 inch of water weekly to the entire area under the branch canopy, which can be quite large. Large trees will absorb this quickly; water whenever the soil becomes dry to the touch.

Temperature and Humidity

The dawn redwood does well throughout the conditions of USDA hardiness zones 4 to 8 and is especially good where it receives cool humidity.


This tree generally does not require feeding provided it has been planted with appropriately humusy soil. In more barren soils, apply an iron-rich fertilizer into the soil around the tree once each year. For the amount to use, follow the product label instructions.


Dawn redwood naturally forms into a pyramidal shape, so little pruning is needed other than the customary removal of dead, diseased, and damaged branches. When the tree is young, use a long-handled pruner or pruning saw. Make the cuts at a 45-degree angle to the trunk or main branch.

Regularly watch for snow and ice damage to the limbs, as these trees can become very large, and damage can extend to falling branches, obviously a serious hazard. Dawn redwoods will grow quickly and require professional trimming when pruning is necessary.

Propagating Dawn Redwood

Dawn redwood can be propagated from hardwood cuttings. Because the plant is very fast-growing, propagated trees can become contributing landscape specimens within a few years. If you take cuttings in early spring, you will be able to plant the saplings by fall. Here's how:

  1. Fill a 1-gallon nursery container with sand up to within 2 inches of the top.
  2. Run water through the container for five minutes to rinse it thoroughly.
  3. Cut a 6-inch-long shoot from a side branch on the tree with a pruning saw. An ideal cutting will have a stem about 1/4-inch thick. Angle the cut end at 45-degrees, just below a leaf node. Scrape off a segment of bark about 1/2-inch long and 1/4-inch wide near the cut end of the branch but take care not to damage the leaf node.
  4. Coat the cut end and the scraped area with acid rooting powder.
  5. Insert the branch, cut side down, into the pot of sand, burying it to about 1/2 its length.
  6. Place the pot in a sheltered outdoor area and keep the sand constantly moist. Placing the pot on a heated mat may speed up the rooting process.
  7. Test for roots after one month by tugging on the branch to see if roots are holding it in place. It may take two or even three months for anchoring roots to develop.
  8. When roots have developed, transplant the cutting into a 1-gallon nursery container filled with a mixture of equal parts loam, sand, and compost.
  9. Water the plant with 2 inches of water each week for the rest of the season. After the tree drops its foliage in fall, plant it in the garden.

How to Grow Dawn Redwood From Seed

Growing this tree from seed can be tough, as the germination rate is only about 5 percent. If you choose to try it, plant at least 20 seeds in a peat pot, covering them only to about 1/4 inch with soil. They need good light to germinate. Place the pot in a plastic bag for better humidity, keep the soil moist, and keep the pot in a cool area with only indirect light. If the seeds germinate, it will happen in 30 to 40 days. Let the seedling become strong and grow several inches before planting it in the ground.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

Japanese beetles and spider mites can cause problems with this tree, but the damage is usually cosmetic and never life-threatening. Some fungal pathogens might try to take hold, but these can be remedied with an appropriate fungicide. The tree might develop canker, especially if it is stressed. If this happens, remove the affected branches as soon as possible.

  • What is the difference between dawn redwood and bald cypress?

    Dawn redwood is often confused with common bald cypress (Taxodium distichum). The needles on dawn redwood are opposite, meaning they are positioned directly across from each other on the stem, while bald cypress needles are alternate (staggered).

  • What is an alternative to dawn redwood?

    A very popular cultivar is 'Gold Rush' (Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Gold Rush'), which has golden-yellow foliage and a narrow habit. It grows 50 feet high and 20 feet wide, making it a more manageable tree for moderate landscape sites.

  • How old is the dawn redwood?

    This tree is believed to have existed 65 million years ago. It was thought to be extinct until botanists discovered living specimens in China during the 1940s. Today it is considered endangered, so planting one is a great move.

Article Sources
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  1. Dawn Redwood.