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On Gardening: No snow job: Arizona cypress makes a lovely Christmas tree

November 23, 2015

The Carolina Sapphire is one of the most popular varieties of Arizona cypress in the South.

The Arizona cypress is one of those plants that horticulturists and season gardeners alike look upon with amazement at its beauty and performance in the hot and humid Southeast. Right now we are planting small ones as living Christmas trees in containers as part of our December Nights and Holiday Lights festivities at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah.

We have already incorporated leading varieties like Carolina Sapphire, Blue Ice and Chaparral in various locations, such as the White Garden, Xeriscape Garden and, as odd as it might sound, in the Palm Collection. None is more photogenic, however, than the Chaparral in the White Garden.

The Arizona cypress is known botanically as Cupressus arizonica and is indeed native to Arizona. While that climate is decidedly different from ours, it has thrilled with its performance in the South. This year we have had enough rain to challenge many a plant species, and though the cypress is native to an arid climate, it has performed beyond expectation.

In addition to becoming a choice landscape tree it has become a staple in many local pick-your-own Christmas tree farms. This has no doubt led to the public starting to realize how they stand out in the landscape. Known for its classic Christmas tree shape, the Arizona cypress offers compact, beautiful, blue-green foliage.

Look closely and you will see that the small scale-like leaves are dotted with tiny white flecks that are actually resin glands. These glands yield an enticing evergreen fragrance when you grab or brush up against a branch. Another thing that really stands out is the dark cherry-colored stems. These stems make for a very unusual yet beautiful look in contrast with the blue-green foliage.

The Arizona cypress is cold hardy from zones 6-9. To grow your own, select a site with as much sun as possible. This really allows the color to pop. It performs well in almost any soil, acidic or alkaline, as long as it is well drained. This would be one place where conditions might differ from Arizona. It can grow one to two feet per year and can reach 30 to 40 feet in height.

If your soil is tight, heavy clay and not well drained, then plan on amending it with 3 to 4 inches of organic matter, and work the bed to a depth of 8 to 10 inches. The best idea might be to copy today’s commercial landscapers and plant on raised beds. The Arizona cypress is very drought tolerant once established, but pay attention to watering the first year.

If you have ever thought about having a living Christmas tree, this would be an ideal choice. Use it indoors for about a week to 10 days and then take it outside to be planted as a memory of Christmas 2015. The Arizona cypress is an extremely ornamental tree, so a single specimen or small group makes a dramatic statement in the landscape. They also can be used for windbreaks or privacy screens. Here at our garden we have those that stand alone as specimen while others look picturesque with a backdrop of palm leaves or burgundy loropetalum foliage.

In addition to the varieties mentioned above, look also for Blue Pyramid, and Silver Smoke. The winter landscape needs evergreens to provide the bones and structure. When you can choose a blue-foliaged form like the Arizona cypress, the landscape is even prettier. Look for these and other choice conifers at your local garden center.

 

 


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