Soft Serve® false cypress. (Chamaecyparis pisifera)
Photo by: Proven Winners

False cypress are hardy conifers valued for their year-round color, disease-resistance and easy-care nature. Native to Japan, Taiwan, and parts of the U.S., these cypress relatives grow quite large in their natural habitat. Most garden cultivars are bred for their smaller stature.

These sturdy evergreens prefer temperate climates and do not perform well in hot, dry, or windy conditions. False cypress are versatile in the landscape, lending color, texture, and structure to beds, borders, containers, and mass plantings. Here’s how to grow and care for these popular landscape shrubs or trees.

On this page: Basics | Planting | Care and Maintenance | Pictures | Design Ideas

On this page:

CHAMAECYPARIS BASICS

Botanical name:

Chamaecyparis spp.

Zones:

3-9, depending on species

Habit:

Upright mounding, pyramidal, or columnar habit

Height/Spread:

5 to 130 feet tall, 6 to 25 feet wide, depending on the variety

Light exposure:

Full sun to partial shade

Color and characteristics:

False cypress are evergreen conifers grown for their finely dissected foliage, which adds year-round color and soft texture to the landscape. Varieties come in different forms, sizes, and foliage colors, including green, blue-green, gold, chartreuse, and purple. Inconspicuous cone-like structures appear in spring. Rough or smooth bark is dark or reddish brown, while foliage and bark can be aromatic.

Toxicity:

False cypress are not toxic to pets and children.

Are chamaecyparis deer resistant?

False cypress are considered deer-resistant, though any plant may be susceptible to deer browsing if other food sources are scarce.

HOW TO PLANT FALSE CYPRESS

See how to change up this container throughout the seasons using Pinpoint® Blue false cypress as a centerpiece. Photo by: Proven Winners

When to plant:

Plant during the cooler months of spring or fall to avoid heat or cold stress.

Where to plant:

Choose a site with adequate light, well-draining soil and protection from wind.

How to plant:

Loosen soil in planting area and amend with compost or other organic matter if needed. Dig a planting hole 2-3 times wider than the diameter of the root ball and slightly shallower. Tease out roots or make several slits in the root ball. Place plant in the hole with the top of the root ball level or slightly shallower than the surrounding ground. Add soil to the sides of the root ball with soil and water well to remove air pockets. Water once or twice weekly until established.

Spacing:

Allow enough space around plants to accommodate their mature size.

Planting false cypress in containers:

Make sure pots have adequate drainage holes. Use a high-quality, all-purpose potting soil.

CHAMAECYPARIS CARE

Soft Serve® (Chamaecyparis pisifera). Photo by: Proven Winners

Soil:

False cypress prefer amended or average well-draining soil, with a slightly acidic to neutral pH between 5.5 and 7.5.

Watering:

Keep soil evenly moist but not soggy. Overwatering can cause root rot. Increase watering during heat or dry spells. Containers dry out more quickly and will need more frequent watering.

Amendments and fertilizer:

When given optimal growing conditions, false cypress need little or no supplemental fertilizer. If desired, fertilize in early spring with an all-purpose granular fertilizer or one that’s especially formulated for trees and shrubs according to package instructions. Reapply annually.

Mulch the root zone with a 2- to 3-inch layer of ground bark to cool the roots, suppress weeds, and conserve moisture.

Pruning:

False cypress look best when allowed to retain its natural shape and size. Any pruning should be done judiciously. Avoid cutting plants back too hard, as they won’t regenerate on old wood.

  • Remove dead, diseased, or crossing branches.
  • Cut back errant branches and lightly shape as needed.
  • To encourage more branching, lightly prune back branch tips to just above a joint.

Pests and diseases:

When planted in the right conditions, false cypress exhibit few pests and diseases. Pests can include spider mites, scale, weevils, bagworms, and bark beetles. Diseases include tip blight, root rot, and canker.

FALSE CYPRESS VARIETIES

Swipe to view slides

Photo by: Proven Winners

Soft Serve®Buy now from Proven Winners
Chamaecyparis pisifera

Zones:

4-8

Habit:

Upright conical habit

Height and spread:

6 to 10 feet tall, 5 to 6 feet wide

Color:

Blue-green foliage

Soft fern-like foliage and uniform pyramidal structure is reminiscent of a soft serve ice cream cone. Leaves are bright green on top, flecked with silver-blue on the undersides. This variety is similar to dwarf Alberta spruce, but with a more airy habit.

Photo by: Proven Winners

Soft Serve® Gold Buy now from Proven Winners
C. pisifera

Zones:

4-8

Habit:

Upright conical habit

Height and spread:

6 to 10 feet tall and wide

Color:

Gold foliage

Also known as Sawara cypress or Japanese false cypress, this elegant variety exhibits the same finely textured foliage and pyramidal growth habit as Soft Serve®, but with rich golden coloring.

Photo by: Proven Winners

Haywire™ Buy now from Proven Winners
C. lawsoniana

Zones:

5-7

Habit:

Upright conical habit

Height and spread:

12 to 18 feet tall and wide

Color:

Green foliage

This cultivar of the western U.S. native is also known as Lawson’s cypress or Port Orford cedar. The fine threadleaf foliage and symmetrical cone shape adds year-round color, soft texture, and structure to the landscape.

