With dozens of tree, shrub and spreading cypress species and cultivars to choose from, almost any garden has room to grown one. Many evergreen cypress trees are virtually care-free, requiring little more than the light, air and water provided by nature. For optimal growth and health, however, cypress trees need extra care during harsh weather conditions, and they appreciate an annual dollop of fertilizer.
Light and Air
Cypress trees generally prefer to grow in full sunlight, but in areas where the summer sun is blazing hot, watch for sunscald. Cypress with a columnar growth habit, like Italian cypress, can be planted 6 feet apart for a screen. For a hedge, a rule of thumb by the National Arbor Day Foundation is to space cypress 6 to 8 feet apart. Spreading, low-growing cypress needs to be spaced out to accommodate their growth habit. Many varieties do best as a singular specimen planting. The trees normally need no pruning, but small, dense varieties may need an occasional snip to allow for better air circulation and light penetration.
The best way to tell if your cypress needs fertilizer is with a soil test. Soil tests analyze the nutrient and acid content of the soil and should be performed before planting, and every three to five years afterwards. If the tree's foliage is fading or shoot growth seems smaller than in previous years, the tree may need fertilizing. In general, you can fertilize cypress trees in early spring every year. Use a fertilizer that delivers 1 to 3 lbs. of nitrogen for every 1,000 square feet of root area. General-purpose fertilizers should contain both macronutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, which are usually expressed in that order by large numbers on the label, such as 10-10-10. Other nutrients usually include calcium, magnesium and sulfur, and micronutrients including iron, zinc and copper.
Different cypress species have different watering requirements. Cypress suitable for arid plantings include Arizona cypress and Italian cypress. Often seen in California yards and streetside is the Cupressus macrocarpus, which has average watering requirements. Bald cypress, seen in swampland throughout the Southeast, can actually grow quite well in dry to moist soils with good drainage. Hinoki cypress prefers to grow in moist, well-drained soils and needs extra irrigation during dry spells. Pond cypress is a close relative of bald cypress and is happiest in wet areas, like depressions in the earth that stay wet most of the time but dry up occasionally. Give cypress a thorough watering every two weeks if rainfall is light, and more frequently during drought.
Pest and Disease Management
Leyland cypress is exceptionally susceptible to a wide range of pests and diseases. Other cypress trees may also host occasional attacks by insects and fungal infections. The best defense is a good offense, so keep the trees healthy to keep pests at bay. A healthy cypress tree is better able to live through a pest attack and recover more quickly. If you plan to add a cypress to the yard, choose problem-free cypress species such as Arizona, pond or hinoki cypress. Protect young trees from hungry wildlife like rabbits, deer and rodents.
- Midwest Gardening: How Far Apart
- University of Florida; Planting Cypress; Susan W. Vince, et al.; February 2011
- Michigan State University; Chamaecyparis Obtusa -- Hinoki Cypress; March 1998
- Florida Forest Trees; Pond Cypress
- USDA Fact Sheet; Arizona Cypress; June 2006
- University of Minnesota; Tree Fertilization: A Guide for Fertilizing New and Established Trees in the Landscape; Jeff Gilman, et al.; 2000
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