Leyland Cypress: And then there were (almost) none

by Andrea Laine, EMGV

The growth of three cypress at the far end of this photo seem stunted and just one large one, not pictured, remains. photo credit: Andrea Laine

Once upon a time, there were 10 Leyland cypress trees (x Cupressocyparis leylandii) along this fence (see photo). They were planted about 15 years ago and most had matured to 15-feet tall and a few feet wide. Sadly, three fell in a winter ice storm in 2013. And three more were blown over a few weeks ago in a 12 mph south wind following a very soggy December in Durham county. This loss is disheartening – especially as there are cypress hedges in landscapes throughout the area that seem to be doing just fine as my husband curiously noted.

Because Leyland cypress is a fast-growing, dense evergreen, they are attractive to homeowners and often used in landscaping as privacy screens. Indeed, the ones in my yard served that purpose; they were a natural buffer, so the view from my deck was of year-round greenery instead of my neighbor’s driveway and dog pen.

But what often goes unsaid is that fast-growing trees and shrubs tend to be weak and short lived (5).  As a master gardener, I’ve learned that the Leyland cypress, while popular, is not a well-regarded ornamental shrub. Though mine seemed to be healthy, the species is plagued by a variety of diseases and pest problems (6). Truth be told, I rarely observed them up close; they could have been suffering and I was unaware.

Hedging Options
Here are some shrubs we are considering to replace the fallen cypress, the general criteria being shrubs that are evergreen, grow tall and wide, are dense, grow well in sun to part shade, and enjoy well-drained soil. All the better if they offer some additional feature like fragrance or flowers. And, of course, they must grow in hardiness zone 7.

(1)  Chindo viburnum (Viburnum awabuki ‘chindo’)

(2)  Sweet osmanthus/Fragrant tea olive (Osmanthus fragrans)

(3)  Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria Japonica)

(4)  Nellie Stevens Holly (Ilex x ‘Nellie R. Stevens)

Not all plants will do well in all places. If you also desire an evergreen hedge, follow the links to NC Extension’s  Plant Database provided in the Resources section below to learn what these plants need and then consider if your yard can deliver the right combination of sun, soil and space conditions.

There are also non-shrub options for solving landscape challenges like this one. You can train an evergreen vine to climb the fence, install a solid fence, or screen the deck instead of the property line.

Resources and Further Reading:

(1) https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/all/viburnum-awabuki-chindo/

(2) https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/all/osmanthus-fragrans/

(3) https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/all/cryptomeria-japonica/

(4) https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/all/ilex-x-nellie-r-stevens/

(5) https://chatham.ces.ncsu.edu/2016/10/what-is-the-best-evergreen-for-screening/

(6) https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/leyland-cypress-diseases-insects-related-pests/




Biography of Durham’s Finest Tree* No. 12: Lowes Grove Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea)

by Wendy Diaz, EMGV

In 2017, Durham County Citizens nominated three large trees for the Durham’s Finest Tree program and they were evaluated in the fall of 2017. The 2017 winners have yet to be announced but one of the nominations is an impressive Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea)1 located at the south end of the Lowes Grove Middle School property in Southern Durham.


The Lowes Grove Scarlet Oak is very tall at a height of 101 feet. Its average canopy is 92 feet and its trunk circumference is 165 inches. The Lowes Grove Scarlet Oak is nearly as tall and as large as the nearby state champion found in Chatham County (located at the Veterans Memorial in Siler City) with a height of 114 feet, a crown spread of 64 feet and a circumference of 175 inches2. The Lowes Grove Scarlet Oak is fairly large for the species that typically grows between 50 and 80 feet with a rounded, open-shaped habit3. The Lowes Grove students affectionately call the stately Scarlet Oak, Abraham, which towers over the football field and its light pole near a small tributary of the Northeast Creek4.

Rounded, open-shaped habit of mature Lowes Grove Scarlet Oak. Photo taken by Wendy Diaz on October 24, 2017 


Broad, round canopy of Lowes Grove Scarlet Oak. Photo taken by Wendy Diaz on November 10, 2017


Species Description

The Scarlet Oak is native to eastern North America. It prefers dry to medium well-drained soils that are acidic and sandy1. This deciduous tree also likes full sun and grows rapidly. It is monoecious with neither the male nor the female flowers being showy. The fruit is a small acorn about half- to one-inch long. The acorns are eaten by woodpeckers, blue jays, small mammals, wild turkey and white-tailed deer3. The tree derives its common name from the reddish color of the wood not for its fall foliage. The Scarlet Oak bark is grey and furrowed. The glossy leaves are green in the summer turning scarlet in the fall. The leaves are deeply cut with bristle-tipped, pointed lobes and typically are three to six inches long. The Scarlet Oak is a low maintenance tree and makes a good shade tree with excellent fall color if it has sufficient space to grow.

