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Tuesday - September 14, 2010

From: Mackinaw, IL
Region: Midwest
Topic: Trees
Title: Bald cypress trees for yard in Mackinaw IL
Answered by: Barbara Medford


We are looking at planting a few bald cypress trees in our front yard. I have heard of the extensive root system that these trees have and wonder how far away from a septic system and the house foundation they need to be. We also have an in ground pool in the back of the house and I was wondering if the leaves or needles fall straight down in the fall or if they fall as a clump (meaning attached to the center stem and not individual needles). I am concerned with the height of the tree that wind blown individual needles may cause pool problems.


Taxodium distichum (Bald cypress) is one of our favorite trees, but we are not sure it would  be suitable for a residential yard, unless the property were quite large. The "knees" can extend up over the soil, and make mowing, or even planting, grass almost impossible. We can't give you an exact distance from foundations and septic systems, because the bald cypress develops differently in different soils.

Looking at this USDA Plant Profile, it shows the bald cypress growing only in the southern tip of Illinois. This doesn't mean it won't grow anywhere else, but it has found the soils and growing conditions it likes there. Tazewell County IL is in USDA Hardiness Zone 5b. This tree is hardy in Zones 5 to 10, so that should be acceptable for the tree.

We extracted some information from this Floridata article Taxodium distichum, which we urge you to read all of, in particular noting the pictures. The bald cypress can grow to 130 ft. tall, it is pyramid-shaped, but the crown may spread 60 ft. or more. It grows rapidly, but can live to be 500 years old. Since most tree roots extend beyond the crown "dripline" or "shade line," it would not be long before those roots were following the moisture in the septic lines or burrowing under your foundation, again looking for moisture. Another comment from this article:

"Bald-cypress makes a fine specimen tree for very large landscapes. They are best suited to wet areas, lake margins, and the like, but as noted above, they will thrive in normal, even dry soils."

From our Native Plant Database on Taxodium distichum, here are some of its Growing Conditions:

"Water Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
Soil pH: Acidic (pH<6.8)
CaCO3 Tolerance: None
Cold Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Wet, acidic mucks, sands & loams. Sandy, Sandy Loam, Medium Loam, Clay Loam, Clay." 

 "Native Habitat: Swamps; stream banks, Along streams and riparian areas in moist soils. Sand, loam, clay, limestone; poor drainage is fine." 

Does that sound like your yard? If so, we would recommend it. As we do not know what your soil is, how big the space is, nor where the septic lines are, you will have to be the judge on whether your property can host these trees.

Pictures of Bald Cypress from our Native Plant Image Gallery:

Taxodium distichum






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