En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Saturday - July 26, 2008

From: Brooklyn, NY
Region: Northeast
Topic: Non-Natives, Container Gardens, Trees
Title: Failure to thrive of potted blue-green cypress
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I received a small 14" potted blue-green cypress for Christmas 2007. Kept it in a bright window, not direct sun. It was doing great until two weeks ago when it started turning brown from the center. Not dry, just brown. Put it outside in its pot for more sun. It's getting browner by the minute. What is wrong with it? Can this little tree be saved? Thank you very much.


We were puzzled about a couple of things: first, what exactly is a "blue-green cypress"? We were looking for a botanical name that might lead us to clues on what is wrong with your little tree. The closest we could come is xCupresscyparis leylandii, Naylor's Blue Leyland Cypress. The "x" in front of the botanical name is not a typo, it means this is a hybrid, and we know it is a non-native hybrid. This University of Florida Extension article Naylor's Blue Leyland Cypress tells us this is not a pot plant, but grows fairly rapidly and very large, requiring a large-scale landscape to fit in. We turned to our Native Plant Database, and found, among others, Cupressus bakeri (Modoc cypress) and Taxodium distichum (bald cypress). These are representative of the other cypresses listed, all members of the Cupressaceae family.

So, second question, what is one of these trees doing in a pot? These are all BIG trees. Furthermore, they are all conifers (cone-bearing trees) and have long, deep taproots. With a taproot like that, transplanting, even when they are quite small, is very difficult. If the taproot is broken in the process, the tree can quickly die. We're just speculating here, but we think what you got was intended as a seasonal decorative item, and never had any chance of growing or surviving much longer than it already has. When that baby tree's taproot hit the bottom of the pot, it began to decline. Putting it suddenly outside, without gradual seasoning, no doubt was the finishing touch. And, even had you transplanted that tree outside right after Christmas, it still probably would not have survived, since most of them prefer warmer temperatures than you would have in New York, although the USDA Plant Profile shows Taxodium distichum (bald cypress) growing in New York State. But it wouldn't be that particular tree, because it is one of the very few conifers that are deciduous, and drop their leaves in the Fall.

We're sorry we couldn't help you any more, and hope at least the pot was an attractive one you can reuse. But don't plant a cypress in it!


More Trees Questions

Holding an Acer rubrum in a container for two years
October 10, 2008 - Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, I am thinking about ordering a Red Maple tree that is cultivated from Mount Vernon. I appreciate the historic nature of such a tree. The tree will be shipped to me and is ...
view the full question and answer

Sap oozing from non-native Chinese pistache in San Antonio
September 07, 2011 - I live in San Antonio, and my chinese pistache is exuding copious amounts of a sticky sap from old trim sites and from the trunk itself. The tree is about 12 years old and has been healthy up until no...
view the full question and answer

How close can house be built to live oak from Austin
May 30, 2012 - We have a healthy 21" live oak tree on our lot and are planning to build a home in Circle C subdivision in southwest austin. The home foundation will be within 15' of the large live oak. Need your h...
view the full question and answer

Tree ordinances re Magnolia Ladybird Johnson tree
July 02, 2006 - What exactly is a Ladybird Johnson tree? Also, is there any type of federal or state law(s) that prohibits the cutting, trimming or removal of a LadyBird Johnson tree? Thank you for your time!
view the full question and answer

Seed germination for sugar maple (Acer saccharum)
December 15, 2007 - How can I germinate sugar maple?(step by step, please) I have some seeds but can't make them grow directly outside, so could you recommend a method which takes place inside?! I've heard something ab...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center