My garden trees: #2 Leyland cypress

File this under “Ignorant Mistakes with Big Consequences.”                                                 This is my view from the kitchen window to the east across my back yard.


A number of years ago, a garden designer put these Leyland cypress, ×Cupressocyparis leylandii  (hybrid of Cupressus macrocarpa, Monterey cypress × Chamaecyparis nootkatensis, Alaskan cedar), in a garden plan for privacy screening at the back fence line.  Although I didn’t follow much from that plan, eager to have quick screening I planted these.  These were about 6 feet tall at planting 5 years ago, with their leader tips barely reaching the top of the fence. Now they are about 16 feet tall.

March 2010 and May 2013:

leylandii    IMG_4163

I planted these before I knew much about gardening, and the garden center tags stated simply that they would attain a height of 20 feet.  I now know that these can get to be 60 feet or taller, which is way out of scale for a typical back yard planting.  Though I am not a sun lover, I don’t want to completely block a section of the sky from view, especially toward the east!  In addition, I don’t like the effect of a big dark blob caused by a monotypic planting, as I have three of these lined up.

Each time I gaze out there I have a growing feeling of dread mixed with regret.  It’s hard to even appreciate the attractive flat sprays of foliage, as my eye interprets their reaching out gesture as “they’re coming to get me.”

IMG_4160    IMG_4167

I do try to appreciate the visual backdrop they provide for contrasting foliage like the Fatsia, the katsura or my baby ‘Edith Bogue’ magnolia.

IMG_4149      IMG_4152

As much as I hate to go back to square one with the greening and screening in that section of the yard, I think I am going to have to remove these  ask my husband to Pretty Please dig these out.  He suggests topping and trimming as a hedge, but this is just not my style.  If you can take it, have a peek at these butchered specimens on the Desert Northwest blog. My brain just will *not* stop reviewing replacement ideas (all evergreen):  wax myrtle, Cryptomeria, Ceanothus, Osmanthus, evergreen magnolia… Any chance I can post to Craigslist and have someone come dig out a monstrously mature hedge planting?

Habitat value?  The sight of this non-native European starling perched at the top doesn’t help with the growing negative feelings I have.


Just down the street at Green Bean Books at NE 16th and Alberta, all but one tree in a closely planted row have just been removed for an outdoor space remodel and ADA accessibility project.  I’m not 100% sure this is Leyland cypress, but it looks to be.


I estimated the height at about 35 feet.  It’s really hard to imagine it at double this height.  Maybe it’s OK as a specimen planting.  Would it look weird to limb it up and plant some other things around it?  I wonder if the root system allows space for woody plants close to it?  The bald section along one side is due to very closely spaced planting in the original row.

IMG_4213     IMG_4214

So, in short — don’t try to take the quick route to privacy screening and make the same mistake I did.  I don’t recommend this tree for a standard 50 x 100 foot lot.  If you have rural acreage, different story.  Clemson University cooperative extension has a useful link with a good description of Leyland cypress and ideas for alternatives.

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7 Responses to My garden trees: #2 Leyland cypress

  1. Julie Fukuda says:

    Well, I seem to recall when the neighbor’s blackberries were encroaching into that area. I have a similar problem with three enkianthus that are taking up too much room in a tiny bed…just because they were not kept in control when first planted. If I cut them way down, I wonder if they will look ugly for how long. I almost wish I could dig them up and start over.

  2. Yeah, but Mom — Enkianthus only gets to be 6-10 feet tall (at least in our area) — cutting it back or removing it wouldn’t be a Huge Undertaking. 🙂 They are supposed to take well to pruning, but I don’t know firsthand about them.

  3. annamadeit says:

    A designer told you to do that…??? 😦 I’m so sorry… I know they get big, but I’m no expert on Leyland cypresses. Do they really get to 60′ in urban settings? I know things are often different in the city. Either way, I think your hunch to take them out is good – at least two of the three. I’m thinking you could hang on to one of them for textural contrast to whatever you plant next. I think the cypress has some value texturally, and could be really nice as a component. If it gets too wide at the bottom, simply remove some of the lower limbs to accommodate some shady under-plantings. Believe me – I know space is precious in a 50′ x 100′ lot!

    • Anna, I really don’t know if they would attain a full height of 60 feet planted as they are, but I am too afraid to leave it any longer to find out. I think it’s easier (and less costly!) to take them out now and replace them with a more varied mix of shrubs/trees that certainly won’t reach more than 30 feet. More on this soon…

  4. Laura says:

    This is a lesson that I keep learning over and over. Plus, plants just grow bigger here, due to our lovely growing conditions, than the plant tags ever suggest. Smart move to take care of it now. I look forward to seeing your future tree and shrub purchases.

    • Too bad I needed to learn the hard way. But my entire narrow side yard is now free of oversized hulking shrubs (planted more than 12 years ago) and I’ve got the right things growing there now. There is hope for the rest of the yard — stay tuned!

  5. Vida Shore says:

    Just came across your blog. I am curious to know what you ended up putting in place of the Leland Cypress. I am looking for tall narrow (preferably evergreen) privacy screening (that is not poisoness to dogs) and I have been coming up empty handed. It has been 6 years we have have no privacy!

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