How to Grow and Care for False Cypress Trees

False cypress tree with green and yellow scaly foliage lining a hedge

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

The Chamaecyparis genus, often referred to as false cypress trees, offers a wide array of sizes and colors for anyone searching for a textured evergreen. Some are tall conical trees while others are smaller dwarf tree varieties, better suited for use as hedges. 

Adorned with textured, scaly, cedar-like foliage, false cypress trees can be seen with green, blue-green, blue-gray, yellow, or gold foliage. Its shaggy, reddish-brown bark and small, circular cones complement the foliage nicely. These evergreens can be planted anytime from spring to early fall.

Botanical Name Chamaecyparis
Common Name False cypress tree
Plant Type Evergreen
Mature Size 6-70 ft. tall, 4-20 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type Loamy, moist but well-drained
Soil pH Acidic, neutral
Bloom Time Not Applicable
Flower Color Not Applicable
Hardiness Zones 4-8, USA
Native Area North America, Asia

False Cypress Tree Care

False cypress trees are easy to maintain once established. Though each variety may have slightly different requirements, the overall care instructions are similar. False cypress trees enjoy full to partial sunshine and moist, well-draining, slightly acidic soils. 

They are cold tolerant, but take note that intense cold can cause burns on the foliage. Established plants are also heat and drought-tolerant. This genus is resistant to deer, rabbits, and most diseases, but they can struggle with juniper blight, spruce mites, and root rot.

False cypress 'Rijnhof' tree branches with yellow-green scale-like foliage closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

False cypress tree branches with yellow-green textured and scaly foliage

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Light

False cypress trees thrive in full sun but can be grown in partial shade. Gold varieties require more sunshine to develop their famous coloring.  

Soil

These evergreens do best in slightly acidic, moist, well-draining soil and thrive in soil amended with compost. As long as the soil is well-draining, however, false cypress trees are tolerant of other soil conditions. To help retain moisture levels, add a layer of mulch on top of the soil.  

Water

False cypress trees prefer moist soil, but established plants are drought tolerant. Younger plants will need more upkeep with watering, and deep watering will help the plant to establish deep, strong roots. Over time, the false cypress will not need as much water. Established plants should not need regular watering except during times of drought.   

Temperature and Humidity

This genus of plants is generally hardy to USDA zone 4, but very cold temperatures can cause damage. Each variety will have slightly differing humidity and temperature requirements. 

Fertilizer

Fertilizing in the spring will help encourage healthy new growth each year. Apply a well-balanced fertilizer. Some mixes are specifically designed for evergreens, which work well for false cypress trees.  

Types of False Cypress Trees

  • C. pisifera ‘Filifera’: This Japanese variety can grow up to 25 feet tall. These trees have graceful, cascading branches and are often referred to as ‘mops’ because of their shaggy, mop-like appearance.  
  • C. obtusa ‘Nana Gracilis’: This smaller variety grows 6 to 10 feet tall. It is known for its dark green, wavy branches and is a cultivar of the Hinoki Cypress.
  • C. pisifera ‘Baby Blue’: This variety boasts beautiful silver-blue foliage and a small mature size of 6 feet, making it a perfect choice for hedges or containers. 
  • C. obtusa ‘Cripsii’: This large variety is known for its bright golden and dark green foliage. It is a large tree that can grow up to 50 feet high. 
False cypress 'Filifera' tree branches with shaggy, mop-like foliage
False cypress 'Filifera'

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Pruning

Pruning is not usually necessary for tall varieties of false cypress. However, for varieties that are kept as shrubs, deep pruning in the spring will help them maintain their shape throughout the growing season. Periodic pruning during the summer will also help the tree maintain a clean look. For all varieties, pruning to remove dead branches can be done any time of the year.   

Propagating False Cypress Trees

Propagation can easily be done through cuttings. Here’s how: 

  1. During the winter, cut a hardwood cutting around 4 inches long. 
  2. Remove the bottom foliage up to 2 inches from the bottom.  
  3. Wet the cut end and dip it in rooting hormone. 
  4. Plant the cutting in moist, well-draining, rich soil.
  5. Place a plastic bag over the cutting to retain moisture. Prop the bag upright with sticks to avoid any contact with the cutting. 
  6. Keep the cutting in a warm area and check the soil regularly, watering before it dries. 
  7. When roots form, remove the plastic bag and place the plant in a sunny area. This may take quite a while. To check for roots, tug gently on the cutting. When there is resistance, healthy roots have formed.  

How to Grow False Cypress from Seed

As a conifer, you may choose to start a false cypress tree or shrub from seed. To do this, take note of the following steps:

  1. Collect seeds by harvesting cones and allowing them to dry and open naturally. 
  2. Soak the seeds in water for 24 hours, only using seeds that sink to the bottom. Discard any seeds that float. 
  3. Place the seeds in moist paper towels inside a plastic bag and leave them in the refrigerator for two months.
  4. Lightly press the seeds into well-draining soil. 
  5. Keep them in a lightly shaded, warm area. Germination may take 3 months or longer. 
  6. When seedlings appear, keep them in a lightly shaded area for their first year. Slowly get them accustomed to more sunlight. 

Potting and Repotting False Cypress Trees

False cypress trees can be kept in containers, though it is important to consider which variety you are dealing with before deciding whether or not to pot it. While some varieties can reach up to 70 feet, dwarf varieties only reach up to 6 feet tall. 

The small, dwarf varieties are the best choice for containers. To plant a false cypress, be sure the chosen pot has good drainage. Choose a large pot that allows the plant enough room to grow. When the plant outgrows its container, it is best to tip the container onto its side and gently work the plant out. Place it in its new container and fill it with well-draining, rich soil.  

Overwintering

False cypress trees are winter hardy and generally handle cold winters without any problems. However, intense cold can burn the foliage. For young, immature trees, creating a burlap wall around the tree will help protect against harsh winds and cold. Adding a layer of mulch around the tree will help insulate the plant and retain needed moisture.