Types Of Cypress Trees: Tips For Growing Cypress Trees

Types Of Cypress Trees: Tips For Growing Cypress Trees

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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. ascendens).

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 (15-24 m.) tall with a spread of 20 to 30 feet (6-9 m.). 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 (2 m.). 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 (8-10 cm.) 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 (454 g.) of balanced fertilizer for each inch (3 cm.) of trunk diameter over an area approximately equal to the spread of the canopy.

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Cypress Tree Info - How To Care For Cypress Trees - garden


Cypress is one of the several species of conifers that mainly constitute the genus Cupressus, as well as some of the other genera belonging to the family Cupressaceae. As with most conifers, the extensive cultivation of cypress trees has produced a variety of forms, with different sizes and colors. Most cypress species are used as ornamental trees and plants in parks, gardens, and around temples, while others are developed for their durable timber.

Scientific Classification
Kingdom Plantae
Clade Tracheophytes
Division Pinophyta
Class Pinopsida
Order Pinales
Family Cupressaceae
Subfamily Cupressoideae
Genus Cupressus

Hinoki Cypress?

Hinoki cypress is a conifer, which means it doesn't flower but does retain its foliage year-round. The leaves are made up of overlapping scales and have a drooping, fern-like appearance. Left to grow to its full size, hinoki cypress can reach 50 to 75 feet tall and 15 to 25 feet wide and the tree forms into a rounded pyramid. You can control the size and shape of your hinoki cypress with regular pruning. The bark of mature trees has a reddish tone and peels into fine strips, adding a touch of color and texture to the garden. Miniature forms grow to no more than 12 inches tall and include varieties such as "Juniperoides" and "Minima." As a native Japanese plant, hinoki cypress works perfectly in Japanese gardens, while dwarf varieties work well in rock gardens.

  • Hinoki cypress is a conifer, which means it doesn't flower but does retain its foliage year-round.
  • As a native Japanese plant, hinoki cypress works perfectly in Japanese gardens, while dwarf varieties work well in rock gardens.

Avoid planting the hinoki cypress in areas with air pollution problems. The plant does not tolerate it well. Fertilize the cypress only when needed. If the foliage discolors it could mean a nitrogen or iron deficiency, which you can fix with fertilizer.

Bald Cypress - a Great Tree for the Home Landscape

Bald cypress (Taxodicum distichum) grove. Photo by Jiaqi Zhang

Bald Cypress for the landscape

At last, bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) is getting some well-deserved attention. No one is ex­hibiting these plants on floats in home­ town parades, but the species and various cultivars are finally appearing in leading­ edge nurseries. Keen gardeners and nurs­ery professionals are wondering why bald cypress has not been grown more often. When bald cypress is mentioned, most people, even those who know conifers, envision a plant in an arboretum or botanical garden, or in any case very near water, as in the photo above. The next thing that is usually noted are the knees, those ap­pendages to the roots that rise above the water level when planted next to, or in, ponds, rivers or swamps. Bald cypress seems to have the status of a novelty tree. Indeed, bald cypress and its cultivars are very underutilized in the landscape and unap­preciated considering their endurance, longevity and general landscape value.

Bald cypress foliage is feathery and delicate. Photo courtesy of Conifer Kingdom

Different kinds of Taxodium

The bald cypress is the best known of the three species of Taxodium, and the one which has been most often planted. Pond cypress (Taxodium ascendens) is a junior ver­sion of bald cypress and is also native to the USA, whereas the Montezuma cypress (Taxodium distichum var. mexicanum) is native to Mexico. There are a number of other common and local names for bald­ cypress, including common bald cypress, bald-cypress, cypress, southern cypress, swamp cypress, red-cypress, yellow-cy­press, white-cypress and gulf cypress.

My first experience seeing Tax­odium was in a swamp in a bird sanctuary in southern Florida. At that location the water was at various depths bald cypress was growing in deeper water, whereas pond cypress was growing in shallow water and appeared to be stunted in slightly deeper water. I have since learned that low, but not swampy areas may con­tain a mix of taxa. Both, in their native habitats, grow in areas where there is high water availability that is, in coastal re­gions with a good supply of fresh water such as deltas, swamps and lowlands where there is a seasonal swelling and ebbing of water, and also along streams, ponds, and rivers. Ironically, bald cypress is much more tolerant of water than the pond cy­press, which grows on higher ground.

