10 Reasons I Hate Leyland Cypress

May 4, 2018 | Gardens

Imagine: “We need some screening plants, so we’re buying Leyland cypress,” she said.
“Why Leyland cypress?” I asked.
“Because they grow quickly,” she answered.
“Don’t do it,” I said.

Name: Leyland Cypress aka Cupressus x leylandii

Type of Plant: A fast growing evergreen conifer that can quickly grow to 40 to 60 feet tall and over 15 feet wide.

Why I dislike this plant: How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways.

  1. Unless this plant is sheared regularly from early in it’s life it grows thin, with long scraggly limbs that don’t screen anything, let alone look good in the landscape.
  2. Because they grow quickly people raise them and sell them cheaply. If you buy these inexpensive plants know that they are low-cost because no one has sheared them early on. They will continue to look cheap unless you start to prune them regularly…do you really want such a high-maintenance plant?
  3. They are very prone to winter damage. Take a look at all the Leylands with browned branches as you drive around at this time of year.
  4. They are also prone to becoming top heavy from that fast growth (especially if they aren’t sheared annually) and so they come over in storms.
  5. They are completely inappropriate as screening on smaller properties. They grow into roads, driveways, and dominate back yards.
  6. Since they get so large, and need annual shearing to keep them attractive, you’ll have to have them professionally sheared. Do you really want plants you have to pay to have pruned every year?
  7. Once they get long limbs (because people don’t have them sheared) those limbs break off in heavy snow.
  8. Because they grow so high they are likely to shade gardens – yours or your neighbors. Suddenly, the yard that had good sun for roses, vegetables and perennials is in deep shade.
  9. Unless sheared professionally into a flat hedge, Leylands get bare on the bottom, so they offer little to no screening six feet up from the ground. If they are pruned back into bare wood, or have dieback into bare branches, they do not green up again from these areas.
  10. They are prone to diseases – blight, canker and root rot.

A Word to the Wise: If you already have them, shear about 6” of the tips off of the side branches annually. Once they reach the height you want, start shearing the leader too. Once they are too tall for you to reach, hire a professional to do this. If they are already too ugly, too big or too damaged, take them out and put something else in their place.

Exhibit Here is an example of browned branches – winter damage on Leyland Cypress. Many plants get this every year.

Exhibit B: This leyland wasn’t sheared when it was young so now it’s not only not an effective screening plant, but those long limbs are more likely to catch heavy snow and split off, or pull the tree over. See the limb that split off of the tree on the right?

Exhibit C: These plants are prone to falling over in high winds and heavy snow. Nor’easters, for example.

Exhibit D: It’s not these trees’ fault that they were planted so close to the road…but they are now growing over four feet into the street, and they aren’t even that old!

But to be fair, if Leyland Cypress are sheared every year, by professionals, they can make a nice hedge. This is my friend Helen’s “Great Wall of Leyland.” Know, however, that this is on the north side of her yard, so she’s able to grow sun-loving plants in front of this very tall hedge. Her neighbor, however, has the “shady side” of the deal. The neighbor’s yard will be shaded by this hedge whether they like it or not. In some places these plants are banned because they shade neighbor’s gardens. 

You’ve been warned!

Green Giant Arborvitaes grow just as quickly without the same issues. But even better, consider planting a range of evergreens as a hedge.

 

5 Comments

  1. judy vaz

    Thank…I really hate this plant. For me it is the mimosa of the evergreen world.

    Reply
  2. mike hendersen

    Thank you for your article. I moved into a house 3.5 years ago that has 10 of these as a hedge. They were only at most 6ft tall when we moved in. They are now about 15-17 feet tall. I need to make a decision on these before they turn into 30 foot giants. Your article mentions people not shearing early on, if I start shearing now, am I still in the early on period for these trees. I found your article because I am worried about the things you stated….shearing too late….tree getting to tall/wide, etc. I’d like to have a 15-20 foot hedge, which may require the trees to grow another ten feet, at which point someone (or me) will have to chop off the top third of the plant–the leader, then maintain the rectangular hedge. Is this even possible. I hate the idea of removing these trees at this point, I even wonder how long it would take for the root system to disappear to a point where planting something new could happen without issues. I despise this tree and knew it was a problem when we moved in. Thanks for your article.

    Reply
    • CL Fornari

      Mike,
      If you despise them by all means rip them out asap and plant something else. That’s what I’d do if I bought a property with Leylands. Why spend money and time on plants that were inappropriate in the first place? But if you don’t want to take them out, start shearing this year by cutting off 12 to 18 inches of all branch tips. Keep doing that into the future.

      Reply
  3. Kenneth R. Newcomb

    Hi Mike. Sure hope you can give me some ideas and direction on our problem. We live in a 20 unit townhome complex with lovely gardens of various perennial plantings on several acres of common landscaped property, including 2 leyland hedges, one of which is about 25′ high located at the back edge of the property next to our neighbours property which provides a nice privacy hedge. (the neighbour also is growing his own leyland hedge, and there is an access road between the two hedges. The larger hedge is located along the main paved driveway next to our clubhouse and opposite the owners units. It is pretty spectacular to look at and also hides all of the community veggie garden plots which are essentially located between the two hedges on our property. The larger one is likely at least 30 – 35′ tall and has been professionally pruned every year (including the smaller one at the back). The hedges still looks good but they are now a major pruning project that probably costs two arms and a leg, all paid for by our collective monthly strata fees by the Strata Council. I don’t personally know the cost but I just know its a big expense that most of this money could be better spent on other projects. My thought was that we should cut the top of the hedge off, down to about 10 – 12 feet in height. The larger hedge is probably about 100′ long while the smaller one maybe 50′ in length. I understand that cutting the tops off of established plantings like this is just a bad idea mainly because the centre is brown branches that don’t regrow any green leaves. My thought is if we cut the leafless centre lower than the surrounding leaved edges, we could hide the brown leafless centre and prune the remainder on the outside that is still green each year for the next # of years before we eventually remove them entirely. Biggest problem I can see is that a very vocal minority of the owner residents have been here for decades and will undoubtedly be totally against doing anything except continuing to annually prune them at an ever increasing expense to us all. Taking them out completely now is of course the best idea but I expect is a non-starter because people just won’t be able to handle the idea and will come up with endless reasons to let them stay. Advice?

    Reply
    • CL Fornari

      Kenneth
      It’s really impossible for me to advise you without seeing the plants in question. In my experience these are plants that are best removed completely and replaced with Green Giant Arborvitaes or other screening. But again, I really can’t say without being there to see your situation. All the best!

      Reply

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