HARDINESS: Zones 4 lo 8
PREFERRED SOIL pH: Neutral to slightly acid
PREFERRED SOIL TYPE: Fertile, moist
PREFERRED LIGHT: Sun
ATTRIBUTES: Graceful coniferous evergreens with colorful foliage; for accents
SEASON OF INTEREST: Year-round
FAVORITES: Nootka, Lawson's, Sawara, Hinoki false cypress
QUIRKS: Leaves mature from a narrow, pointed wedge to a flat, scaly spray
GOOD NEIGHBORS: Red-osier dogwood, river birch, serviceberry, winterberry holly
WHERE IT GROWS BEST: Moist sites in climates with a cool summer
LONGEVITY: Can live more than 1000 years
POTENTIAL PROBLEMS: Spider mites
SOURCE: Nursery plants
DIMENSIONS: 6-100 ft (1.8-30.5 m) tall and wide, depending on species or cultivar
False Cypress in the Landscape
No matter where you live, there is probably a false cypress well suited to your garden. Most of these long-lived evergreens grow into columns or cones that spread a bit with age and have flat, scaly foliage colored from golden yellow to apple green to soft blue-gray. The larger trees, which can eventually reach 100 ft (30.S m), are ideal for screens, boundary markers, and backdrops for shrubs and smaller trees. The slow-growing dwarfs, up to 6 ft (1.8 m), are fit for foundation plantings, terrace edgings, shrub borders, and rock gardens. And some varieties are so graceful that you'll want to show them off as specimens.
All in the Family
Nootka cypress (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis) is very long-lived, growing for up to 1,000 years. Native to the Pacific Northwest, this species is hardy to Zone 4, prefers a moist climate, and resists damage from ice. winds, and occasional flooding. While most form a stiff pyramid, the dwarf 'Compacta' forms a globe, and 'Lutea' takes on the shape of a yellow-green cone. The most elegant is the 30 ft (9.1 m) tall 'Pendula', whose weeping foliage hangs in long streamers.
Lawson's cypress (C. lawsoniana), native to western North America, is widely grown in moderate to mild climates.The 6 ft (1.8 m) 'Aurea Densa' is a compact cone of gold leaves. 'Ellwoodii', a slow-growing tree, matures to a 30 ft (9.1 m) column of gray-green that turns blue in cold weather. Most Lawson's cypress are hardy to Zone 5 but they may need protection from winter wind.
Two popular Asian natives have many cultivars that vary in foliage color, leaf shape, size, and silhouette. Hinoki false cypress (C. obtusa) is a conical tree with horizontal branches carrying thick sprays of deep green foliage. Look for 'Nana Gracilis', a particularly graceful, slow-growing variety with dark green, slightly curving leaves that grows to 12 ft (3.7 m). Sawara false cypress (C. pisifera) forms a narrow pyramid but is a looser, more open plant than other types. Two varieties with golden leaves that have a strong presence in the landscape are 'Gold Spangle' and the feathery 'Plumosa Aurea'. Both are hardy to Zone 4 and reach about 20 ft (6.1 m).
Growing False Cypress
Plant small specimens, keeping the soil ball intact to avoid root injury. Keep the soil around the roots moist the first year; plants should endure drought thereafter. Apply a 3 in (7.6 cm) layer of organic mulch to retard evaporation from the soil. In warm climates, site plants on a northern exposure or plant in partial shade.
False cypress are virtually pest-and disease-free. Sap-sucking spider mites occasionally infest them in hot, dry weather, causing inner foliage to die. Dislodge damaged leaves and mites with a strong water spray from a hose.