How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Lemon Cypress Trees

Looking for a stunning and versatile addition to your garden or houseplant jungle? Lemon cypress offers just that with year-round interest, a delicious lemon fragrance, a tidy habit, and relatively easy care requirements. Gardening expert Katherine Rowe walks us through guidelines on how to plant, grow, and care for lemon cypress all year.

Close-up of two potted Lemon Cypress plants against a gray wooden wall. The pots are made of clay, with decorative wicker elements. The Lemon Cypress has feathery, scale-like leaves that are bright lemon-yellow. The foliage is arranged in dense sprays, creating a compact and conical form.

Contents

Lemon cypress is a popular plant during the holidays, where we find it in decorative containers ready to gift and to use as tabletop decorations. Hold onto that tree beyond the holiday season – it makes a beautiful houseplant year-round!

It’s also a valuable landscape tree, adding a burst of color and fine texture against darker foliage as a specimen in the garden bed or among natural landscape elements like rocks.

The narrow, upright habit suits it for various garden and household locations. Employ it as a hedge, garden specimen, topiary, bonsai, or container feature. This plant lends outstanding ornamental value to its interior or exterior garden location.

Overview

Close-up of Lemon Cypress leaves against a blurred bright green foliage background. The Lemon Cypress is a captivating evergreen shrub with feathery, lemon-scented, bright yellow-green foliage. The aromatic, scale-like leaves densely cover the branches, providing a lush and textural appeal.
Plant Type Tree
Family Cupressaceae
Genus Hesperocyparis
Species macrocarpa
Native Area California
Exposure Full to part sun
Height 16 feet
Watering Requirements Low
Pests & Diseases Borers, aphids, armillaria, root rot
Maintenance Low
Soil Type Sandy, well-drained
Hardiness Zone 7-10

What Is Lemon Cypress?

Lemon cypress is an aromatic beauty that emits a fresh, lemony-citrus scent when brushing or crushing foliage. Most notable for its vibrant yellow-green color and pyramidal form, it is a cultivar of Monterey cypress.

Monterey cypress grows much larger, reaching 80’ tall, with a broad, windswept habit and dark green needles.

Characteristics

Close-up of a Lemon Cypress plant against a blurred background. The scale-like leaves, arranged in dense clusters, create a textured surface with a glossy finish. The leaves are greenish-yellow.
This vibrant, columnar evergreen tree has chartreuse-yellow foliage.

This striking columnar evergreen tree has a bold color and a fine texture. The needled foliage is chartreuse-yellow, especially in summer. Outdoors in cool weather it may take on an orange tinge, flushing yellow again as temperatures warm.

With its needled and aromatic foliage, lemon cypress is resistant to damage by deer and rabbits.

This is a dwarf tree that reaches 6-12 feet in the landscape and less in a container. ‘Goldcrest Wilma’ is perfect for containers at a maximum height of three feet.

Native Area

View of a row of four tall Lemon Cypress trees in a garden with sunlight. Lemon Cypress trees (Cupressus macrocarpa 'Goldcrest') present a striking and elegant appearance. These evergreen trees boast a pyramid-shaped form with dense, feathery branches that are adorned with small, scale-like leaves. The foliage is a vibrant lemon-yellow color.
Lemon cypress is popular in the United States, Europe, New Zealand, and Australia for its vibrant landscape appeal.

This tree is native to the Central Coast of California. Its parent plant, the Monterey cypress, occurs naturally in two groves localized to Monterey Bay. The Monterey cypress is nearly extinct in the wild but is widely cultivated as a landscape specimen.

The lemon cypress is of garden origin and has become popular in the United States, Europe, New Zealand, and Australia as a vibrant landscape tree.

It prefers mild climates with cool summers and wet winters. California’s Central Coast experiences a Mediterranean climate with arid, warm seasons and moderate cool seasons. Sandy soils and coastal breezes are the norm in its native climate.

Planting

While hardy in USDA zones 7-10, it is also a viable houseplant. In colder climates, grow in a pot to bring indoors in the winter. The dwarf nature makes it ideal for container culture, where it can live in a suitable container for three to four years before transplanting.

Transplanting

Close-up of a gardener's hand planting a Lemon Cypress seedling into the soil in a sunny garden. Seedling features slender stems with tiny, needle-like leaves emerging in a soft, pale green hue. Nearby stands an empty black plastic pot and a blue garden trowel.
You can transplant from a container to the garden in early spring for optimal acclimatization.

