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/