Italian cypress tree dying

Italian cypress trees: Why are they dying?

Italian cypress trees can be a reliable choice for gardeners looking to create a visual screen between properties. But what if the trees, which usually are easy to grow, start to die? Reader G. Genari sent this letter to our SoCal Garden Clinic:

Help a newcomer to the Antelope Valley! The home we’re in has a stately line of Italian cypress along our western wall, providing a nice screen from the neighboring property. The trees are 20 to 30 feet tall and seem to be doing nicely. They are probably 15 to 18 years old.

A newer stand of cypress along the eastern wall is another matter. Those trees vary in height and are probably less than 10 years old. Every year, two or three trees on this side die and we have tried to replace them. We are at a point where we are considering taking them all down on this side of the house.

Soil conditions and watering are identical. There doesn’t seem to be an insect infestation. The only discernible difference is that some of the western trees are shaded from the sun and blocked from the wind, whereas the eastern trees are exposed to sun and wind.

Any ideas for us?


For an answer we turned to Alan Uchida, nurseryman at Bellefontaine Nursery in Pasadena, who writes:

The difference in the hours of sunlight could be the problem. Another factor: Good drainage is essential to the roots of all cypress trees, which are Mediterranean plants. Overwatering or irregular watering in clay soils will cause rot.

Italian cypress need less watering as they become older because their roots can reach deeper and wider. Perhaps the roots of your western trees are somewhat constrained? A lot can be discovered by examining the roots, if that’s possible.

We welcome questions at [email protected] Please put “Garden Clinic” in the subject field. Because of the high volume of mail we receive, we can respond only to select questions.


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Cypress Tree Trimming: Information About Cutting Back Cypress Trees

Rejuvenating a cypress tree necessarily means trimming, but you have to be careful how you wield those clippers. Cutting back cypress trees too drastically results in dead wood and unattractive trees. Read on for more information on pruning cypress trees.

Can You Prune a Cypress?

Cypress trees are narrow-leaf evergreens. Like other narrow-leaf evergreens, cypress do not develop new buds on the older wood. That means that cutting new shoots back to the branch may result in bare spots on the tree. On the other hand, cypress tree trimming is entirely feasible if you know what you are doing.

Cypress are one of several species classified as “scale-leaf” needled evergreens. Unlike pine trees, with leaves that look like needles, cypress leaves appear more like scales. Both cypress and false-cypress are included in this category. Rejuvenating a cypress tree that is overgrown or unshapely involves trimming. Although excess pruning is destructive to a cypress, cutting back cypress trees at the right time and in the right way creates a better, stronger tree.

Rejuvenating a Cypress Tree

If you are thinking of rejuvenating a cypress tree, it is important to prune at the correct time of year. Dead, broken and diseased branches should be removed as soon as possible after you notice the damage. However, pruning to shape the tree or reduce its size must wait for the appropriate season.

When you are rejuvenating a cypress tree that is overgrown, begin cypress tree trimming just before new growth begins in the springtime. You can pick up the pruners again in late spring or early summer if necessary to control growth or maintain an attractive tree shape.

Tips on Cutting Back Cypress Trees

The rule when pruning cypress trees is to work slowly and gently. Proceed branch by branch to determine what cuts are necessary.

Cut back each overly-long branch to a branch fork with a green shoot growing from it. This is the most important rule for cutting back cypress trees: never cut all green shoots from any branch since the branch will not be able to grow more. Proceed from the underside of the branches, slanting the cuts up.

When you are pruning cypress trees, aim for a natural look by pruning some branches deeper into the foliage than others. The tree should not look “pruned” when you are done.

What Time of Year is Best for Tree Trimming?

To keep trees looking their best, occasional tree trimming is recommended. However, what is the best time to trim trees? The type of tree and your motivation for trimming dictate your answer to that question.

Like many plants, trees operate on a cycle of growth and dormancy each year. Tree trimming can be done in any season, even when the tree is in its dormant cycle. Some species thrive when tree trimming is done during specific times of the year. In general, however, you want to plan tree trimming around the specific tree problem you want to address.

Winter Tree Trimming

Winter is the season when trees are not actively growing, and so that season is often a popular time of year for tree trimming. Most trees do not have leaves in the winter, which helps expose problematic issues such as crossing branches or problematic growth problems. Tree trimming in the winter encourages new spring growth, but it is best to do it after the coldest part of the season to avoid leaving the three vulnerable to extreme cold snaps.

All species of trees, in general, can sustain tree trimming during the winter.

Trimming Trees in the Spring and Summer

For most tree species, tree trimming in the spring can yield good results. Although the sap is rising in the tree during this time period, early spring allows for easy identification of problematic branches before the tree has fully leafed out.

In addition to exposing problem areas, spring tree trimming makes it easy to see which branches are dead and subject to removal. Since those branches will not flower or leaf, their bare bark will be more evident than during the dormant stages. Additionally, this time period can help with identifying trees that cannot be saved, in which case you might schedule tree takedown and removal services.

For tree species that flower in mid to late summer, early spring tree trimming is best in order for the tree to produce more buds on the remaining branches.

Want to avoid tree fruit production and flowering? Tree injections might be the answer!

Although summer tree trimming is possible, it can be more difficult because once leaves fully cover the trees, it can be difficult to identify branches with problems. However, summer is the best season to identify which branches are weakened due to the weight of the leaves; these branches will sag compared to healthy branches.

Additionally, tree species which fall under the category of spring-flowering trees are better to trim in the summer, as after trimming takes place, the branches will form more flower buds if trimmed shortly after spring flowers have faded.

There are several species of trees which benefit from summer trimming as well because they produce a lot of sap which can make trimming difficult in late winter or spring. Species which do best for tree trimming in summer include:

  • Maples
  • Birches
  • Dogwoods
  • Walnuts
  • Elms

Trimming these species of trees in summer helps you avoid the sticky mess you might experience with these species in other seasons. And again, if the flowering bothers you, some tree injections offer a deflowering agent that keeps them from producing fruits which can cause a mess as time goes on. Annual treatments like this keep your tree looking great without all the cleanup later!

Tree Trimming in Fall

Fall is, in general, the worst time to trim a tree. Cuts take longer to heal during this time period because the tree is going into dormancy and when trees with fungal diseases release large numbers of spores after being cut, the increased risk of infection from the released sports increases. You can put your trees at risk if you decide to trim them in the fall.

Fall tree trimming cannot always be avoided, however. If the branches pose a safety hazard or threaten property, it is advisable to take them down right then and there no matter what season it is.


Contact Omni Tree Service, Inc. at 636-391-9944 for tree trimming in St. Louis year round!

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