Italian Cypress

My neighbor has a 40-foot Italian cypress that stands like a solitary sentinel, guarding his pool and hot tub and my garage and basketball net. The majestic presence of this tree and its unidirectional growth toward heaven is a constant reminder that there is something higher to live for.
I cannot imagine a more perfect tree for the narrow strip between two properties, since it grows straight up, never requires pruning, and should not led to any disputes that start with “your tree’s branches are growing on my property.”
Yet, strange as it may seem, many people have gotten into the habit of pruning their Italian cypresses.
Perhaps they are intimidated by the skyscraper quality of these trees, which have the potential to reach a height of 60 feet. It is more usual to to see Italian cypresses kept at a height of 10 to 15 feet.
Occasionally, shoots of the Italian cypress flop outside the main body of the plant and may be snipped off.
This occurs on Italian cypresses that are propagated from seed. Clonally propagated trees – of the “Stricta” cultivar, for example – should not exhibit the floppiness of seedlings. What this means, in practical terms, is that if a neighbor or a friend has an Italian cypress you are especially fond of and would like to propagate, you would want to take cuttings rather than seeds to start your new plants.
Take 4- to 6-inch shoot tips, stick them in a small flower pot filled with perlite, and keep them in light shade until roots appear, when they can be given more sun. Be patient. It could take several months for rooting to occur.
From the standpoint of water conservation, the cypress family (Cupressaceae) is a most suitable family of plants for Southern California.
Among this family are included not only cypresses, but junipers, arborvitae and the incense cedar. There are plants of all shapes and sizes in this family. Junipers are particularly diverse, since their seeds are consumed by a variety of birds who disperse them at great distances from the mother plant, meaning that junipers can be found in a great variety of habitats.
Their growth forms are highly variable; there are junipers that hug the ground, not exceeding 6 inches in height, and weeping juniper trees that grow more than 30 feet tall.
A designer could weave a tapestry of blue, gold and green from the diversely colored foliage of these plants. Other than cactuses, no plants require less maintenance and less water than those in the cypress family.
So why have these plants been all but eliminated from Southern California gardens in the last 20 years? Although highly utilitarian and possessed of ornamental qualities such as shape, texture and color, these scaly evergreens have no flowers to catch the eye. In the 1960s, junipers were widely planted, but that was before the passion for flowering perennials erupted. Where junipers once grew, star jasmine, agapanthus, daylilies and Balcon ivy geraniums now reign supreme.
There is another problem with plants in the cypress family: They have little, if any, tolerance for water on their leaves and bark during warm weather – when fungus is active and sprinklers are in use.
As people have come to rely on sprinklers more and more, this has meant that all plants are sprinkler-watered, including those that should have leaves and stems kept dry.
For junipers and cypresses to stay in the best of health, only their roots should be soaked with a hose, and no more than once or twice a month.
It is still quite popular to utilize cypresses and their relative along entryways and roads, either as colonnades or as formal, low-maintenance hedges.
One plant used in this manner is the thuja or arborvitae (Platycladus orientalis). I first became aware of the yellow-green, gumdrop shaped arborvitae while working at the Peter Pitchess Honor Ranch in Saugus. To this day, I have not seen such arborvitae specimens. They were planted along a road, their symmetrical, pyramidal shapes serving to reinforce the discipline to which the residents of the ranch were supposed to adhere.
Tammy Boatz, who lives in the Mojave Desert, writes: “A couple of years ago, I lined the driveway with the dwarf platycladus shrubs and they have been doing beautifully, tolerating our hot summers and chilly winters. They have been getting regular water during the growing season and nice soakings during our rainy season. About a month ago, I noticed that the two tallest and best-looking shrubs were turning a brown color and the foliage on the whole shrub was crispy to the touch. Is there anything you can recommend?”
Cypress tip moths cause the tips of platycladus branches to turn brown and, if you see cocoons in your plants, this could explain your problem. Winter browning is another possible explanation.
I am reluctant to recommend chemical treatments and would wait until the end of the summer before removing your brown plants. They could still turn green again.

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