Cypress trees...what to do with 'em
January 14, 2012 10:40 AM   Subscribe

I have a row of cypress trees denoting one property line. There are 14 of them, about 30-40 ft. They are useless as a fence as the bottom 10 ft of each is completely denuded. Nothing grows in a 6 ft strip either side - is there some miracle plant that would enjoy this hostile environment? If I have them removed, will the soil recover? As an Englishman in Portland, Oregon, I'd dearly love a beech hedge there...
posted by nicktf to Home & Garden (7 answers total)
Hostas do well in the shade and can act as a low-maintenance ground cover, but maybe you're looking for something taller?
posted by exogenous at 11:18 AM on January 14, 2012

That's a really tough spot, as it tends to be very acidic and relatively dry under conifers. If you can plant somewhat outside the dripline you might have a better chance of establishment. If you want to fill in the open area, I would look at shrubs in the Ericaceae family because they tend to tolerate acidity. You don't say the aspect or soil type, so it's hard to narrow it down further. Vaccinium ovatum, the evergreen huckleberry, does okay in sun or shade and is native to the west coast. It grows taller in shade than in sun, and may need supplemental irrigation, especially to establish.

If you want to take them out, the soil will remain acidic for some time. Beech is relatively tolerant of acidic soil as long as it is not too compacted or dry.

The best thing to do is talk to one of your local nurseries who will have more specific recommendations, and will also be able to assess the feasibility of taking out the cypress.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:59 AM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Tall Oregon Grape would probably do well there, depending on exactly how dry it is under the trees.
Bonus for being native and attracting a wealth of birds.
posted by madajb at 12:19 PM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you pull them out, your local extension agent can help you with sweetening the soil to deacidify it.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:59 PM on January 14, 2012

I'd ask a Master Gardener in your area. Usually there are free services to help you find the right plants. Good luck!
posted by cyndigo at 1:46 PM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding the Master Gardener recommendation. I'm a Master Gardener-in-training in Portland, and this is exactly what we're here for! cyndigo's link has the hotline numbers and hours.

When you call, these are probably the things they're going to want to know: how acidic the soil under the trees is (we can guess that it is quite acidic, but you can pick up a pack of pH strips for about $4 at most places with a garden center), the amount of shade under the trees (probably a lot, which is fine), how dry the soil is and how much you're willing to water (this will probably be your biggest problem in finding a suitable plant), and possibly the species of cypress you're talking about (people call a lot of different things cypress).

You're not going to get a beech hedge to grow well there, sorry, even if you removed the trees. Around here a cherry laurel hedge can be used for a similar effect, and does well in some acidic soils and most shade levels, but needs a fair amount of water. I'd offer more advice but I'm still in training, so I think calling the hotlines would get you better results.
posted by emyd at 2:55 PM on January 14, 2012

You're not going to get a beech hedge to grow well there, sorry, even if you removed the trees.

I can't think of any reason why this would be the case... Beech forest floor soils normally range in pH from 4-6. Unless existing pH is more like 3.5 and the soil is extremely sandy with minimal buffering action, the beech would be fine (and ultimately modify the soil and raise the pH as long as their litter remained. This change from a coniferous-modified soil to a broadleaf-deciduous soil would be accelerated by the grinding out of the cypress stumps and the subsequent mixing of soil horizons). As BlueHorse pointed out, if a soil test indicates a need for raising the pH, this is relatively cheap and easy to do (the reverse not so much). Fagus sylvatica grows quite well in Portland, so unless there's something else I'm unaware of, a beech hedge should be okay. Some N supplementation would probably be called for while the remaining roots and sawdust were being decomposed the first season or two.

English/cherry laurel are very nice hedges, but are considered invasive in certain parts of the Northwest, so double check that.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:24 PM on January 14, 2012

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