I have written a few columns discussing Italian cypress trees over the years. The subject seems to have taken on a life of its own. I have responded to emails and phone calls about growing this species in Southern California, Arizona, Mexico, Virginia, and Southern France.

Here is the most recent:

Dear Bill,

We live in Windermere. Our Italian cypress trees are now three feet tall. They have “droop” and need support. Their growth is fast with healthy foliage, but they appear to be outgrowing their strength. Do I “top” and reduce their height?

Terry

At first, I thought Windermere might be a homeowners association, perhaps in Santa Rosa. So I emailed Terry and asked about the location.

She responded: “Windermere is the largest lake in England … it is a rather wet and rainy but not flooded area.”

So, I checked a map and found Windermere, about halfway between Liverpool and Glasgow.

Checking into it a bit further I found that the winter lows, one defining factor for climate zone adaptability for trees, are not too severe for Italian cypress. But other environmental factors can have profound effects on tree growth.

I like to view the subject from the perspective of evolution. A tree species evolves within a set of environmental conditions including:

— Climate: temperature ranges, precipitation patterns, humidity, and day length.

— Site, location and placement conditions: soil type, drainage, and exposure to sun and wind.

A tree of a given species has good potential thrive when climate and site conditions are a good match for it.

Local examples include blue oaks (Quercus douglasii) that dominate some of the relatively hot and dry upland, west-facing slopes in Napa County. The species is adapted to those conditions by evolution and better able to withstand the hot afternoon summer sun.

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In contrast, the east-facing slopes have extensive areas dominated by Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), which tends to thrive in relatively cool and moist locations because of evolutionary adaptations.

Italian cypress, as a Mediterranean and Middle Eastern native tends to thrive in parts of California that have the Mediterranean climate: dry summers and rainy winters.

In gardens where they receive ample irrigation they often grow soft, with weak, floppy branches. I expect this to be an ongoing problem for Terry’s trees, in a cool, rainy climate.

I recommended staking them loosely to keep the trunks and leaders vertical while allowing for movement in the wind, which stimulates strengthening of the stems. Side pruning to remove soft, lush growth would limit weight and help maintain the desired columnar shape. In the long run, it is likely to be too much of a maintenance chore.

I have not had the opportunity to visit there. But if I did, I would probably scout the local landscapes and nurseries for ideas.

One good possibility, which I have grown in my own garden, is the columnar Irish juniper (Juniperus communis “Stricta” or “Hibernica”). It has a tight columnar shape, similar to some of the Italian cypress varieties like Cupressus sempervirens “Stricta.” It is described as having a wide range of climate adaptability.

Another is the Irish yew (Taxus baccata “Stricta”), an evergreen with a tight columnar shape.

These species are native to higher northern latitudes so it makes sense that they would be worth consideration for Terry, way up there in cool and rainy Windermere.

Bill Pramuk is a registered consulting arborist. Visit his website, www.billpramuk.com. Email questions to infor@billpramuk.com or call him at 707-226-2884.

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