Native Habitat for Bald Cypress

The native habitat includes the Atlantic coastal plain from Delaware to Florida, and then westward in coastal states bordering the Gulf of Mexico and Texas. It extends from the Gulf States northward into southeast Oklahoma and then via the Mississippi River valley to the southern parts of Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. In the non-coastal states, its habitat is very lim­ited. It almost always appears in elevation not exceeding 99 feet (30 m), except on the Edwards Plateau in eastern Texas where it grows at an elevation of 989-1748 ft (300-530m). The US Forest Service has a good map of the native range of Taxodium distichum.

T. d. 'Peve Minaret'. Photo courtesy of Conifer Kingdom

Growing Bald Cypress

Many bald cypress in arboreta and botanical gardens are planted next to water to facilitate knee de­velopment. But bald cypress need not grow in or near water. It grows well in av­erage soil conditions and can tolerate slightly alkaline (not extremely alkaline) and acidic soils in a sunny location. Bald­ cypress hardiness zones are listed as 4-9, 5-10, and also 4-11. There are reports of bald cypress growing in Minnesota and New York in zone 5 or colder. It can with­ stand substantial wind, ice, and snow with little or no damage.

For example, an allee of bald cypress was planted at Longwood Gardens before 1955. These trees are very large and have withstood the test of time, soaking up a number of Mother Nature’s worst as­saults, including the extremely heavy snowfalls in January and February 2010. It is speculated that bald cypress with­stands weather extremes because of its extensive root system. The leafless winter branches do not collect or support a great deal of snow.

Bald cypress is not seen often in the northern landscape, per­haps due to the popularity of a similar looking tree, the dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides). There are many reasons to grow bald cypress: in the north, the leaves remain on the tree almost four weeks longer than other deciduous trees and the orange fall color is eye-catching. The leaf litter, which is actually a mix of the leaves and some branch tips, falls di­rectly under the tree and provides colorful mulch, eliminating the need for leaf re­moval. The new seed cones are colored a slight pinkish-green and are symmetric, and the tree itself provides a fantastically beautiful silhouette in the winter. At places where the bark is fragmenting, there are pretty patches of orange-brown color showing through.

Leaves drop seasonally at different times depending on the latitude. In the south it may be considered to be ‘tardily deciduous’, while in the north it is fully decidu­ous. Leaf color varies through the season, starting off light green and then chang­ing to darker green, before reaching the orange to golden-yellow coloration in late fall and winter.

The branches on younger trees may be slightly ascending and become more horizontal upon aging. The bark is thin and appears as variably sized sections that are sepa­rated from each other. On older trees, it is charcoal to ashy gray and the fissures be­ tween the sections are an orange tinted tan, an attractive feature. Large patches of orange-peeling bark appear on young trees and trees exposed to high amounts of water.

Knees on a group of wild Taxodium Distichum (bald cypress)

Bald Cypress Knees

Knee development by bald cy­press is a novel feature and one that does not occur in any other conifer species except for Glyptostrobus pensilis and other Taxodium species. Technically known as pneumatophores, knees are root ap­pendages that develop on bald cypress when the tree is planted in or near water. Knees are irregular conical structures that protrude around the tree above the water line or ground level. Small knees may be more like squat cones, while older knees may be strongly conical and irregular. Knees may extend to quite a distance from the tree and their size is de­pendent more or less on the tree’s expo­sure to water and the tree’s age. Hence, trees that are basically submerged will produce more and larger knees but as a landscape tree with water available only from normal rainfall, no knees develop. Younger trees in a moist or wet area may exhibit knees of various heights from a few inches to many feet. There are litera­ture reports of knees as high as six and a half feet (2m). Knees do not have the capability to sprout, whereas sprouting can occur from the stumps of cut trees.

The function of knees has never been adequately explained, but there are sev­eral theories. One is that they provide extra support and help to prevent exten­sive damage from high winds that may be experienced in the tree’s native habitat. Another is that the high starch content of the knees provides a back-up food source for trees whose roots are exposed to water much of the time.

Bald cypress, when exposed to water for an extensive period of time, form broad conical buttresses (root flares). The size of the buttress is directly related to both the time that it is exposed to water and the depth of the water. In a swamp, or an area that is periodically flooded, the flared base of the tree is quite evident. Those that are planted close to or next to water will show a significant root flare at the base of the buttress similar to Metasequoia in both form and color. However, landscape trees planted in an area without extra moisture exhibit buttresses similar to those of many other trees.

As one might surmise, the biomass produced by trees growing in a wet or moist condition versus those on higher land receiving water only via normal rain­ fall differ significantly. Landscape trees will have more limbs, and hence more leaves, whereas those exposed to water will grow fewer limbs and leaves. Bald cypress growing in wet conditions can become massive in time, but the growth rate of trees growing in a normal landscape will be greater.

