When you think of cypress trees, you probably think of the stately trees found in Southern swamps. Here, bald cypress trees (Taxodium distichum) often become covered in Spanish moss and develop “cypress knees,” — knobby growths that form on the bark directly above the waterline. These growths are believed to help the trees withstand wet conditions.
Although cypress trees are native to southern regions, they’re adaptable in many climates. Hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 4 through 10, cypress trees can be found as far north as southern Canada. Cypress trees are conifers and have short, feathery green needles, which turn red or brown and drop in the fall. Their bark is a rugged, reddish-brown. Cypress trees have a pyramidal form and interesting flared trunks. Although they’re too large for most home landscapes, they make beautiful trees for parks and larger yards. They’re especially suitable for wet areas and they’re also resistant to deer and rabbits.
Planting Cypress Trees
You might have a hard time locating cypress trees in northern climates. Consider a reputable online vendor, in this case. In the south, you can easily locate young seedlings at nurseries or even university extension sales. Plant cypress trees any time from spring until about six weeks before the first fall frost. Cypress trees can grow up to 70 feet so make sure you give them plenty of room. Plant them in light sandy or loam soil. Cypress trees will grow with partial shade, but they perform best in full sun.
Dig the hole as deep as the root ball and twice as wide. Place the tree in the hole so its base sits an inch or two above the surrounding soil. Fill in the soil halfway and add 2 gallons of water. Add the remaining soil, filling up the hole and tamping the soil down with your foot to remove any air pockets.
Established trees can tolerate both wet conditions and drought, but water your tree at least once per week during the first summer after planting, especially if the weather is dry. Don’t worry about fertilizing your cypress tree immediately after planting. Instead, fertilize the following spring with ½ cup 10-10-10 fertilizer. Spread the fertilizer in a 4 foot circle under the tree. As the tree grows, increase the fertilizer to 1 cup annually. Spread the fertilizer underneath the entire canopy area.
You won’t need to prune cypress trees much, but do cut out any diseased or dead branches in winter or early spring. Remove branches that grow vertically or rub against one another.
Cypress Tree Pests and Diseases
Cypress trees are long-lived trees, frequently living for several hundred years. Their wood is hard and dense, and is often used for making flooring and furniture. Because they’re so hardy and adaptable, cypress trees rarely suffer from disease problems.
They prefer acidic soil and sometimes develop iron chlorosis in alkaline soils. This problem is characterized by leaves that turn yellow while the stems remain green. You can try iron foliar sprays or treat the soil with sulfur, but these treatments are short-lived. The best solution is to opt for a more suitable tree if you have very alkaline soil.
Bagworms and mites may occasionally bother cypress trees. Remove any bags you can reach and destroy them. If the problem is severe, call in a professional, especially if your tree is large.
More information on growing cypress trees:
A ranger from the Big Cypress National Reserve talks about cypress trees on YouTube.
The LSU Ag Center discusses the bald cypress tree on YouTube.
Julie Christensen learned about gardening on her grandfather’s farm and mother’s vegetable garden in southern Idaho. Today, she lives and gardens on the high plains of Colorado. When she’s not digging in the dirt, Julie writes about food, education, parenting and gardening.