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Cypress Tree Trimming: Information About Cutting Back Cypress Trees

Cypress Tree Trimming: Information About Cutting Back Cypress Trees


By: Teo Spengler

Rejuvenating a cypress tree necessarily means trimming, but you have to be careful how you wield those clippers. Read on for more information on pruning cypress trees.

Can You Prune a Cypress?

Cypress trees are narrow-leaf evergreens. Like other narrow-leaf evergreens, cypress do not develop new buds on the older wood. That means that cutting new shoots back to the branch may result in bare spots on the tree. On the other hand, cypress tree trimming is entirely feasible if you know what you are doing.

Cypress are one of several species classified as “scale-leaf” needled evergreens. Unlike pine trees, with leaves that look like needles, cypress leaves appear more like scales. Both cypress and false-cypress are included in this category. Rejuvenating a cypress tree that is overgrown or unshapely involves trimming. Although excess pruning is destructive to a cypress, cutting back cypress trees at the right time and in the right way creates a better, stronger tree.

Rejuvenating a Cypress Tree

If you are thinking of rejuvenating a cypress tree, it is important to prune at the correct time of year. Dead, broken and diseased branches should be removed as soon as possible after you notice the damage. However, pruning to shape the tree or reduce its size must wait for the appropriate season.

When you are rejuvenating a cypress tree that is overgrown, begin cypress tree trimming just before new growth begins in the springtime. You can pick up the pruners again in late spring or early summer if necessary to control growth or maintain an attractive tree shape.

Tips on Cutting Back Cypress Trees

The rule when pruning cypress trees is to work slowly and gently. Proceed branch by branch to determine what cuts are necessary.

Cut back each overly-long branch to a branch fork with a green shoot growing from it. This is the most important rule for cutting back cypress trees: never cut all green shoots from any branch since the branch will not be able to grow more. Proceed from the underside of the branches, slanting the cuts up.

When you are pruning cypress trees, aim for a natural look by pruning some branches deeper into the foliage than others. The tree should not look “pruned” when you are done.

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Rejuvenating A Cypress Tree - Tips On Pruning Cypress Trees - garden

Q: Against my landscapers opinion I had him install about a dozen Leyland Cypress trees along the side of my house. He advised that they grew like weeds and would be hard to control. Was he ever right. Can you recommend a time and manner for trimming these beasts?

A: Rick Smith, owner of The Pruning Guru says you could try pruning the Leylands but eventually you’ll wish you had replaced them. Sunshine looks to be limited on your site and their bottom half will get thin and diseased under those conditions.

Depending on your screening needs, ‘Emerald Green’ or ‘American Pillar’ arborvitae might be better choices.

I have more screening options at Plants for Screening

You could even consider building a wire arbor and training an evergreen vine like Clematis armondii on it.


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Are we talking about the same tree?

According to the nursery I purchased from, the roots are not invasive and will pretty much go straight down with little spread.

Im aware that they have the capability to grow tall, but I’ll be dead and buried before these reach anywhere near 30m, and will probably top them well before they reach that kind of height anyway.

Spiral wiring sounds interesting, but won’t that cause damage to the branches?

Are we talking about the same tree?

According to the nursery I purchased from, the roots are not invasive and will pretty much go straight down with little spread.

Im aware that they have the capability to grow tall, but I’ll be dead and buried before these reach anywhere near 30m, and will probably top them well before they reach that kind of height anyway.

How quickly do you plan on going . Italian cypress are fast-growing trees . 3ft or so a year.

and whoever told you that their roots go straight down shouldn't be working in a tree nursery

“I am not lost, for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.” Winnie the Pooh

Ok, so maybe not the best choice for a residential garden then, but I like their shape and they are planted now

I don’t plan on letting them grow to 30 meters, so will keep them trimmed accordingly.

Back to the question of training them to keep their shape, is wiring them the best option?


Here's my wonky trees! Five years from planting (it was a v windy day when the pic was taken). In hindsight they should have been staked from the start and the trunks protected with spirals as they have suffered from wind rock and rabbits- every day's a school day! Will these benefit from the previous advice?

Yes we are talking about the same tree. If you keep hacking off the top, the trunk and lower growth will still get wider than that space will accommodate, the back growth will be squished against the fence and it will be difficult to maintain the elegant lollipop shape. OK it will probably be slower growing in the UK, but I still think you are making like difficult and be better planting a smaller columnar conifer to achieve a similar look without the hassle, but your garden, your choice!

Makes you wonder why you'd ask for advice when you're not interested in acting on it because it's not what you want to hear. and planting through a membrane is such a horrible practice. The weeds will seed on the surface anyway. and you're just making the soil poorer long term by largely cutting off the ground from the elements.

You have the chance to save yourself a lot of headache in the near future by admitting in planting the wrong plant in the wrong place. Sooner or later reality will sink in. It's your choice if you want to hear.

Makes you wonder why you'd ask for advice when you're not interested in acting on it because it's not what you want to hear. and planting through a membrane is such a horrible practice. The weeds will seed on the surface anyway. and you're just making the soil poorer long term by largely cutting off the ground from the elements.

