Cypress Bonsai

If you’re new to the art of bonsai, choosing from one of the many varieties of cypress is an excellent place to start. From the naturally tall and narrow Italian Cypress to the deciduous Bald Cypress, options abound in this plant family for the beginning bonsai enthusiast. Some cypress varieties can grow as tall as 120 feet in the wild.  While also popular for use in landscapes, and even as Christmas trees, cypresses can be trained into beautiful, classic bonsai.

Hinoki cypress bonsaiThe cypress family contains more than 100 different species, but several types in particular lend themselves to training as bonsai. The variety most recommended for beginners is the Bald Cypress, as it can easily adapt to most climates and thrives in all types of soil.  A native of southern swamps in the United States, the Bald Cypress is a deciduous conifer, so it will shed its needle-like leaves in the fall.  The Bald Cypress has feather-like foliage and turns orange and brown in the autumn. You can find most cypress varieties at garden centers and specialty nurseries; you can also grow your own cypress bonsai by taking a graft from an existing tree.

Like all members of the cypress family, the Bald Cypress requires more water than many other common bonsai species; it cannot tolerate dry soil, especially during the earliest stages of growth. When purchasing a container for your cypress bonsai, be sure to select a pot that retains water well.  Bald Cypresses, along with other cypress bonsai, should be placed outside in a sunny area; they should not be kept indoors.  These bonsai trees also need fertilizing about once a week during the spring and every two weeks over the summer.  During the winter, most cypress varieties do not require feeding.

All bonsai require regular pruning, and cypresses are no exception.  Bonsai experts recommend finger pruning on cypress trees rather than using scissors or pruning shears, as any cut marks can damage and discolor the delicate bark.   Because cypresses are so easily disfigured, care should be taken with the wiring and shaping process.  As the branches thicken, tight wires should be removed before they leave marks.  Bald Cypress trees can be shaped into most of the traditional bonsai styles, including upright, informal upright, and forest styles.  The Bald Cypress will need repotting every two or three years.

Other good choices for cypress bonsai include:

  • The Star Cypress has small, dark, light, or even silvery leaves that, with age, grow into a pyramid shape.  This member of the cypress family is also easily shaped into several styles, but because it grows very quickly it needs to be repotted annually in the early spring.
  • Another fast-growing evergreen, the Leyland Cypress can grow quite big – up to 60 or 70 feet – yet can also be cultivated as a bonsai if pruned rigorously to maintain its shape.  This conifer will keep its blue-green foliage all winter.  While the Leyland Cypress prefers sun, it does not do well in hot climates and is susceptible to a fungus called cypress canker.  Regular use of pesticides should be a routine part of all cypress care.
  • The Arizona Cypress is smaller and wider than other species and prefers full sun and temperate climates.   It is often grown as a Christmas tree; it has dense branches and a uniform shape with gray-green needles.  This cypress does better in dry conditions than other varieties.
  • If you really want to grow an indoor bonsai, the Italian Cypress likes a warm climate and can be kept inside.  It can be grown alone or in small groups representing a miniature forest.  Its foliage is also gray-green and grows in elegant sprays with tiny brown cones throughout the year, a rarity in bonsai trees.
  • The Japanese Cypress or Hinoki Cypress is a native of Japan with dark reddish-brown bark and small, green, scale-like leaves.  This is a slower-growing cypress that bears fairly large cones.  A popular ornamental tree found in Japanese gardens as well as in Europe and the U.S., the Japanese Cypress also makes an excellent bonsai.  A related species, the Sawara Cypress, has leaves with pointed tips and much smaller cones.