You can transplant the trees from their container to the in-ground garden in fall and spring. Early spring is ideal when the plant can adapt to its new environment without extreme temperatures during the growing season.

If moving to a larger container, opt for one that’s at least one inch larger in diameter than the existing pot. Give roots a little trim to allow more space for growth in the new pot and to keep the plant suited to its container-growing culture. Dwarf varieties can live for years in pots without outgrowing them.

Growing from Seed

Close-up of Monterey Cypress cones growing on branches, against a blurred green background. Monterey Cypress cones exhibit a distinctive appearance characterized by their small to medium size and woody texture. The cones are ovoid or spherical in shape, featuring a series of tightly packed scales that form a compact structure.The color of the cones is brown as they are mature, and they have a slightly lustrous coating.
This garden cultivar forms small, round cones, but seeds do not yield the same plant as the parent.

Lemon cypress is a garden cultivar, and while it produces small, roundish uniform cones, seeds won’t produce the same plant as the parent. Essentially, seeds aren’t true to form as they would be in the native Monterey cypress. It’s best to propagate from cuttings.

How to Grow

The punchy, lemony-green color brings joy to the outdoor and indoor garden, and their carefree nature makes them a joy to grow. In their hardiness zones, they are easy-care and drought-tolerant trees once established.

In containers, they require much the same treatment as other potted plants – lots of light, good air circulation, and consistently moist, well-drained soils.

Light

Close-up of Lemon Cypress in a green plastic pot on a light windowsill. This coniferous tree features a pyramidal shape and dense, feathery branches adorned with small, scale-like leaves. The foliage stands out in a vibrant lemon-yellow color.
It prefers the morning sun and bright light, avoiding direct afternoon rays.

This dwarf tree prefers direct sunlight for at least 4-6 hours. In the garden, plant in full to partial sun. They can benefit from afternoon sun protection in hot climates, where they may scorch.

As houseplants, place them where they get morning sun and bright light throughout the day. Again, avoid direct afternoon rays in an interior spot.

Water

Close-up of watering a young Lemon Cypress from an orange watering can with a white spray nozzle. The plant has a pyramidal shape, and dense, feathery branches with small, scale-like leaves of lime green color.
Keep soil consistently moist for good root establishment in the first growing season.

While they are relatively easy care plants, they need water to get established in their first growing season. In the landscape, water regularly to achieve moist, but not soggy, soil. Plant in a location where soils are well-draining, as they don’t tolerate standing water.

In a container, water weekly (or as needed before the soil dries). Err on the dry side rather than overwatering, as wet soil can lead to root rot. They prefer evenly moist soil in a well-draining container.

Soil

Close-up of a young Lemon Cypress seedling in a small plastic black pot in the garden, on the soil, next to a dug hole. The seedling has dense, feathery branches adorned with tiny scale-like leaves of a yellowish-green hue. In the blurred background there is a small garden trowel with a blue blade and a wooden handle.
Lemon cypress thrives in sandy, rocky, and dry conditions, tolerating various soil pH levels.

The natural environment is sandy, rocky, and dry, with generally poor soils. These tough plants can withstand arid conditions and aren’t picky about soil pH. Nutrient-rich soils can lead to rapid growth, where the upper plant outpaces the root system.

The shallow root system can’t support the upright plant against wind and may cause the plant to topple over. It’s vital to give adequate time to establish a robust root system without external soil amendment.

In a container, a traditional potting mix works well. Opt for one with bark mix to ensure good drainage. Here, we can worry less about a landscape plant growing faster than the roots (although the roots are just as important!). If potting soil is very dense, consider mixing in a small amount of sand or native dirt, remembering that these lead to soil drying out more quickly in a container.

Temperature and Humidity

Close up, the branches of the Lemon Cypress in the garden against a blurred background. Clusters of small, scale-like leaves densely clothe the branches, creating a textured and lush canopy. The leaves, in a brilliant lemon-yellow hue, impart a vivid and refreshing aesthetic. The branches exhibit a graceful arrangement, forming a compact and conical silhouette.
This evergreen plant flourishes in Mediterranean climates and requires protection from below-freezing temperatures.

The ideal environment mimics coastal Mediterranean climates with cool, wet winters, dry summers, and ocean breezes. Ideal summer temperatures are below 80 degrees. In winter, below-freezing temperatures can damage or kill the plant. They benefit from winter protection, especially against winds, even where they are hardy.