You have the chance to save yourself a lot of headache in the near future by admitting in planting the wrong plant in the wrong place. Sooner or later reality will sink in. It's your choice if you want to hear.

I asked for advice on pruning/training.

But thanks for your concerns about my weeds and the use of membrane.


How to Trim a Cypress Tree

Cypress trees are fast-growing trees that do well on their own or can be planted in rows for privacy screening. Cypress trees require little in the way of pruning each year, but they do grow best when some trimming is done. Cypress growing in rows often get to be 30 feet tall and ones growing individually can get almost twice that tall, so it is important to decide early just how tall you want your cypress to be, and top the tree when it gets that height. You can top cypress by simply cutting the main trunk straight across at the height you want your tree.

Prune your cypress in the spring once the danger of frost has passed. Pruning encourages new growth, and new growth needs time to harden off before winter.

Cut all dead and diseased wood first. Trim all dead wood and diseased wood back to healthy, green wood.

Remove brown branches that are growing only on the inside of the tree canopy in order to open the inside up to more air and sun. Cut these brown branches back to the trunk. Do not cut branches back to the trunk if they have green growth on their tips.

  • Prune your cypress in the spring once the danger of frost has passed.
  • Do not cut branches back to the trunk if they have green growth on their tips.

Cut the tips of branches in order to create a uniform and straight edge to your tree, sloping gently upward. However, never under any circumstances cut all the way back to brown leaves or branches. Your cypress will not fill in the brown patches--these will remain "holes" in your cypress for many, many years. Cut back only to green leaves and green branches.

Cut straight across the top of your cypress when the tree has reached the height you want. Each year trim the tips of branches that grow taller than the height you have selected.


Pruning chores are in full swing at my Bedford, New York farm.

Pruning is about more than just looks proper pruning improves the health of the plants, prevents disease, and encourages better flowering. There are different pruning strategies for different times of the year, but overall the goals are the same - to control the shape, to keep bushes and trees fresh and open, and to allow for better air circulation through the center of the specimen. This week, my outdoor grounds crew is "limbing up" the bald cypress trees - pruning back the low branches in order to allow enough light to filter down to the plants below.

Here are some photos, enjoy.

Across from my winding pergola is a row of towering bald cypress, Taxodium distichum – a deciduous conifer. Though it’s native to swampy conditions, the bald cypress is also able to withstand dry, sunny weather and is hardy in USDA climate zones 5 through 10. These trees do so well here at the farm, but they were in need of some good pruning.
The bark of the bald cypress is brown to gray and forms long scaly, fibrous ridges on the trunk. Over time, these ridges tend to peel off the trunk in strips.
Here, one can see the ribbon-like bark stripping off this bald cypress branch.
The leaves are compound and feathery, made up of many small leaflets that are thin and lance-shaped. Each leaflet is less than two inches long, alternating along either side of a central stem. They are a medium green now and turn russet brown in fall.
One of the most interesting characteristics of the bald cypress is its knees. Known by the scientific name pneumatophores, these growths are specialized root structures that grow vertically above the moist soil near the tree. It is believed that these structures aid the oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange in the roots. Looking carefully at the ground near each tree, one can see these unique knees.
Here is another one.
Pasang starts by cutting the most obvious low growing branches and checks for dead, broken, and diseased branches that also need to be removed. This can be done at any time of year.
I instructed Pasang to limb-up the trees and remove any low inner branches that block sunlight or disturb an open and airy appearance.
He uses a 13-inch hand pruning saw with razor-sharp, impulse hardened teeth.
It is important to always use sharp tools whenever pruning so that the cuts are clean. Dull tools are difficult to use and could even damage the tree. A straight, clean-cut promotes quick healing of the wound and reduces stress on the specimen.
He also cut any branches that were growing too close to my Basket House – a small structure where I store my basket collection.
For smaller branches, Pasang uses his trusted Okastune pruners.
And for hard to reach branches, he uses a telescoping pole pruner. This tool is great for trimming branches that are at least an inch thick. As I always say – the right tool for the right job!
As branches are removed, they’re gathered and placed into a tidy pile, so they can be chipped easily.
Before these trees were limbed up, I could hardly see the garden behind them from the carriage road. Now there is a much clearer view.
Now, there is more space and no inward branches that can block airflow and sunlight from reaching healthy plants below.
Every so often, Pasang steps back to assess what branches still need trimming.
And then it’s back up on the ladder to continue the job.
Regular and thorough pruning will give the branches more circulation and room to grow.
At the base of some of the bald cypress are growing clematis plants. Here, they are supported by jute twine. These plants bloomed so beautifully this season.
At the end of the day, these bald cypress trees look so much better. The bald cypress tree can survive for centuries. Growing slowly, this tree will get taller and taller for roughly 200 years, reaching heights of up to 150 feet.
Here’s another great view of the newly limbed-up bald cypress. It is all well worth the efforts to have well-manicured, healthy trees.

Watch the video: Cypress Topping