How to Grow Threadleaf False Cypress

Threadleaf false cypress shrub with yellow-green leaves on edge of pathway

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

The threadleaf (filifera) false cypress shrubs boast showy, greenish-gold to gold colors. The different cultivars of this shrub have scaly, golden foliage that is string-like in form. This colorful genus is a favorite among American gardeners who plant "Gold Mops" and other popular varieties for their bright golden foliage during the spring season, and some varieties do a good job of retaining this bright color during the summer as well. Plant threadleaf in the spring after the last frost, and have patience for this shrub with its slow growth rate of a couple of inches per year.

Botanical Name Chamaecyparis pisifera
Common Name Japanese false cypress, Sawara false cypress, gold mops, golden mops false cypress, sun gold, king's gold
Plant Type Evergreen conifer
Mature Size 3–6 ft. tall
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type Clay, silt, loam
Soil pH 5.5–7.5
Bloom Time None
Flower Color None
Hardiness Zones 4–8 (USDA)
Native Area Japan
Threadleaf false cypress shrub with yellow-green and stringy branches

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Threadleaf false cypress shrub branches with yellow and green string-like foliage closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Threadleaf false cypress shrub with string-like yellow and green foliage hanging in sunlight

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Threadleaf False Cypress Care

With their fine texture, these threadleaf false cypress shrubs are great for giving your yard visual interest, and their golden foliage opens up some interesting options when developing landscape color schemes. For example, when you use deep red barberries as a companion plant to go along with the golden foliage of a false cypress, it creates an instant focal point. It's a bonus that deer usually leave these low-maintenance shrubs alone.

When planting, dig a hole that is two to three times as wide as the root ball and 6 inches deeper than the height of the root ball. If your soil is heavy clay or sand, amend it with a planting mix or compost. Water the new plant well and place a 2-inch layer of mulch around it, but be sure to keep the mulch a few inches away from the base of the plant to prevent rot.

Light

Shrubs in the threadleaf group generally want full sun (but only partial sun at the southern end of their range). If the plant doesn't get enough sun you may not see as much of the desired golden colors and it may get sparse and leggy. In warmer areas, a spot that gets morning sun but afternoon shade (or vice versa) is a good choice.

Soil

These shrubs do well in a variety of soil types, so long as there is good drainage. If you have sandy soil you may need to amend it. They generally prefer acidic soils, but check for the specifics of the variety you will be planting.

Water

The ground should be kept evenly moist, often requiring watering once a week in summer until the plants get comfortable. Once established, they will suffer if overwatered. They are drought-tolerant and you only need to give them extra watering during prolonged dry spells. A 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch can help retain moisture around the plants, especially if they are placed in a spot where the soil dries out quickly, doesn't get effective irrigation, or is protected from precipitation.

Temperature and Humidity

Different varieties of threadleaf false cypress have slightly different hardiness zones. Check to see which varieties do best in your local area.

Fertilizer

Threadleaf false cypress can benefit from fertilizer in the early spring. While established plants can do fine without fertilization, this will help them produce the best color. A younger plant you want to encourage growing may do best with a fertilizer such as 10-10-10, while established plants that are not growing much could use a 4-8-8.

Threadleaf False Cypress Varieties

  • 'Gold Mops' are suitable for USDA plant hardiness zones 5 to 7. They bear scaly leaves that keep their golden color, provided the shrub gets enough sun. It can get winter burn in cold climates.
  • 'Filifera Aurea Nana' is suitable for planting zones 5 to 8. This shrub's leaves fade during the summertime, taking on more and more green. 
  • 'Sun Gold' is suitable for planting zones 4 to 8. This shrub does not keep its color quite as well through summer as does Gold Mops, but it does a better job of avoiding winter burn.
  • 'King's Gold' is suitable for planting zones 4 to 8. It retains its golden color pretty well through the summer if it is grown in full sun.

Pruning

Pruning is easy—simply prune in the spring before new growth occurs. This will vary depending on how much space you have to grow the plant in. Try to avoid pruning in late summer and fall to keep new growth healthy. You can remove dead branches at any time.

Potting and Repotting Threadleaf False Cypress

Threadleaf false cypress varieties can be grown as container plants. Choose a container that will allow it to grow for two to three years before needing to be placed in a larger container. The right size container is 6 inches more in diameter than the root ball for varieties that grow slowly.

Overwintering

Threadleaf false cypress is extremely cold hardy, even in frost. If you have a potted cypress and you would like to give it a little protection in the winter, simply put the container closer to your house or another structure out of the wind.

Common Pests/Diseases

The threadleaf false cypress is fairly trouble-free with only the occasional spider mite attacking the foliage, turning it yellow. Black vine weevils sometimes feed on leaves and bark and their larvae feed on deep roots. Lay a cloth under the tree and gently shake the branches to catch these insects that tend to fall off easily. Scale insects may also appear because they like to suck on the juice of the cypress needles.

A blight fungus may land on a younger tree's twigs and foliage causing tips to turn brown and die. Trees over five years old seem to survive blight on their own and with little damage.