Height measurement taken of Lowes Grove Scarlet Oak in late fall. Photo taken by Wendy Diaz on December 7, 2017 

The Scarlet Oak can be confused with other similar oaks such as the Northern Red Oak and the Southern Red Oak. Its correct identification can be confirmed by comparing their leaves. Red oaks have pointed lobes but the Scarlet Oak leaf typically has five to seven deep lobes and its leaf shape is in between a Northern Red Oak and a Southern Red Oak; its leaf is not as broad as the Northern Red Oak and is not as deeply lobed as the Southern Red Oak which has a more pronounced main lobe. In addition, the grey bark of the Scarlet Oak is not as deeply furrowed as the Northern Red Oak bark.


Deeply pointed lobes of the glossy green leaves of the Lowes Grove Scarlet Oak. Photo taken by Wendy Diaz on October 24, 2017
Grey and lightly furrowed bark of the Lowes Grove Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea). Photo taken by Wendy Diaz on November 10, 2017












Local History

The area around the intersection of Highway 54 and Alston Avenue was the location of the Lowes Grove rural community dating back to the 1880’s.  The northeast corner was a landmark of innovative education since 1896 when a small log and frame structure was built. The name ‘grove’ came to be when the area residents organized informal church services in a farm building near a grove of trees in 1889. The Little Red School house was rebuilt in 1903 (relocated to the north side of the current Lowes Grove Middle School property). The old school facility was expanded and a larger building was built in 1910. The old Lowes Grove School was one of two schools in the state to receive a farm life grant and the campus was expanded with a demonstration farm in 1913 and in 1922 when the student population was 200 it underwent extensive renovations and three additional buildings were built and completed by 1925 and these four buildings were Durham County’s first all-brick school complex. The old campus was closed in 1989 but at the time the Little Red School house was one of the oldest continually operated buildings in North Carolina. The Lowes Grove area was also the site of the first credit union in the South, which was formed to serve local farmers in 1915.

Most of the buildings for the old school were demolished in 2006 except for one located to the north of the new South Durham Public Library located on the east side of Alston Avenue. Scarlet Oaks are known to have a life span of about 80 years, so it probably did not exist when the the original Lowes Grove school buildings were built but it certainly existed during most of the old rural school’s operation and continues to stand guard next to the new Lowes Grove Middle School today.

The Lowes Grove sports field lined with trees such as the Scarlet Oak provides the perfect habitat for their resident red-tailed hawk. Canopy of Lowes Grove Scarlet Oak on the left of the photo. Photo taken by Wendy Diaz October 24, 2017
Lowes Grove Scarlet Oak. Photo taken by Wendy Diaz on November 26, 2017


  1. http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?taxonid=280714&isprofile=1&basic=scarlet%20oak
  2. http://ncforestservice.gov/Urban/big_species_results.asp
  3. https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/trees/quercus-coccinea/
  4. http://www.northeastcreek.org/wordpress/
  5. http://www.opendurham.org/buildings/lowes-grove-school
  6. May 18, 2017http://durhamcouncilofgardenclubs.blogspot.com/2017/05 & August 10, 2017 https://durhammastergardeners.wordpress.com
  7. Four win in Durham’s Finest Trees contest” The Herald Sun-The Durham Herald, Durham, North Carolina Sunday, August 7, 2016 Page 6 (correction published on August 8, 2016)


Don’t Neglect the Stump

by Andrea Laine, EMGV

There’s nothing more annoying than cutting down a tree and then having to deal with suckers growing from the stump. Arborists say the suckers will subside after a year or two, but that hasn’t always been my experience. So, this winter when we had a few trees in our yard taken down to let in more sunlight, I resolved to address the stumps right away.

I considered three options: Grind the stump, treat it with a chemical herbicide, or encourage it to rot.

Grinding the stump is generally not a DIY project. A stump grinder is heavy machinery that chips away the wood stump to a depth of 12 inches or more leaving wood chips and sawdust in its place. I detest heavy machinery compacting the soils of my landscape as much as some people dislike using chemicals on weeds, so grinding was not for me.

Selected and used properly, a chemical herbicide containing glyphosate or triclopyr will kill the stump as well as the root system. Music to my ears, until I learned that in order to be effective on a stump it must be applied within a few minutes of the cut being made. To accomplish that I would have been underfoot while the arborist I hired was felling trees. Too dangerous, I concluded.

If you choose this route, know that the herbicide can be applied with a sprayer or a paintbrush and depending upon the concentration of the product, you may need to use it full strength. Always follow the directions on the manufacturer’s label for specific herbicides. The most critical area of the stump top to cover is just inside the bark around the entire circumference. This is where the herbicide is most effectively transferred to the roots.

Stumps will eventually rot. You can accelerate the process by covering a stump with a few inches of soil and keeping it moist. It is like composting in place; Microorganisms in the soil will breakdown the wood slowly over time.

The most natural option – encouraging rot – is the one I ultimately chose, even though it does not seem that much different from the neglect I had previously practiced. Still, I have high hopes that I will not be dealing with suckers from the stumps this time around. My research taught me that trees should be cut as close to the ground as possible for the best chance of deterring suckers. The arborist made cuts close to the ground, unlike the DIY cuts my husband and I made a few years ago, as the pictures below illustrate.


About finding and hiring a certified arborist:



Photo credits: Andrea Laine