Italian Cypress Falls Short | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 06 December 2012 14:19

120612reBy Buzz Bertolero

The Dirt Gardener

Q: Three months ago, I built a retaining wall to separate my neighbor’s two-story house from my garden. I planted two Italian cypress trees hoping to hide the view. The trees are not doing well. What could be the problem?

A: Part of your problem could be an unrealistic expectation. Italian cypress would not be a shrub that I would recommend for a quick-growing privacy barrier. They’re slow-growing so it’s going to be several years from now before they’re tall enough — maybe five or more years from a five-gallon container.

Now, that being said, being planted too deep and over watering are the primary cultural practices that contribute to little or no growth with plants.

The original root ball should be at the soil surface or just above. Unfortunately with new plantings, a bowl-shaped hole is dug with the plant placed at the bottom. In a short period of time, the sides collapse, burying the plant.

If this were the case, I’d raise the plants. This is easily done by inserting a shovel under the root ball and then gently raising them up. It’s okay if the top of the first root is exposed. You should then tamp the soil down, eliminating the air pockets, and fixing the plant in its new position.

Italian cypress does not like to be over-watered, as they’re a drought-tolerant plant. The excessive summer moisture promotes root rot.

One of the early indicators of a problem with a plant is that it shows signs of struggling, with little to no new growth. It’s not recommended that they be watered multiple times per week. Once a week during the summer should be adequate if the drainage is better than average; otherwise, every 10 days to two weeks is sufficient after the rainy season concludes.

You might now entertain replacing the Italian cypress with a different variety. After the holidays are over, ask the nursery professional at your favorite garden center for some alternative suggestions.

Q: What are the best vegetables to grow in winter shade? Also, what and how often do you feed herbs? I don’t think that fish emulsion is a good idea since we pick the leaves.

A: The primary vegetables planted during the winter months are the leafy type such as lettuce, spinach and swiss chard, along with cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli.

I’d probably wait another month to six weeks before planting though. This is when the days get longer and daytime temperatures start warming up. The exposure is not important during the winter months.

I wouldn’t have any problem using fish emulsion. Fish emulsion is a water-soluble fertilizer, so it washes off with water. You could also use Dr Earth Tomato, Vegetable and Herb Food or a similar organic fertilizer.

For containers, Osmocote is one of my favorites. The type of fertilizer you select will determine the frequency; so, follow the recommendations on the packaging.

Buzz Bertolero is Executive Vice President of Navlet’s Garden Centers and a California Certified Nursery Professional. His web address is and you can send questions by email to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or to 360 Civic Drive, Ste. “D,” Pleasant Hill, CA 94523, and on Facebook at





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