How To Revive A Cypress Tree? – Ultimate Guide

Brown cypress tree against a background with green foliage, likely indicating a need for revival techniques.

Cypress is the general name given to a species of trees and shrubs belonging to the genus Cupressus of the Cupressaceae family. These remarkable trees date back millions of years, with fossil records indicating that cypress trees have existed on Earth for over 65 million years. Large woodland species make striking statements growing in large spaces such as open landscapes or parks, whereby they can reach impressive heights. They provide vital shelter and nesting sites for numerous bird species and support other diverse plant and animal life. There are also species that thrive in swamp areas and provide habitats for reptiles and various other aquatic creatures. In general, the cypress family of trees is long-lived and can survive from between one to three hundred years, and some varieties can live for thousands of years or more.

A species of Cypress trees will grow successfully in many diverse regions, such as the   Bald Cypress and  Pond Cypress, capable of growing in swampy conditions or still waters. However, these types are only sometimes suitable for the average garden or yard. In addition, the tall, native, majestic Nootka Cypress trees, with their drooping branches, will soon outgrow most spaces, and Leyland Cypress trees can easily overshadow plants and buildings. Luckily, for modern gardens and yards, there are many cultivators that are far more suitable and can be successfully grown as part of your planting scheme.

Cypress trees may be one of the easiest conifer trees to grow, but they can sometimes succumb to problems that will require immediate attention. Some of the signs of a dying cypress tree include yellowing leaves, brown leaves, stunted growth, isolated branches, and cut bark. To revive the tree, you need to identify the problem so that you can specifically deal with it.

In this comprehensive guide, we will help you identify and tackle different issues to revive your cypress tree. However, if your tree is a large, well-established and mature cypress tree, it is advised to consult with an arborist.

The following are some of the common problems and solutions for cypress trees grown in your garden or yard

Understanding Cypress Trees

Understanding the growing requirements and types of Cypress trees is essential for healthy growth and determining the eventual size and pruning requirements. Once established, they are hardy, but as young saplings, cypress trees will need regular care until they develop a strong root system.

Extensive cultivation of cypress trees has produced many varieties more suited for the modern garden or yard. These varieties are valued for their architectural presence and distinctive foliage, which is usually an intense dark green but can vary in colour from green to silver-blue and yellow. They are excellent for providing a backdrop to other planting schemes, and some fast-growing varieties make excellent hedges or can be grown as standalone statement trees. 

Cypress trees are mostly evergreen, but a few varieties lose their foliage during the fall and over winter. Depending on the variety, some cypress trees develop flattened spreading heads at maturity, others form a columnar or pyramid shape, and some spread out with weeping branches. Most are usually aromatic and produce cones. Healthy cypress trees are not only beneficial to wildlife, providing essential shelter and food, but they also act as a windbreak, providing shelter to neighboring plants as well as privacy in general. They will also cast shade over neighboring plants and, as such, are best not grown close to buildings. Benefitting from strong architectural shapes and distinctive colours, they add value and interest to your garden or yard. However, as a long-lived tree and one that will be prominent in any planting scheme, it is vital to keep your cypress in good health, as a poorly maintained or diseased cypress tree can spoil the whole aesthetics of your landscaping.

Popular Varieties of Cypress Trees

There are too numerous varieties of cypress trees to list entirely, but the following is a selection of some common varieties. Ranging from majestic statement trees to dwarf types, as well as differences in shape, form, and colour.

Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens ‘Pyramdalis’): Used in Mediterranean gardens, adding structure and interest. Columnar in shape, they can also be grown in large pots. This sun-loving Italian cypress is slow-growing and drought-resistant. Height: 40 to 70ft (12 – 21m). Spread: Variable. Growing zone: 7 to 9. Location: Full Sun.

Leyland Cypress (X Cupressus x leylandii): A popular, very fast-growing, large conifer usually grown as a large pyramid-shaped specimen tree or planted as a hedge. Height without pruning:  70ft (21m) x Spread 25ft (7m). Growing zone: 6 to 10. Location: Full Sun.

Monterey Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa): A distinctive New World cypress native to a specific region of California but also grown in Europe and New Zealand. Height: 130ft. Spread: Variable. Growing zones: 7 to 11. Location: Full Sun.

Nootka Cypress (Cupressus nootkatensis ‘Pendular’): A medium-sized evergreen tree forming a strongly weeping pyramidal shape. Height: 35ft. (6 m).  Spread: 8 to 12 ft (2.4 – 3.6 m). Growing zone: 5-8: Location: Full sun with afternoon shade in hot regions.

Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum): A deciduous tree whose leaves turn a rich red and orange before dropping in the fall. Height: 50 to 70 ft (15 to 21 m). Spread: 25 ft (7.5 m). Growing zone: 4 to 10: Location: Full sun or partial shade in moisture-retentive soil.Lemon Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Goldcrest’): These cypress trees will grow rapidly to a full height within 20 years. They are valued for their lemon-scented yellow leaves and narrow columnar shape. Height: up to 40ft (12m). Spread Variable: Growing zone: 7-1. Location: Full sun.

Diseases also hinder the growth of cypress trees. Most cypress diseases usually occur when the plant is being overwatered, under-watered, or in poor air circulation. Such a tree can easily fall victim to pathogens that can bring about dangerous diseases.

Some of the usual diseases that cypress trees suffer from include cypress canker, Phytophthora root, and crown disease, and needle blight.

Cypress Trees Suitable For Smaller Yards

The following is a small choice of dwarf-growing cypress trees more suited to plant within confined spaces in the garden or yard. They are even suitable to grow in large pots or containers:

Dwarf Lemon Cypress ‘Goldcrest Wilma’: An evergreen variety that maintains its bright yellow foliage throughout the year. Height: 3ft (1 m). Spread: Variable. Growing zone: 7 to 11. Location: Sheltered in full sun.

Silver Thread Lawson Cypress: A triangular-shaped dwarf variety with light green foliage. Height: 3 to 5 ft (1 to 1.5 m). Spread: Variable. Growing zone: 5 to 8. Location: Sheltered in full sun.Bald Cypress (‘Cascade Falls’): A weeping dwarf form of the Bald Cypress that is best planted in moisture-retentive soil. Height: 15ft (3 m). Spread: 8 to 10 ft (2 to 3 m). Growing zone 4 – 11. Location: Full sun or partial shade.

Signs Of Cypress Tree Distress

Good cypress tree care is essential, as it is always better to prevent than to cure. Especially when it comes to evergreen trees that are grown either as a specimen plant or for privacy. Since Cypress trees are mostly evergreen, any affected branches will not recover their full glory and will either remain brown or require pruning, which can alter or spoil the tree’s natural shape. Soil conditions and times of prolonged dry seasons or wet seasons, as well as pests, can all cause setbacks to the growth of cypress trees and give rise to diseases. Check regularly for signs of cypress tree distress, such as dieback, stunted growth, legions on the bark, and browning or yellowing of the foliage, all possible signs of stressors that can seriously affect the health of a cypress tree.

 Step-By-Step Guide: How To Inspect Your Tree For Signs For Distress

  1.  Look out for discolouration of leaves.
  2. Check the tree’s canopy for sparse foliage and dead branches.
  3. Inspect the trunk of the tree and look for large cracks or splits. Smaller ones will usually heal on their own.
  4. Leaf drop, especially on evergreen varieties, is an obvious indication of cypress tree distress.
  5. Wilting or stunted growth is a visible sign of stressors.
  6. Check stems, branches and branch axils for lesions or fungus signs indicating canker.

When To Call A Professional: Advice On Situations That Require Expert Assessment

  1. Mushroom fungi growing at the base is usually a sign of decay and will need early action.
  2. A tree that appears to have two trunks and is forming a V shape is a sign of stress that is best advised upon by an arborist for specialist advice.
  3. Leaning – if the cypress tree is mature and suddenly starts leaning, it could indicate that it needs removing.

 Actionable Revival Strategies

If planted in a suitable environment and once established, Cypress trees are relatively maintenance-free and will only require pruning according to size and desired height. However, sometimes your cypress can succumb to stressors, especially when newly planted or a young tree. In addition, pests, diseases, pollution, and weather can impact both young and mature cypress trees. The following guidance will help you avoid potential problems and also help revive your cypress tree if the need arises.

Water Management

Nearly all cypress trees prefer moist to damp, free-draining soil and do not grow well in soggy or wet soil conditions. The Bald Cypress is an exception here, as a variety usually known to grow in water-retentive soil. Still, it will tolerate dryer conditions once it establishes a robust root system. In general, wilting branches or leaf drop could indicate inadequate watering for all species of cypress trees. Therefore, to revive your cypress tree, first check that you have not over or under-watered.

Watering Guidelines For Cypress Trees

For newly planted cypress trees and during the first growing season, water only as much as is needed to keep the root ball and surrounding soil damp to moist. Take care not to overwater, as this could cause root rot, especially during winter. Water when there is a couple of inches of dry topsoil. 

Once mature and established, cypress trees are fairly drought tolerant, but during times of drought or active growth, they will require extra water. If showing signs of wilting or stems drooping, to revive your cypress tree, thoroughly soak it, ideally first thing in the morning or evening when it is cooler and there is less chance of water evaporation. For prolonged periods of dry weather or drought, also add a thick mulch around the base of the tree to help retain moisture.

