Italian Cypress Branches Flop from too much Water

Q: We have a stand of Italian cypress trees that surround the perimeter of our very windy back yard. They are about 7 feet tall. Some branches on some of the trees have fallen over. Do I cut off these branches, or wrap some sort of wire around the tree to pull them back in place?
– Patricia Sanford,

A: Your windy exposure has contributed to your floppy cypress syndrome but may not be the sole cause.
The Italian cypress is native to the Mediterranean, where the climate is strikingly similar to our own – wet winters and long, hot, dry summers. Too much summer water causes the downfall, quite literally, of cypress branches.

If you have been watering your cypress trees during the past several summers, they have probably developed weak, succulent growth that can barely support itself. A strong wind will upset the equilibrium of soft cypress branches and cause them to bend out from the body of the tree, although you could witness the same phenomenon without the wind if your watering has been excessive.

The truth is, once Italian cypress trees have established themselves – about two years after planting – they should not require any summer water as long as we get an average dose of winter rain.

When Italian cypress branches fall away from the vertical, they should immediately be tied back in place. To cut off wayward branches is much worse, since you will create gaping, unsightly holes in your trees that will never be filled with new growth. Tie up flopping cypress branches with twine or, better yet, with clear monofilament or fishing line. Wire should not be used, since it will cut into the shoots and branches of the tree.

‘Tiny Tower’ is a new variety of Italian cypress patented by Monrovia Nursery that grows more slowly than the common species. Due to its slow rate of growth, ‘Tiny Tower’ seems to be immune to floppy branch syndrome.

Two other Mediterranean trees are famous for being overwatered, a practice that leads to their early demise. Carob trees, which can live for several hundred years, should not be irrigated during the summer. I recently saw a mature carob in a grassy parkway strip that had fallen over and crushed a car parked underneath. The base of its trunk, due to constant watering of the surrounding grass, had rotted all the way around. Olive trees, which can live for 2,000 years or more, are also poor choices for lawns, where they often become infected with the deadly verticillium wilt fungus.

Q: Should I remove my 9-foot ficus tree that I planted about two years ago? I have since learned about their root system, which can be quite invasive. I am concerned about my pool (19 feet away) and my cement pool deck (13 feet away).
– Donna Barney,
Simi Valley

A: I certainly would not want the cracking of your pool deck or pool on my conscience if I reassured you that the roots of your ficus would never reach that far. As a precaution, dig up the soil around your ficus and install a root barrier, which consists of modular plastic panels that are snapped together. Street trees in Los Angeles are now planted with root barriers to keep roots from pushing up surrounding sidewalks or other paved surfaces.

TIP OF THE WEEK: Regularly hose off plants that are continually bothered by insect pests. Plants that require weekly hosing include: Hibiscus and xylosma (white fly); citrus (mealy bug, thrips, scale); roses (aphid); Italian cypress and juniper (spider mite).

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