The Q&A Archives: Italian Cypress

Question: Would Italian Cypress be a good choice for a 20 foot by 3 foot irrigated area alongside the block wall in my back patio? The wall faces West. I am in the southwestern desert zone. Thank you! Barbara Bigelow

Answer: The site you describe may only support a few very heat-tolerant plants. I'm afraid an Italian Cypress might not tolerate the reflected heat. Here are a few suggestions for heat tolerant replacements:

Hoop's blue spruce (Picea pungens 'Hoopsii') - This spruce tree does well in the desert southwest. This tree is a bright blue and more so with new growth. Pyramidal form that holds stiff horizontal branches with dense silvery-blue mature needles. Full sun. Fast-growing to 30 to 50 feet high, 10 to 20 feet wide.

Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea pungens 'Glauca') - Another good spruce tree that will do great in the southwest. This Evergreen conifer and has a symmetrical, pyramidal form. Blue grey pine needles. Moderate grower to 40 to 60 feet high, 10 to 20 feet wide. It can take full sun and is an excellent pine for that forest look.

Afghan Pine (Pinus Eldrica) - Fast growing desert evergreen pine tree. Grows to about 70ft. tall and about 15ft. wide. Great border type evergreen. Use as a wind break barrier or as a standalone specimen tree. It does drop numerous pine cones and needles so there is alot of maintenance involved. This is one evergreen tree that is very drought tolerant once established.

Or, you might consider growing shrubs in the spot. The first that comes to mind is Cotoneaster. While it's generally considered a shrub, its natural arching shape makes it perfect for training onto a trellis attached to a wall. As an espalier, it's quite attractive with small, deep green foliage and bright orange berries. Cotoneaster is evergreen, so it will look nice all year around.

Red barberry (Berberis haematocarpa): A large bush with small, dark gray-green leaves that are prickly like holly. In early spring, it is filled with small yellow fragrant flowers attractive to pollinators. By early summer the shrubs are filled with red fruits. Red barberry is evergreen and grows to 12 feet high and across. Pruning will keep in smaller if desired.

Texas Ranger (Leucophyllum frutescens): Texas Ranger and other cenizos are all low-growing, Silver-leaved, attractive shrubs. A native of Texas and the Chihuahuan Desert, Texas Ranger blossoms in colors ranging from purple, to pink, to white. The flowers appear after a rain in spring, summer and autumn. Sometimes the flowers are so numerous that the foliage is almost hidden. Pruning will keep shrubs small if desired.

Hope these suggestions are helpful.

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