The University of Georgia's premier woody plant expert, Dr. Michael Dirr, comments that Europeans consider the bald cypress one of the finest North American trees. Many American gardeners and landscape architects feel the same. This relative of the redwood tree bears cones and drops its feathery needles in autumn after a rusty-orange display. Grow bald cypress in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 5 through 10.
Bald cypress trees grow naturally in swamps, flood plains and along the edges of lakes and rivers across the coastal plain of the American Southeast: the Delmarva Peninsula to southern Texas and up the Mississippi Valley to the southern tip of Illinois.
Becoming a tall, narrow pyramidal tree to a height of 50 to 70 feet and a width of 25 feet, the bald cypress tree can grow as tall as 100 feet with great age. It is a deciduous tree, which is unusual for a cone-bearing conifer plant. Its feathery needles emerge in spring a bright sea-foam green and deepen to medium green in summer. In early spring, male catkins release pollen that is received by small, rounded clusters of female cones that then ripen to a reddish brown by autumn. Autumn frosts also cause the fern-like foliage to attain orange to rusty bronze tones before dropping off. In winter, the shredding red-brown bark is very noticeable and the many twigs and branches create an architectural silhouette. In very wet or seasonally flooding soils, the roots create upright, knobby "knees" around the flaring trunk base. These knees do not form in upland, average garden settings.
Plant bald cypress trees in an acidic soil (pH below 7.0) in full sun to partial sun locations. Tolerant of wet soils that occasionally flood, they also grow very well in moist but well-draining garden soils far from the water's edge. Trees grow fastest in deep, moist, fertile soils that never flood, according to Floridata. Saplings grown from seed in flooding, saturated container soils transplant well directly into the shallow water's edge, but do not take a regular sapling in a typical potting soil mix and plant it into waterlogged soils and expect it to survive. Once established, bald cypress trees tolerate considerable drought as well as some urban air pollution. Alkaline soils or excessively dry soils cause premature leaf drop.
Bald cypress makes a lovely ornamental tree when growing on the edge of a lake or stream, in a large hedgerow or in informal clustered groves. It grows well as a street tree in large medians where it receives irrigation. Cypress wood is revered for its longevity and resistance to moisture, making it a great lumber for docks, decks, foot bridges, roof shingles and buildings. Shredded bark from trees cut down for development are made into landscape mulch.
Few pests and diseases afflict the bald cypress. "Pecky cypress" is a brown fungal rot that affects old tree heartwood, and a few other needle or twig fungi can cause minor problems. Several insects can cause discoloration and defoliation of trees, including cypress flea beetle, cypress looper, bagworm, southern cypress bark beetle and bald cypress coneworm.