T. d. 'Codys Feathers'. Photo courtesy of Conifer Kingdom

Bald Cypress Cultivars

Until recently, bald cypress did not have a great number of cultivars, but unique new ones have been identified and propagated in recent years. The following is a list of most cultivars currently in the trade. A longer list prepared by Laurence C. Hatch can be found at, and it includes many names of historical interest.

Note that different cultivars offer choices in height-width ratio (narrow to broad), growth rate, and weeping and upright forms. Some were found as seedlings and others as witch’s brooms.

• ‘Monarch of Illinois’, a wide-spreading and leaderless tree which would be effec­tive in a large landscape. Another similar cultivar having a similar height and breadth is ‘Nelson’, which does have a central leader, coupled with a horizontal branching habit. An extra attraction is that it cones heavily every other year.

• Shawnee BraveTM is a chance seedling that was propagated and distributed by Earl Cully. The limbs are branched up­ward at about 45-50 degrees and it has formerly attained a height of 75 feet (23 m) and a width of 18 feet (6 m). It has never formed cones and propagation is via chip budding onto seedlings grown using a northern seed source to ensure maximum hardiness.

Taxodium distichum 'Peve Minaret' pruned annually. Photo by Sara Malone

Dwarf Bald Cypress Cultivars

Several dwarf cultivars derived from bald cypress have become popular in col­lectorsgardens in the past few years. These include ‘Cascade Falls’, a weeping form from New Zealand and ‘Peve Minaret’, an upright small tree from the Netherlands.

• ‘Cascade Falls’ bald cypress is now widely distributed in the USA. It can be high grafted or grafted low and trained high to obtain the weeping effect. In either case the multiple branches weep from the crown providing an open feath­ery habit that is distinctive from the ever­green weeping conifers. It is normally seen in the nursery in a form many times higher than wide and can be kept more narrow and shorter by pruning in win­ter. The leaves turn the typical orange­-brown in late autumn and the weeping branch structure itself is a marvelous win­ter landscape feature.

The history of ‘Cascade Falls’ is well documented it is traced back to a noted New Zealand horticulturalist, Graeme Platt, and his wife. They bought some “swamp cypress” from a wholesale nurs­ery in Auckland during 1984-1985. After planting and observing them over a pe­riod of time, they noticed that many trees were twisted and deformed. But one tree had a cascading growth pattern that visitors to the garden remarked upon. The Platts allowed it to grow at the edge of a pond for 15 years and then gave some scions to David and Noeline Sampson to graft. After two years of evaluation, the Samp­sons recognized the value of the plant, obtained the intellectual rights, and put it into propagation.

• ‘Peve Minaret’ is dwarf conical tree seedling derived from a freely pollinated bald cypress. It is described by Job Vergeldt as follows: “The dark green nee­dles are smaller than those of the species and somewhat variable in length. Espe­cially the tips of the needles are densely congested. An eight year old tree reaches only one meter (3 ft).”

Descriptions of the ultimate size and growth rate of ‘Peve Minaret’ by various nurseries differ somewhat. Currently, the 10 year size is generally listed as eight to 10 feet (2.5-3m) tall with a width about two to four feet (.5-1.2m). Some specimens seem to be rather tall and narrow. As the tree is widely adapt­able to different growing conditions, it fills an important niche in landscape design, offering a size and ap­pearance nuance not available with other woody plants.

In the photo above, you see a group of 'Peve Minaret' at ACS website editor Sara's Malone's Petaluma, CA ranch. She chose what she describes as a 'wettish' part of her property, but notes that in her Mediterranean climate the trees thrive on just twice-weekly drip irrigation. For novelty value, she prunes the branches annually to between 1-2", thereby creating what she calls a 'forest of green totem-poles.' Pruning Taxodium is easy they are very forgiving trees. This treatment would allow even the smallest garden to include a bald cypress!

T. d. 'Peve Yellow'. Photo courtesy of Conifer Kingdom

Job Vergeldt describes ‘Peve Yellow’ as a “yellow-needled cultivar originating as a seedling from the same group as ‘Peve Minaret’. It is an upright deciduous conifer with golden-yellow foliage in spring. During the summer, the color of the foliage is somewhat paler and finally it is light yellow to pale yellowish-green. ‘Peve Yellow’ is a pyramidal, fairly densely branched tree growing only half as strong as the species.”

