Trees of the High Desert – Italian Cypress

Italian Cypress trees are perfect desert trees. They are so extremely drought tolerant, and not very tolerant of moist soil. Their main use is for privacy or as a windbreak. While admittedly not my favorite tree or even close to it, the function of Italian Cypress trees is hard to replace with other species. Italian Cypress trees grow 12″-24″ per year which is considered a moderate rate of growth. With ideal care and environmental conditions, it can grow up to 36″ per year.

Why Plant An Italian Cypress?

  • They are a great wind break
  • Amazing drought tolerance
  • Fantastic privacy screen

Complaints About The Italian Cypress

  • Branches droop off to the side
  • They don’t widen rapidly to close gaps
  • Italian Cypress trees harbor spiders (black widows) and webs (unsightly)
  • Spider mites, fuzzy caterpillars, and bagworms can cause significant damage
  • They make a great home for mice or rats

Additional Information About Italian Cypress

Italian Cypress trees are extremely drought tolerant. They are commonly overwatered, which is the main cause of drooping branches that are a common complaint. The UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County recommends that established trees need no more than 0.5 gallons per month in the Fall and Spring, and 2 gallons per month from June – August. I am always weary telling people 2 gallons for a whole tree, as it is commonly misinterpreted to mean ‘pour 2 gallons at the base of my established tree’ instead of spreading out the water across the appropriate area. That said, this recommendation shows the minimal amount of water needed to keep an established Italian cypress tree healthy.

Italian Cypress trees do NOT have a root system that grows straight down. Their roots grow down to maybe 3 feet below the soil surface and spread outward. This is a common misconception that a trees root system is a mirror of its above ground growth habit. Learn more about that in this article about tree roots.

You can plants Italian Cypress immediately next to each other. I’ve written about how close you can plant one tree to another, and Italian Cypress trees are wonderfully equipped to handle being planted close. They grow up, which means that they won’t be competing with the adjacent tree for sunlight.

Right Tree, Right Place

Italian Cypress trees can grow up to 40’+ in ideal conditions, but more commonly grow up to 30′ at maturity. They can grow up to 3′ wide. Knowing this we can deduce that one should not plant this tree:

  • Under power lines or overhead structures
  • Within 20′ of your septic tank
  • Immediately adjacent to any hardscape***

***While I wouldn’t recommend planting almost any tree immediately adjacent to concrete or other hardscape, Italian Cypress trees do a great job of not being invasive or problematic. I’ve seen 25+ year old Italian Cypress trees planted in brick lined planters with no damage to the planter. Their relatively small trunks lack large structural roots that are responsible for displacing hardscapes.


Italian Cypress trees are not listed as toxic by the California Poison Control System and is not listed on Cornell’s list of plants that are poisonous to livestock:

Cornell University Plants Poisonous to Livestock –
California Poison Control System –