Bringing these ideal natural conditions indoors can be challenging, but the proper placement ensures success. Place your plant away from air conditioning and heating vents to avoid drying drafts. Protect it from the afternoon sun to prevent scorching the foliage. Five to six hours of bright, indirect sun (or morning sun only) is best.

To increase humidity indoors, use a tray with water and pebbles at the pot’s base or mist as needed. This may be most useful in winter when heat and fireplaces can have a drying effect.

Fertilizing

Close-up of Lemon Cypress leaves protruding from a wooden fence in a garden against a blurred background. Examining the Lemon Cypress leaves up close reveals a captivating tapestry of small, scale-like foliage. These lemon-yellow leaves, arranged densely along the branches, form a luscious and aromatic canopy.
It requires minimal fertilizing in both landscape and container settings.

Because this species performs best in poor soils, minimal (if any) fertilizing is needed, both in the landscape and in a container. If you’re noticing the plant isn’t flushing out of its winter form quickly, or if it’s been in the same container for some time and the soil needs a boost, it’s best to fertilize in early spring.

Maintenance

Close-up of gardener's hands with large Silverline Hedge Shears trimming a tall Cypress tree in the garden. The Silverline Hedge Shears boast a sleek and functional design, featuring precision blades ideal for trimming and shaping hedges. The shears are characterized by sharp, stainless steel blades with a distinctive silver finish. The Cypress tree presents a stately and distinctive appearance characterized by its tall, slender silhouette. The branches of the Cypress create an elegant, conical shape, and the scale-like leaves are arranged in flattened sprays, giving the tree a feathery texture.
This tree needs minimal pruning, naturally retaining a narrow, pyramidal shape.

The naturally tidy form means it requires little pruning. It retains a narrow, pyramidal growth habit throughout its life. Prune any “stray” stems or branches or trim if using the plant as a hedge, bonsai, or topiary in early spring.

You may notice a little brown on the tips where cut; this is normal, and new growth will flush out bright yellow-green.

Propagation

You’ll see these readily available at nurseries in their hardiness zones. Outside these zones, look for them near the holiday season. For the ambitious gardener, consider taking cuttings from healthy stems to propagate more plants.

Cuttings

Close-up of freshly planted white cedar, cypress and juniper cuttings in black plastic pots, outdoors. The pots are small, plastic, glossy, square. The cuttings are short, have vertical stems and several scale-like green leaves.
Propagate by taking a four-to-six-inch stem cutting and planting it in a well-draining potting mix.

This is a semi-hardwood plant that is best propagated through cuttings. With a few steps and early monitoring, cuttings can produce new plants. 

Here’s how best to take cuttings:

  • Cut a four-to-six-inch piece of stem from a healthy branch. Cut the stem at a 45-degree angle to ensure more water and rooting hormone coverage.
  • Remove the foliage from the bottom ⅔ of the cutting. Keep cuttings moist until ready to pot.
  • Moisten the cutting and dip the lower stem in rooting hormone, coating generously. Tap off any excess rooting powder.
  • Plant the cutting in at least two inches of moist, well-draining potting mix.
  • Create a mini greenhouse environment by covering the pot with a plastic bag, closing with a twist tie, or using sticks to hold the bag away from the fresh stem.
  • Place the pot in a bright, warm location, avoiding direct sunlight (which can make the environment too hot).
  • Water as needed, keeping the soil evenly moist. Lift the plastic daily to allow air circulation, and mist the cutting if dry.
  • The cutting is ready to be repotted when it gives resistance against a gentle tug. This means roots have taken hold.
  • Plant the cutting in a pot, keeping it indoors in a bright spot or moving outside if conditions are mild.

Varieties of this plant come in a wide range of sizes. Both ‘Goldcrest’ and ‘Wilma Goldcrest’ are well-suited to the garden or the container, and both dwarf varieties do particularly well in pots. ‘Goldcrest’ tends to be slower-growing with denser branching than the popular dwarf selection ‘Wilma Goldcrest.’

Hesperocyparis macrocarpa ‘Wilma Goldcrest’

Close-up of Hesperocyparis macrocarpa 'Wilma Goldcrest,' in a sunny garden. This compact coniferous shrub boasts vibrant, lemon-yellow foliage. The foliage consists of flattened sprays of aromatic, scale-like leaves that create a dense, columnar shape.
‘Wilma Goldcrest’ is a fast-growing hybrid featuring an open branching habit and a mature height of six feet.

This variety is a winning hybrid between the Monterey cypress and the dwarf selection ‘Goldcrest.’ ