Our very heavy snowstorm last month loaded and bent the branches of all of the Italian cypress trees encircling the backyard. The trees have grown very tall. However, they look quite grotesque and branches are bent askew. We have tried using fishing wire to bind some of the trees but because of their height, it’s impossible to get to the top.
Should the askew branches be cut? Should we call a tree person using a tall ladder or simply let them fend for themselves. They were once very beautiful and created privacy, but now they are not quite so appealing. I have noticed in other neighborhoods that nothing has been done to these trees. Any suggestions?”
Patricia Sanford, Palmdale
How to Fix Bent Italian Cypress Branches
Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) is that tall, narrow, dark green columnar tree that appears, among other places, in Van Gogh’s famous painting known as “Starry Night.” When Italian cypress branches flop, you can either bind them up with clear fishing line or remove them.
If you choose to remove a flopping branch, you should cut back to the tree’s interior since there may not be any regrowth where the cut is made. By cutting to the interior, the stub will be hidden from view. Yet, ideally, and although it takes a ladder and some work, it is advisable to bend the branches upright again and tie them in place.
Italian Cypress Branches Typically Flop from Too Much Water
Aside from bending as the result of heavy snowfall, Italian cypress branches flop from too much water. In order for the Italian cypress to build strength and stay upright, it needs the tough love of a stringent watering regime. Italian cypresses should be watered sparingly. After their first year in the ground, a single weekly soaking is all that they require. Later, they may not need any water other than winter rain. Mature Italian cypress trees are as drought tolerant as any California native. Incidentally, a plus of growing Italian cypresses in places like Palmdale is that your cold winter promotes the development of cones and seeds for propagation. In the San Fernando Valley and other warmer winter climates, Italian cypresses produce only vegetative growth.
‘Stricta’ and ‘Tiny Tower’ Varieties Less Floppy
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.
‘Tiny Tower’ is relatively 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.
“I have a three-trunk pygmy date palm that is about eight years old and planted outside. The fronds on one of the trunks are completely dead – brown, droopy, no green at all. The other two seem healthy. Any ideas? Can it be saved?”
Steve Johnson, Valencia
Although you see them planted frequently enough in Valencia, pygmy date palms are ill-suited to the Santa Clarita Valley. They are damaged on frosty nights and during long spells of dry summer heat. Pygmy palms sometimes succeed in protected locations, under tall trees or patio covers or against block walls. However, planting them in your area is always a risky proposition.
It sometimes happens that a single trunk of a pygmy date palm (Phoenix roebelinii) dies, leaving the other trunks intact. In such a case, remove the dead trunk where it meets the soil line and the remainder of the palm should continue in good health. If you have a room inside your house or apartment that receives at least several hours of good sunlight, you can plant a containerized pygmy palm there.
You might also want to consider digging up your pygmy palm from the garden and placing it in a container where, located outside or indoors, it can be given more protection from the elements. If you decide to transplant a palm of any type, wait until summer to do so. Palms put out most of their growth in the summer and are thus best equipped to overcome transplant shock, which disrupts growth and can lead to stagnation and death, during that season.
Tip of the week
When it rains, think about mulching the moment the rain stops. Applying a 2-3 inch layer of mulch will preserve soil moisture for months, in addition to preventing weed seed germination and adding mineral nutrients to the soil. If you do not mulch, you should at least refrain from cultivating the Earth. After it rains, a crust forms over the soil surface that acts as a barrier to evaporation. Some gardeners regularly cultivate the soil. This is a practice that makes no sense, winter or summer. Cultivation merely increases loss of water from the soil through evaporation in addition to destroying beneficial soil microbes that thrive near the soil surface. In some quarters, frequency of soil cultivation has become a test of the gardener’s mettle when, ideally, the soil surface should only be disturbed during planting.