In contrast, a cypress tree that has been overwatered can also show signs of wilting leaves, and the surrounding soil will usually be soggy with poor drainage. There might also be signs of fungus that thrive in damp conditions. To revive the cypress tree from overwatering, start by reducing the time and amount of watering. Check that there are no nearby burst drains that are flooding the area. Digging in good quality compost with perlite or small gravel can help drainage and allow roots to become aerated. However, if the soggy soil conditions can’t be rectified, the only solutions will be replanting the tree elsewhere or consulting with an arborist if it is a large, mature tree.

Check Your Soil

If your cypress tree shows signs of poor growth or dieback, it could be due to unsuitable soil conditions. Poorly draining soil can be a huge contributor to the development of diseases. To remedy this and to revive your cypress tree, check that the soil meets the requirements for healthy growth.

The ideal soil requirement for cypress trees is moist but free-draining soil rich in compost matter. Heavy clay soil will benefit from well-rotted matter or compost to improve the texture and allow aeration around the roots. Whereas quick-draining or sandy soil will require top soil or compost to help retain moisture in the soil.

 Different varieties of Cypresses can also require different pH levels. Therefore, checking the plant labels and doing a pH test to measure levels before planting is advisable. Levels above 7 indicate alkaline soil, and levels below 7 indicate acid soil. These levels can be adjusted. Add limestone to the soil to raise the pH and make it more alkaline. To lower the pH and make more acid, apply soil sulfur, aluminum sulfate or chelated iron.

Check for drainage by digging a hole one square foot and fill with water. Ideally, the water will drain away within 12 hours and be suitable for planting. If the water drains immediately, it will indicate dry conditions that need to be improved with rich compost or another site considered. However, if the water does not drain away within 12 hours, this indicates poor drainage. If it can’t be improved by adding drainage materials, another site should also be considered.

Nutrition And Fertilization – Recommendations For Fertilizing And Providing Essential Nutrients 

If the foliage on your cypress tree starts to fade, this could indicate a highly alkaline soil or a lack of iron. To revive your cypress to full colour, try adding iron and soil sulfur, following the guidelines on the label.

As a general rule, established, mature cypresses will obtain enough nutrients from their surroundings but will benefit from a balanced fertilizer or a thin mulch of compost applied every couple of years. However, younger or newly planted trees will benefit from applied fertilizer in spring and again in summer, especially during times of rapid growth. For the first growing season, apply a fertilizer with a root stimulator. A balanced fertilizer will be adequate for the next two growing seasons until the roots are well established.

Move The Cypress Tree Into Full Sunlight

Although cypress trees can grow in some shade, they thrive in direct sunlight. A cypress tree in a shady area may struggle to grow and even die. Signs will be slow growth and brown patches on branches that have not received enough light or air.

Cypress trees require at least eight hours of sunlight daily, and most cypress trees prefer full sunlight. Therefore, when planting a new cypress tree, choose an open site. To revive a cypress tree showing signs of poor sunlight, cut back any neighbouring growth prohibiting sunlight or airflow. If the tree is young enough, it is worth considering removing it to a more suitable location.

Inspect For Diseases

Diseases also hinder the growth of cypress trees. Most cypress diseases usually occur when the plant is being overwatered, under-watered, or in poor air circulation.Some of the usual diseases that cypress trees suffer from include cypress canker, Phytophthora root and crown disease, and needle blight.

Different Cypress Diseases And How To Resolve Them

Canker – Canker is also referred to as a Seridium canker. Cankers present as multiples of dark, elongated, dry lesions surrounded by living tissue and a flow of resin. This fungus attacks the tree’s bark, causing leaves to turn a sickly yellow.  If untreated, it will slowly kill the plant. Check the bark of the cypress tree for signs of infection.

To revive your cypress tree from this disease, remove infected branches and sterilize pruning tools to avoid reinfection. However, if most of the tree is affected, either consult with an arborist or consider completely removing the tree. This contagious disease will need prompt treatment and all nearby vegetation removed to avoid further contamination spreading to nearby trees.

Phytophthora root and crown disease –  is caused by the soilborne fungal pathogens of the Phytophthora species. The disease can be detected by signs of discoloured leaves and wilted growth. The discoloured leaves may display in different hues, such as red or yellow. Rarely affecting mature trees, it is often associated with poor drainage for young or newly planted cypress trees. Chances are slim to revive an affected cypress tree, but try treating it with a fungicide. If not successful, remove and destroy the entire plant and avoid planting any cypress variety of trees on the same site.

