Image by Wendy Cutler
By Jackie Carroll
Cypress trees are fast-growing North American natives that deserve a prominent place in the landscape. Many gardeners don’t consider planting cypress because they believe it only grows in wet, boggy soil. While it’s true that their native environment is constantly wet, once they’re established, cypress trees grow well on dry land and can even withstand occasional drought. The two types of cypress trees found in the U.S. are bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) and pond cypress (T. distichum).
Cypress Tree Info
Cypress trees have a straight trunk that tapers at the base, giving it a soaring perspective. In cultivated landscapes, they grow 50 to 80 feet tall with a spread of 20 to 30 feet. These deciduous conifers have short needles with a feathery appearance. Most varieties have needles that turn brown in winter, but a few have lovely yellow or gold fall color.
Bald cypress has a tendency to form “knees,” which are pieces of root that grow above the ground in odd and sometimes mysterious shapes. Knees are more common for trees grown in water, and the deeper the water, the taller the knees. Some knees reach a height of 6 feet. Although no one is sure about the function of knees, they may help the tree get oxygen when they are underwater. These projections are sometimes unwelcome in the home landscape because they make mowing difficult and they can trip passers-by.
Where Cypress Trees Grow
Both types of cypress trees grow well in areas with lots of water. Bald cypress grows naturally near springs, on lake banks, in swamps or in bodies of water that flow at a slow to moderate rate. In cultivated landscapes, you can grow them in almost any soil.
Pond cypress prefers still water and doesn’t grow well on land. This variety is rarely used in home landscapes because it needs boggy soil that is low in both nutrients and oxygen. It grows naturally in Southeastern wetlands, including the Everglades.
How to Care for Cypress Trees
Growing cypress trees successfully depends on planting the in the right location. Choose a site with full sun or partial shade and rich, acid soil. Cypress trees are hardy is USDA zones 5 through 10.
Drench the soil around the tree after planting and cover the root zone with 3 to 4 inches of organic mulch. Give the tree a good soaking every week for the first few months. Cypress trees need water most in spring when they enter a growth spurt and in fall just before they go dormant. They can withstand occasional drought once established, but it’s best to water them if you haven’t had a drenching rain for more than a month.
Wait a year after planting before fertilizing a cypress tree for the first time. Cypress trees growing in a regularly fertilized lawn don’t generally need additional fertilizer once established. Otherwise, fertilize the tree every year or two with a balanced fertilizer or a thin layer of compost in fall. Spread a pound of balanced fertilizer for each inch of trunk diameter over an area approximately equal to the spread of the canopy.