Photo by: Proven Winners

Pinpoint® BlueBuy now from Proven Winners
C. lawsoniana

Zones:

5-7

Habit:

Upright columnar habit

Height and spread:

15 to 20 feet tall, 5 to 6 feet wide

Color:

Blue-green foliage

Subtle blue-green foliage goes with any home color or style. Finely dissected leaves add soft elegance to beds and borders. The narrow columnar habit makes this a good choice for small spaces, containers, foundation plantings or formal-style landscapes.

Photo by: Proven Winners

Pinpoint® GoldBuy now from Proven Winners
C. lawsoniana

Zones:

5-7

Habit:

Upright conical habit

Height and spread:

15 to 20 feet tall, 5 to 7 feet wide

Color:

Gold and green foliage

A cultivar of Lawson’s cypress the vertical growth and finely tapered structure creates a dramatic exclamation point in the landscape. The bright gold-chartreuse foliage holds it color year-round, acting as a cheerful beacon in winter.

Photo by: Proven Winners

Pinpoint® Blue & GoldBuy now from Proven Winners
C. lawsoniana

Zones:

5-7

Habit:

Upright columnar habit

Height and spread:

15 to 20 feet tall, 5 to 6 feet wide

Color:

Green and yellow foliage

Unique finely textured foliage of Pinpoint® Blue & Gold produces vivid lime-gold new growth that fades to soft powdery blue, creating a stunning two-toned effect. The columnar shape is good for narrow spaces, screening and hedging.

Photo by: Millette Rejean D. / Millette Photomedia

'Golden Mop'
C. pisifera

Zones:

4-8

Habit:

Mounding spreading habit

Height and spread:

2 to 5 feet tall, 4 feet wide

Color:

Golden yellow foliage

Named for its gold foliage and stringy mop-like growth habit, this slow growing dwarf cultivar is perfect for small urban landscapes. The golden yellow coloring holds well throughout the year, providing winter interest in the landscape. Plant in full sun for the richest coloring. The finely textured weeping foliage is graceful in Asian or Zen landscapes.

Photo by: Millette Rejean D. / Millette Photomedia

Slender Hinoki False Cypress
C. obtusa 'Gracilis'

Zones:

5-8

Habit:

Upright pyramidal habit

Height and spread:

8 to 15 feet tall, 4 to 6 feet wide

Color:

Green foliage

This medium-sized variety has lush green coloring and layered, open whorled branching that creates an intriguing effect in the landscape. Use this slow grower as privacy screen, stand-alone specimen or in containers.

Photo by: Ole Schoener / Shutterstock

Dwarf Hinoki Cypress
C. obtusa 'Nana Gracilis'

Zones:

4-8

Habit:

Upright pyramidal habit

Height and spread:

3 to 6 feet tall, 2 to 4 feet wide

Color:

Green foliage

One of the most popular dwarf conifers, this slow grower has a layered, somewhat irregular growth habit and richly textured dark green foliage. This elegant variety is especially suited for Asian or Zen landscapes.

Photo by: poltanapol / Shutterstock

Golden Hinoki False Cypress
C. obtusa 'Lutea'

Zones:

4-8

Habit:

Upright conical habit

Height and spread:

8 to 15 feet tall, 3- 10 feet wide

Color:

Gold and green foliage

Bright golden yellow foliage adds year-round color and winter interest to the landscape. Soft feathery needles and slightly weeping habit makes this suitable for Asian, Zen, and formal style landscapes.

False cypress alternatives:

Substitute false cypress with other conifers such as spruce, yew, pine, or juniper.

USING CHAMAECYPARIS IN THE GARDEN

  • For borders and landscapes: Use as hedging or screening, as a background element in a mixed border, or as a stand-alone focal point.
  • For slopes and hillsides: Mass along a slope to help stem erosion. Plant groupings of varieties with different shapes, sizes and colors for a more visually pleasing effect.
  • For containers: Plant smaller specimens in containers for a formal display. Transplant into the landscape after a few years when plants become larger.

There are many ways to incorporate false cypress into your landscape. Here’s how:

  • Plant gold-foliaged varieties in combination with other evergreens with blue-green foliage for complementary color in the landscape.
  • Use a dwarf variety in a foundation planting in combination with other dwarf conifers and deciduous or evergreen flowering shrubs for continuous color throughout the year.
  • Place large decorative containers on either side of a front entryway and plant with columnar specimens. Add perennials such as hellebores and coral bells for a multi-seasonal display.
  • Plant a larger specimen in an island bed as a stand-alone accent.
  • Plant a dwarf specimen in a rock garden in combination with alpine plants to provide year-round color and structure.
  • Combine with witch hazel, hellebores, heathers, and bulbs such as snowdrops, winter aconite, and crocus for a dazzling early season display.

RELATED:
Shrubs 101
Guide to Conifers
The Best Evergreen Trees for Residential Gardens

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