Leyland cypress trees will give you that fast growth if you're looking for a privacy screen, but they are high-maintenance. Learn all about these trees, including what they look like, how they are used, and how to care for them.
Plant Type, Taxonomy, and Name Origin
- Plant taxonomy classifies Leyland cypress trees as x Cupressocyparis leylandii.
A hybrid cross between Alaskan cedar and Monterey cypress, the Leyland cypress is classified as an evergreen tree and as a conifer. The plant is named after the man who introduced it to the world, Christopher Leyland.
Slender and fast-growing, Leyland cypress trees are generally grown by homeowners who have an urgent need for a mass of evergreen foliage to create a privacy hedge. A needled evergreen, its leaves consist of flattened sprays.
Height can vary greatly (without trimming), depending on the trees you buy and the conditions in which you grow them. The average height for an untrimmed Leyland cypress is about 50 feet, but do not be surprised if yours grows much higher or much shorter than that. Taller than they are wide, the spread of this columnar tree is commonly only 1/3 or 1/4 of the height (sometimes less).
Planting Zones, Sun and Soil Needs
Leyland cypress trees are best grown in planting zones 6 to 10. However, zone-5 gardeners have been successfully growing them by providing mulch and an A-frame shelter in the winter months to protect them from snow and ice damage. Such sheltering is feasible only while the plants are young (unless you keep them short by pruning).
Luckily, once the plants have matured, sheltering becomes unnecessary, as they will prove to be sufficiently cold-hardy in zone 5. Nonetheless, a safer bet in zone 5 and lower is arborvitae, which has similar foliage.
Practical Landscape Uses and Ornamental Value
A common landscape use is planting several Leyland cypresses along a border, in order to create a privacy screen. They are also used as windbreak trees. Since they are amenable to shearing or pruning, some homeowners take this a step further and turn such a border planting into a formal hedge.
Be sure to prune them early and often, otherwise, due to their fast growth rate, they tend to get too tall too quickly and can overwhelm a landscape.
In addition to these practical landscaping uses, these plants frequently are used as Christmas trees.
Problems, Solutions and Pruning Tips
Leyland cypress trees are shallow-rooted, meaning they can topple over easily, and they are susceptible to canker.
To deal with canker, which are dead sections caused by fungus or bacteria, destroy any diseased areas, and clean any pruning tools between each cut to keep the canker from spreading.
You may also experience infestations of spider mites on this tree. A natural solution for this problem is to spray with neem oil. Another pest that can attack the plant is bagworm; deal with these by picking off the "bags" as soon as you see them.
Their height can be controlled (you can grow them as multi-stemmed shrubs), but only through persistent pruning that starts when the plants are young. Trim the sides of Leyland cypress trees every year in July.
After the leader has reached the height you want the tree to retain, make a pruning cut a few inches below that (which will leave room for the vertical growth of minor branches) to preclude any further significant upward growth, as you would do when pollarding a tree.