How to Plant Bald Cypress Trees in Water
When looking to acquire a bald cypress tree to plant in a shallow area of a lake or pond, ask the nursery if they have any seedlings that have been grown in saturated soil conditions.
Michael Dirr, author of "Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs," notes that young bald cypress trees develop a large taproot and are difficult to transplant successfully. Plant a container-grown seedling so the taproot remains intact during planting.
Bare-root tree seedlings need to remain moist during transport to the planting site and take extra care so no roots are broken during any stage of planting. The seedlings need as much root tissue and support as possible after planting to grow and establish.
Native to stream banks, moist woodlands and seasonally flooded lowlands across the southeastern United States, the bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) is well-known for developing protruding "knees" or angular roots in mucky soil. The U.S. Department of Agriculture notes that seeds do not germinate under water and young seedlings eventually die if they are submerged longer than 30 days, according to the University of Florida. Therefore, plant young bald cypress trees at water's edge on firm soil or wait until a dry period lowers the water level. The seedling must establish in the moist soil with natural seasonal fluctuations of flood waters; only trees used to wet conditions over time readily survive constant submersion of their roots and lower trunk in water.
Wait to plant until weather and climate conditions favor the establishment of the newly planted tree. The USDA recommends air temperatures between 35 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit and winds less than 10 mph. The University of Florida suggests planting when the trees are dormant (no leaves present) such as in fall or early spring. Alternatively, wait until the water level drops so you can plant the tree in mucky or damp soil rather than submerged water.
Put on waterproof boots, such as rubber wader boots, so you can maintain sound and comfortable footing in the wet soil. Also wear rubber gloves since they help with grip and traction when handling the shovel or tree.
Dig a hole deep and wide enough to house the root ball of the bald cypress tree. Dig the hole deep enough so that the root collar -- the transitional area where the trunk widens/flares out into roots -- is at or just below the soil level.
Remove the bald cypress tree from the container and place into the planting hole. Wedge the mucky soil back into the hole and press it up against the root ball with your gloved hands. If you plant bare-rooted seedlings, you may need to make the hole slightly deeper and wider to accommodate all the roots since you don't want to bend or cram the roots into the hole. Make sure the tree is upright in the hole.
Water the planting area to saturate the soil. This helps eliminate air pockets in the soil around the tree's root ball and brings soil particles in direct contact with the roots. If the tree is flimsy and rocks in the soil after watering, add extra soil and tamp it down gently with your hands so the seedling stands upright.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture (Forest Service): Taxodium Distichum
- North Carolina Forest Service: Riparian and Wetland Tree Planting Pocket Guide
- "Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs"; Michael A. Dirr; 1997
- University of Arkansas Extension: Bald Cypress
Jacob J. Wright became a full-time writer in 2008, with articles appearing on various websites. He has worked professionally at gardens in Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Wright holds a graduate diploma in environmental horticulture from the University of Melbourne, Australia, and a Master of Science in public horticulture from the University of Delaware.