Pond Cypress (Taxodium ascendens) foliage. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Pond Cypress

The popularity of pond cypress (Taxodium ascendens) has also grown in recent years, partly because it is smaller, nar­rower, and more conical than the bald cypress. One could say it is a junior version in every respect as there are size dif­ferences in ultimate height and width as well as the sizes of the leaves and cones. Also, its branch pattern is much more vertical. While both the pond cypress and bald cypress grow in similar locations and places, there are notable differences be­tween them. Pond cypress grows in its nat­ural habitat in wet areas near sources of water, but not in the deeper or sustained water levels where bald cypress grows. The two trees sometimes grow in the same area adjacent to one another, but the pond cypress will be on the higher ground.

This is quite evident in Florida where cy­press domes or hummocks are surrounded by swamp. The fact that it grows along ponds, streams, and rivers indicates also that it does not receive the same nutrients from wet ground that bald cypress might. While it will form knees, they are smaller and less frequent than those of bald cypress.

The leaves of pond cypress are shorter and thinner than bald cypress. The ranking of the leaves is also different in that those of pond cypress are upright. The cones are smaller than those of bald­ cypress, but the off-round shape is similar. The bark is deeply furrowed and brown. In time, pond cypress can reach a height of 60-80 feet 18.2-13.6m) and a width of 15-20 feet (4.5-6.Im). The National Register of Big Trees lists the largest tree as one in Bowie, Maryland: it is 100 feet (30.3m) high, has a spread of 74 feet (22.4m) and a trunk circumference of 150 inches(3.8m).

Pond cypress also has gorgeous fall color

The natural distribution of pond cypress is from Virginia to Florida along the Atlantic seaboard and westward into the Gulf of Mexico states of Alabama, Mis­sissippi and Louisiana. It does not appear in the upper parts of the Mississippi River delta and estuaries, as does the bald cy­press. The hardiness zone is often listed as 5-9 with reference to extension some­what outside these zones both on the warmer and colder sides. Hence, it is less hardy than bald cypress.

Pond cypress is an extremely under-utilized conifer. In the landscape, it has a magnetic drawing power and it at­tracts one’s immediate attention. It seems that it is just the right size for the home landscape, due to its columnar habit and small stature. It is straight and has an upward branching pattern. The leaves are feathery the fall color is a won­derful version of a rusty orange, and the winter aspect seems just right, especially on a bleak, cloudy day. This, together with the fact that it is easy to grow and care for, makes it truly an outstanding deciduous tree specimen in the landscape. There are other appropriate uses for pond cypress, as well. It can be used in slightly wet sites in random order or even as a screen together with some other shrubs that tolerate high mois­ture levels.

Taxodium ascendens 'Morris'

Pond Cypress Cultivars

There are two columnar and slower growing cultivars derived from pond cy­press that can fill an important niche in the landscape since they are more moderate in size yet have the same favorable cultural characteristics of the species.

  • ‘Morris’ (DebonairTM). Quoting Tony Aiello of the Morris Arboretum on the history of the pond cy­press cultivar ‘Morris’: “The original plant is from the (John and Lydia) Morris Estate. It was planted hardy.” ‘Morris’ is an extremely narrow columnar tree the branches of the still existing original tree at Morris Arboretum (pictured above) sweep strongly up­ward, in the area of 70-80 de­grees.
  • ‘Nutans’ Another commonly available pond­ cypress is Taxodium ascendens ‘Nutans’. The foliage is delicate and strap-like and the tree is narrow and slow growing. The leaves have the same rusty orange color in the fall as the species. This cultivar, as well as ‘Morris’, has wonderfully tall narrow silhouettes in winter.

Fortu­nately, the availability of these special forms of Taxodium is increasing and cer­tainly more will be seen in the landscape in the future. If you haven’t discovered how a Taxodium might enhance your landscape, now is a great time to explore!

Care Features

Taxodium is a fast-growing species it belongs to long-lived breeds. It is a photophilous tree with a powerful root system. Three years after planting, cypress swamp is recommended to be fed. In the summer, the plant is regularly and abundantly watered (about 10 liters per plant), and sprinkling is organized twice a month for cypress. In dry or very hot weather, the volume of water doubles.

An adult tree calmly suffers frosts and temporary cold up to -30, but young cypress trees can suffer in winter. In order to protect them, near-stem circles are mulched with a ten-centimeter layer of dry foliage.

Cypress does not tolerate soil with a high content of lime. Feels good on sandy and compacted soils. The tree is not prone to damage by pests and diseases.

As the name implies, Arizona cypress trees grow in the Southwestern United States and do well in very dry and hot environments. They are evergreens and top out at about 50 feet tall. Because they are well-adapted for desert-like environments, they are only hardy in zones 7 to 9.

Pond cypress trees are also common in the United States. They are similar to bald cypress and also prefer a wet and swampy environment. They get their nutrients from slow-moving groundwater. Although similar to bald cypress, they grow more slowly and do not usually get as tall.

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