Needle blight –  is a nonparasitic disease that causes the leaves to turn brown and only affects growth from the second season onwards. This fungus disease occurs because of insufficient watering habits. It can happen because of too much watering or too little. As a result, it kills the tree’s feeder roots, which affects the leaves, resulting in brown patches of growth on the affected side.

Revive the cypress tree by feeding it the right amount of water. Note that a cypress tree needs a different amount of water at various stages of growth and seasons. Also, you can use an antifungal spray to remove needle blight.

Check If There Is An Insect Infestation

Insect attacks are another killer of cypress trees. These are easy to deal with once identified and will require prompt action.

Notable insects that attack cypress trees are bagworms and spider mites.

Bagworms – are the caterpillar of the hairy moth and form a silken bag for protection that hangs from a tree. The bag is usually covered with pieces of bark and leaves by the larva and can be mistakenly identified as a pine cone. The bag hosts the female caterpillar that can lay between 500 and 1000 eggs before it dies. When it hatches, each larva produces a strand of silk that enables it to travel with the wind to new locations. Thereby, with so many airborne hungry mouths potentially feasting in your garden, treating the initial source immediately is essential, as heavy infestations can kill a plant.

For small infestations, handpick the silken bag from your tree and leave it out in a deep bucket for birds to pick at. Applying a pesticide, ideally in the evenings when there is less chance of harming pollinating bees, will be necessary for large-scale infestations. Attracting birds into your garden or yard is a natural form of pest control.

Spider mites – are insects that will feed upon the sap of your cypress tree, and if they are in large numbers, your tree may not survive. Spider mites suck on plant cells, which kills foliage and destroys the whole plant. A sign of a spider mite attack is when the leaves turn brown, and a sign of a heavy infestation is fine webbing on the tree. You can check for spider mites by placing a white piece of paper below some leaves and shaking the plants so they drop off. If large numbers appear,  this indicates an infestation that is vital to treat straight away with insecticidal soaps or horticultural oil sprays. More potent chemical insecticides can kill beneficial insects, which are best avoided unless absolutely necessary. A natural alternative is to attract natural predators such as ladybugs and lacewings.

How To Properly Prune Your Cypress Tree

The only reason to prune cypress trees is to maintain shape, form, and height. Routine or over-pruning can deplete energy stores and cause stress to the tree. The beginning of spring and the end of summer are the ideal times. Spring is when the sap rises, so this will accelerate growth and is an ideal time to revive your cypress tree. In late summer, the sap descends, and growth will slow down.

Bear in mind that each branch removed will alter the shape and form of the tree and increase the risk of an open wound, potentially leading to disease. Therefore, assess the shape of your tree and only remove branches that are diseased, broken, blocking light or causing an obstruction.

Assess each branch individually, if possible, and cut back each unwanted branch until it forms a branch fork with a green shoot emerging from it. 

Avoid removing all of the green shoots from any branch, as this will prevent the branch from being able to rejuvenate new growth and avoid cutting into the collar where the branch meets the trunk. Work from the underside of the branches and prune, making upward slanting cuts to help water drain away and lessen the chances of wounds becoming diseased. Aim for a natural look, following the natural flow of differing lengths of branches to avoid a ‘pruned’ appearance.

Newly planted or young trees benefit from carefully planned pruning to promote good form and shape when mature. However, for pruning large and mature cypress trees, it is best to hire an arborist as it will require specialist knowledge and professional equipment.

Bottom Line

Cypress trees are true heritage trees, valued for creating bold statements on the landscape, adding vibrant all-year-round color in the yard or garden and providing shelter and privacy. They are generally easy to grow and maintain and don’t need a lot of fertilizer or water to thrive when fully grown. However, identifying signs of distress and taking appropriate action is essential. Hopefully, your cypress tree can be revived with care and the knowledge we have provided in this guide on how to grow and revive cypress trees.

Read More

Related Articles

Apple Tree Diseases to Look Out For

Apple trees have semi-broad trunks, dark green foliage, and lusciously large green or red fruits. Not forgetting the glorious apple blossom, which signals spring...

13 Grass Diseases You Need to Watch For

Grass diseases can ravage your lawn if you don't take the steps to treat it. If your garden looks patchy or discolored, it may...

The Simple USDA Zone 7B Planting Guide

Whether you are a new gardener or a seasoned expert, it's essential to stay up-to-date with agricultural issues. For example, it's important to know...

Diatomaceous Earth: What Is It and How to Use It?

Diatomaceous earth has been an incredibly useful substance for humankind for over 4000 years! Ever since birds and mammals were observed bathing in dust...