Leyland Cypress (Cupressocyparis leylandii) is a popular choice for a hedge to provide privacy and wind protection due to its extremely fast growth rate. However, many people who plant these without knowing all the potential problems find themselves in a big pickle a few years later and ruing the day they planted the pesky trees. Here we have collected all the reasons not to plant a Leyland Cypress hedge, as well as the best leyland cypress alternative.
Reasons people like Leyland Cypress
Fast growth is the main reason people choose to plant Leyland Cypress. No one likes to wait, and the idea of buying small, inexpensive plants that will grow to huge trees in just a few years is very appealing. The problem is that most people fail to think farther than those first few years and anticipate the enormous eventual size of the plants (they don’t stop growing, folks!).
Evergreen foliage is a big factor when choosing a privacy hedging plant, and Leyland Cypress has nice-looking, feathery, evergreen texture.
Large size is good when you need privacy, but the tree can get absolutely massive (anyone want a 75’ tall hedge?). Most privacy hedges are sufficient at 6-10 feet tall, and much easier to maintain.
Problems with Leyland Cypress
Talking about leyland cypress problems, growth rate is the main thing that draws people to Leyland Cypress, but it is also the biggest problem in the long run. Cypress grows extremely fast, up to 4’ per year, even in poor soils. That sounds great when you think you could have your goal 12’ privacy hedge in 3 years, but think about how much you will have to prune it to keep it at 12’ tall in the long run. Hint: it’s a lot.
You will need to prune intensively multiple times per year to maintain the size and shape of a this tree. The larger it gets, the more difficult it will be to prune. You also have to be careful about what time of year you prune, as pruning in early spring may simply encourage faster growth, but pruning in the fall or winter can cause unsightly browning. If the size gets out of hand, you can’t prune it back too far or you will be left with ugly brown patches that never fill in.
Once the hedge reaches large height and width, you will likely run into problems with foundations, sidewalks, and power lines, and eventually end up needing to remove the plants.
Leyland Cypress growth rate – the first photo is from October 2012, the second is from August 2018. The trees have grown about 12’ taller and significantly wider in 6 years in a spot with likely no supplemental water. Imagine how much faster they would grow in a normal garden setting!
leyland cypress diseases are another factor to consider. Their root systems are quite shallow, and any stress on the plants weakens them to some common diseases, including blight, canker, and root rot. When planted as a hedge, the diseases can run right through the plants, damaging or killing the entire row. Once the plants are infected, fungicides and other chemicals are ineffective for treatment.
Hedging is not simply compatible with Leyland Cypresses growth requirements. They don’t grow well in crowded conditions. They are notorious for developing somewhat random brown patches and sustaining winter damage, which results in an uneven, unsightly hedge. They are shallow-rooted and unstable in the soil. They have no drought tolerance, but excessively wet conditions result in root-rot. Finally, they are short-lived plants, usually lasting only up to 25 years before needing to be replaced. None of these are good conditions for hedging!
Alternatives for Leyland Cypress
Green Giant Arborvitae is the best fast-growing Leyland Cypress alternative. It is essentially disease-free, with moderate drought resistance and excellent tolerance of heat and humidity. It can grow up to 3 feet per year and can be maintained with 1 or 2 pruning sessions per year. It is hardy in zones 5-9 and can be grown in full sun to partial shade.
Virescens Western Red Cedar is another great substitute for Leyland Cypress, with a nice, upright growth habit. It can either be tightly pruned for a formal look or causally pruned for more relaxed garden styles. It can grow up to 2 feet per year. It has moderate drought tolerance and can be grown in full sun to partial shade. Virescens is hardy in USDA zones 5-9 and does especially well on the West Coast, where it is native.
American Arborvitae is an extremely cold-hardy Leyland Cypress alternative, growing in USDA zones 2-8. It is native to the Eastern United States and Canada, and has been a popular hedge choice for many years. It can grow 1-2’ per year and thrives in both full sun and partial shade. It responds very well to regular pruning and is very low-maintenance. American Arborvitae has moderate drought resistance.