How to Plant and Grow the Italian Cypress Tree

Wed, 08/13/2014 - 02:00

No other tree epitomises the Tuscan landscape like the Italian Cypress (Cupressus Sempervirens), sometimes called the Mediterranean or the Tuscan Cypress; its elegant shape has seen it used as a mainstay of formal Italian gardens.

Cypress are relatively easy to grow and care for, so there’s no reason why you can’t create a little slice of Tuscany in your own garden.

In a formal garden, plant the trees to mark entrances; they look at their best equally spaced out along a driveway, however, if you don’t have the space for a row of trees, why not plant one on either side of a gate or entrance.

If you really don’t have the space for several trees, make one a focal point in the garden; a good idea is to place it at the end of a narrow garden within a circular bed that will draw the eye towards it as it stands out like an exclamation mark.

Most garden centres will stock cypress trees of varying sizes and prices but, unless you want instant impact, consider buying a smaller tree as after the first year, the tree can grow at a rate of between 12-24 inches a year.

Once you have chosen your tree, you must prepare the space it will be growing in: plant in well-drained soil and in a sunny spot in the garden. The best cultivar for a residential garden use is ‘Cypress Stricta,’ which forms a narrow, pencil-like tree that is narrower than the species. Before planting, water the tree well and dig a hole large enough to accommodate the roots. Always plant to the same depth as the container it has arrived in, and do not be tempted to plant it deeper as this can cause the trunk to rot.

Cypress do much better if planted in late autumn and early winter during its dormant period when the needles stop actively growing: photosynthesis continues during dormancy and the energy is put into root growth and tree stabilisation.

Remember to consider the final size of the tree and the space it will take up. Adult trees can grow to a size of around 70 feet tall, but most will not achieve this size in an average sized garden. If it does start to outgrow the space, you can easily prune it back to the required size.

Before you consider planting one in your own garden, I’ll leave you with two cypress facts:

1. This very durable and scented wood was famously used for the doors of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City.

2. The poet Ovid recorded the best-known myth associated with the cypress. A handsome boy named Cyparissus accidentally killed one of Apollo’s beloved tame stags. The boy’s grief was so inconsolable that he asked to weep forever. Apollo transformed Cyparissus into a cypress and his endless tears became the tree’s sap.