Question about trimming/pruning Leland Cypress

northatlantaJanuary 19, 2007

I have to trim back several mature Leland Cypress trees that were neglected by their owners and have grown about 35 feet high and have spread horizontally such that they're growing over my gutters and roof. The trees are about 10 years old. I received a strangely wide variety of opinions regarding how much trimming can be done to these trees. Note that I'm talking about trimming or shaping the horizontal growth (not the tops or reducing their height). Almost all sources say that this should be done in late February or early March, just as it begins to warm up in Georgia. However, I've had all manner of advice regarding how much can be sheared or pruned off the side-ways growth: One person said you shouldn't trim more than about 4 or 5 inches, all the way to one who said that Lelands can tolerate "extensive shearing" to the point of shearing like a hedge.

Does anyone know the real scoop about Leland Cypress trees? I would ideally like to reduce their horizontal girth at least a couple of feet on each side (they are currently massive -- probably 12-15 feet wide at their widest point of growth), but don't want to harm the trees.

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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

The problem is that the trees are now overgrown. Though these plants can be sheared as a hedge (which is done extensivly in England), this must be started when the plant is young. Pruning lateral branches deeply into older, bare wood will NOT result in a flush of new growth.

If your are pruning into the foliated part of the branches, new growth is a likely result. You are aware, I hope, that your trees are still growing and can attain heights of over 70 feet and a spread of 25 or so?

Spring pruning was probably recommended to lessen the time of recovery. But in your climate, you could probably go ahead and prune at any time without harming the plant. It will just be bare and gawky longer, not something most of us would want.

If this were my propery, I would have the trees removed. I doubt that you will be able to salvage them and still keep them beautiful. At least, that's what it sounds like from the description. You are the best judge.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2007 at 9:25AM
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So if the pruning is done on the foliated branches, should I assume that this would still be a way to at least temporarily trim them away from the house? I took from your comments that this would have to be done periodically just to keep it under control, at this stage.

The person who planted them put about six Lelands only 3 or 4 feet apart, in a row to create a dense privacy screen. However, she did not consider their spread, and also did not trim them when they were young. So now it's more a matter of trying to at least keep the spread from touching or going over our gutters.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2007 at 11:34PM
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If you trim too much of the horizontal growth, I would be worried the tree would become less able to withstand winds
and ice storms. Due to their fast growth, they have shallow root systems and already have problems in this area. Also, being much taller than wide they are prone to blow over in storms.

It is a shame that people plant these trees so close together.
We planted 200 leylands on our property lines for privacy and planted them 10 feet apart which is a minimum distance. Our neighbor wanted instant privacy and matched our trees with his own leylands 1 foot from the property line and 3 feet apart. He has totally ignored them and as their growth encroaches our property we let him know we would be trimming the growth on our side to let our trees stay healthy.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2007 at 11:08PM
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I have a "problem" Leyland, too. The previous owner planted a row of them down the driveway - nice idea. But they didn't notice that the first one - the one that has grown the largest, wouldn't you just know - is directly under the power line. It has about 4 or 5 more feet and it's going to be touching the wires. Dh wants to cut it back...can we do that?

    Bookmark   January 25, 2007 at 1:19AM
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If you don't cut it back, the power company probably will. Here in the Atlanta area, the power companies send out crews on a regular basis to keep limbs away from the lines in all directions. And those crews are not performing the "best looking" trims, if you know what I mean.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2007 at 11:50AM
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Know what you mean. We're so far out they may not keep close track but if I let it get into the wires I'll probably have to pay for repairs.

What concerns me is whether whacking it back (and it's such a pretty shape now!) will result in horrible deformity or if it can be kept within size and shape. Will it fork? Send out a lot of side growth? I'm afraid it might be better just to remove it completely even though I hate to lose it - it's the nicest one in the whole row.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2007 at 3:36PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

lindakimy, I'd remove it. Removal is always the best choice over topping.

Northatlanta, keeping the cypress trimmed back will be your second job, lol. But remember, you may find that after you begin working on the plant you'll end up with something that hurts your feelings (and your eyes) every time you look at it.

Should that happen, please don't hesitate to remove it. You'll be so glad you did. Most people who live with something like that because they 'hated to cut it down', wonder what the HECK took them so long!!!!

    Bookmark   January 25, 2007 at 4:00PM
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I have cypress trees planted all around my 9 acre lake......They are beautiful and beginning to split at the base of the trunk. They have branches and the very bottom and I need to know if they need to be pruned. How far up do I prune them and when is the best time to prune them

    Bookmark   June 7, 2008 at 11:23PM
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The branches at the bottom don't have to be pruned and doing so will not correct your problem. Can you take a picture of the split and post it on the Trees forum? How old are these trees, is it possible they are at the end of their life cycle?

    Bookmark   June 8, 2008 at 12:53PM
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jqpublic(7b/8a Wake County NC)

It may be best to cut them down and grow something that will fit in that space.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2008 at 1:58PM
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I have two 50 foot Lelands which frame my two-story house. The upper 35 feet are beautiful but the bottom 15 feet are very sparse and full of dead branches. I have trimmed off the dead branches only to have the remaining green die also. I do realize that I will see no new growth on the bottoms but unfortunately that is at eye level. They are rubbing on the gutter due to poor planning(planting) by the previous owners. Is there anything I can do to salvage these or are they done? Is it advisable to trim the trunk bare up to 15 feet?

    Bookmark   August 4, 2009 at 7:50AM
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I am planting new trees about 4' high. Some have what appears will develop into a second trunk. Should these be removed to allow only a single trunk?

    Bookmark   May 2, 2011 at 10:00AM
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