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Nine Reasons to Avoid Leyland Cypress Trees

A healthy Leyland Cypress tree in a rural or parkland setting can be attractive to the eye, but when planted close to the typical surburban home, these trees can wreak havoc for homeowners once they grow to resemble the specimen here:

Leyland Cypresses can look all lush and innocuous in their green pots when you buy them at your local nursery, but the fun begins just a few years after planting. That row of Leylands planted to create a privacy hedge on your property line can easily turn into a “spite fence” a few years down the road.

Here are nine reasons to avoid the dreaded Leyland Cypress. Your wallet, your home, and your neighbors will thank you:

  1. Your “fresh from the nursery” plant might already be damaged.  Leyland Cypress foliage tends to grow more quickly than its roots, so even though you have a young, healthy-looking plant, there could be trouble on the horizon.
  2. Leylands grow very quickly. The average tree can reach 80 feet in height in about 20 years if conditions favor rapid growth. When first planted, the tree will look unobtrusive, but given enough water and sunlight, it will encroach on homes and driveways causing all manner of unanticipated problems.
  3. They can be expensive to maintain once they reach full maturity. While you don’t need to do much of anything to a Leyland Cypress for it to flourish, you do need to be mindful of its growth once it matures. Hedgerows will need annual to bi-annual trimming in order to maintain control of growth, and trees close to structures will need regular pruning to keep foliage out of drains and gutters.
  4. Leyland Cypresses can cause neighborly strife. Let’s face it; not all neighbors live together in perfect harmony. Animosity can lead to a simple privacy hedge  becoming the  afrementioned “spite fence”. After a brief period of calm, when a Leyland hedge hits its growing stride, all bets are off. The “spite fence” turns into a massive headache for the parties on either side, leading to potential catastrophe. Trimming can become a costly endeavor, making misery for all involved.
  5. Given the opportunity, a Leyland Cypress will devour your home. As the photo below illustrates, neglecting a mature Leyland Cypress will result in it taking over completely. No further explanation necessary:
A mature, 45-year-old Leyland Cypress.

6. Leylands can cause structural damage. Never underestimate the power of of a mature Leyland to devastate your property. The photo below shows what a mature Leyland can do when planted above a retaining wall:

Not only are there no privacy-blocking lower branches, the wall is damaged and could collapse.

7. Leylands can make you feel like you’re living in a cave. The upper canopy of a Leyland Cypress tree can become excessively full and wide, preventing any natural light from getting through. This does not bode well for other plants, nor does it make for having loads of outdoor fun in the cold shade.

8. The root systems of mature Leylands planted next to driveways can cause cracks in cement and asphalt. Let’s not forget their tendency towards instability. Do you want to come out of your house one morning to find some or all of your tree on top of your vehicle?

9. Last, but not least, removing a mature Leyland can be a financial and a structural headache. See if you can guess why:

Jim Folger, the 6ft. 2in. owner of EcoTreeNW, standing next to a mature 45 in. DBH (diameter at breast height) Leyland Cypress tree.

Crown Cleaning Ensures the Health of Mature Trees

One of the most popular requests we get as a tree service is to “prune” trees. When you’re dealing with large, mature trees, pruning can be a general term for many services. It is the arborist’s job to educate his or her customers as to what service they will be performing when pruning is requested.

Very often, a mature tree will be in need of what is known as “crown cleaning“. This describes the removal of dead, weakened, crowding, crossing, and broken branches to allow healthy foliage to thrive. Moreover, crown cleaning removes the most dangerous branches that could pose a hazard to people, vehicles, homes, and other structures during adverse weather events. The more mature a tree is, the more important it is to keep an eye on declining foliage.

As the above graphic illustrates, there are other options besides crown cleaning:

Crown Thinning: Crown thinning is when smaller branches are selectively removed from the upper or outer canopy to restore the tree’s natural shape, and allow more light in to help reinvigorate a tree that might be in some degree of decline. Removing excess small branches will help increase absorption of water and nutrients, as well as provide clearance for an improved view.

Crown Raising: Removing the lower branches of a tree to provide clearance for people, vehicles and to allow in more light, is known as crown raising, or “limbing up” a tree. A crown raising should remove no more than 25 percent of foliage from healthy mature trees.

Crown Reduction: Crown reduction is usually performed when a tree outgrows its intended space. It can sometimes be an appropriate solution depending on the species and growth pattern of the tree. Care should be exercised when performing this type of pruning, as improper crown reduction can leave an otherwise healthy tree prone to disease and decay. It is best performed on young trees, before they become overgrown, rather than mature trees that have been left to grow untended.

Trees that are exhibiting signs of stress or decline may not be good candidates for any of the pruning described here until they are brought back to heath.

Watch Out For Velvet Top Fungus During the Rainy Pacific Northwest Winter

Velvet Top fungus is a pleasant way to refer to a fungus that actually looks more like a cow pie. These unwelcome soggy brown visitors usually  form near conifers like white pine, spruce or fir trees, and can be indicative of root rot. Very often, the roots of trees will become infected through wounds as the fungus makes its way through the soil.

Here are two examples of what Velvet Top or cow pies can look like:

Many arborists used to think that this type of fungus only affected mature or elderly trees. New research indicates that trees of all ages can be stricken, and it is important to keep an eye out for their formation. They usually grow to a noticeable size during late summer and early fall, and will transport their nastiness into susceptible trees during times when the ground is saturated, like during a typical Northwest winter.

 Keep a Keen Eye Out For ‘Fruiting’ Conks

The examples pictured above are of “mature” conks that have “fruited”, meaning they have been active since before they were visible. When they have reached this stage, the damage to trees in their vicinity has already been done, and root rot might have taken hold. Telltale signs are if the tree becomes uprooted, or in extreme cases, the trunk becomes weakened and breaks.

Talk To a Consulting Arborist

Velvet Top, cow pies, or any other conks are a sure sign of trouble. Talk to a consulting  arborist about how to address this problem as soon as you become aware of it. The heavy rain and strong winds of winter could mean catastrophic failure in all types of trees if these fungi are left to flourish unchecked.