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Leyland Cypress Trees

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Picture of a young Leyland cypress tree.

Picture of a young Leyland cypress tree.

David Beaulieu

Plant Taxonomy of Leyland Cypress Trees:

Plant taxonomy classifies Leyland cypress trees as x Cupressocyparis leylandii. Various cultivars exist, including 'Leighton Green.'

Plant Type for Leyland Cypress Trees:

A hybrid cross between Alaskan cedar and Monterey cypress, Leyland cypresses are classified as evergreen trees and as conifers.

Characteristics:

Slender and fast-growing, Leyland cypress trees are generally grown by homeowners who have an urgent need for a mass of evergreen foliage. Height can vary greatly (without trimming), depending on the trees you buy and the conditions in which you grow them. Fifty feet may be an average height for untrimmed Leyland cypresses, but don't be surprised if yours grows much higher or much shorter than that. See under "Landscape Uses" below. Much taller than they are wide, the spread is commonly only 1/3 or 1/4 of the height (sometimes less). The leaves of this needled evergreen consist of flattened sprays.

Planting Zones:

Leyland cypress trees are best grown in zones 6-10. However, as a zone 5 gardener, I have been successful so far growing one by providing my test specimen during the winter with mulch and an A-frame shelter, to protect it from snow and ice damage (for a photo, click the picture above to access the mini-photo gallery). Of course, such sheltering is feasible only while Leyland cypresses are young (unless you keep them short by pruning). A safer bet in zone 5 and lower is arborvitae, which has similar foliage.

Sun and Soil Requirements:

The recommended instructions for planting Leyland cypress trees call for full sun (will tolerate partial sun) and a well drained soil.

Landscape Uses:

A common landscape use for them is planting several Leyland cypresses along a border, in order to create a privacy screen. They are also used as windbreak trees. Since they are amenable to shearing or pruning, some homeowners take this a step further and turn such a border planting into a formal hedge. It's advisable for most folks to prune them early and often; otherwise, they tend to get too tall and overwhelm a landscape.

Problems:

Steve Nix lists a couple of problems with Leyland cypress trees:

  1. They're shallow-rooted, meaning they can topple over easily
  2. They're susceptible to canker

To deal with canker, Steve recommends, "You should always destroy diseased plant parts and try to avoid physical damage to plants. Sanitize pruning tools between each cut by dipping in rubbing alcohol or in a solution of chlorine bleach and water."

Ornamental Value of Leyland Cypress:

In detailing the landscape uses for Leyland cypress trees above, I focused on practical applications (screening, windbreaks). But Leyland cypresses are also used as Christmas trees.

Meaning of the Name, "Leyland Cypress" :

Leyland cypress trees are named after the man who introduced them to the world, Christopher Leyland.

Bottom Line:

How badly do you need fast growth? That's the question you have to ask yourself before planting Leyland cypress trees. They'll give you that fast growth, but you'll pay for it in terms of maintenance. The height of Leyland cypress trees can be controlled (I grow mine as a multi-stemmed shrub), but only through persistent pruning that commences when the plants are young.

Trim the sides of Leyland cypress trees every year (July is often recommended as a time for general pruning). After the leader has reached the height you want the tree to retain, make a pruning cut a few inches below that (which will leave room for the vertical growth of minor branches) to preclude any further significant upward growth ("pollarding").

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