Italian cypress trees are found in the western United States, along the Gulf coast and throughout Florida. They will not succeed in areas that regularly experience temperatures of -6.67 degrees Celsius, or lower. Given optimum growing conditions, the trees can reach upwards of 40 feet high. This height makes them unsuited for residential landscapes, but their columnar growth habit is suited for public spaces and buildings. The high growing tree has a root system that features few problems or pests.
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Italian cypress trees can grow up to 18 to 25 feet per year. Root growth must support foliar growth so the root systems grow at the same rate as the tree. Italian cypress are drought resistant and capable of living in a variety of soils, from sand to loam to clay. Unlike maple trees, which feature shallow roots systems, Italian cypress root systems adjust to their growing conditions and tend to grow deep into the soil. This allows them to take in water and survive during periods of drought. Root growth can be severely impacted by standing water and poorly draining soils. In these situations roots fail to take in the water necessary to support foliar growth because their osmotic uptake is disrupted. When left in poorly draining soils for long periods, root rot can develop. This disease will slowly kill the tree.
Italian cypress are not native to the United States but are able to thrive in Mediterranean-like climates. Mediterranean climates feature dry, hot summers and wet, mild winters. This climate is found in areas of the American Southwest and throughout coastal California, as well as other areas in the western United States. Once mature, Italian cypress do not require frequent irrigation. Establishing plants, however, require deep watering once a week, or whenever the soil is dry to a depth of 12 inches. Water mature trees once or twice a month during the active dormant season, or as needed. Deep watering discourages shallow, insufficient root growth and development.
Italian cypress is a low-maintenance tree with very few root problems other than root rot. When sited in moist, humid areas, the tree's crown, branches and foliage are susceptible to mites. Cankers are also known to develop. Mites and cankers cause foliage to turn brown and the tree may eventually die if left untreated. Brown needles and poor growth may give the appearance of root trouble, or a need for irrigation, but watering the tree may only exacerbate the problem. Inspect a tree's foliage before watering the tree. Excess water does more harm than good.
Overall, Italian cypress are far too tall to suit residential landscapes, but many growers are drawn to the tree's elegant, thin silhouette. Plant breeders have developed the cultivar Cupressus sempervirens v. Tiny Tower. This miniature Italian cypress has a root system that does well in a container. Containers are then placed at entryways or used as accent points in the garden. This variety is slow-growing, reaching only 8 feet in 10 years.
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- University of Florida IFAS Extension; Cupressus sempervirens: Italian Cypress; Edward F. Gilman, Dennis G. Watson;
- Iowa State University; How Fast Do Trees Grow?; Sherry Rindels; 1995
- University of Arizona Pima County Extension: Cupressus sempervirens Italian cypress
- Seattle Times; Evergreen Delights That Add Interest to Small Spaces; Mary Robson; December 10, 2005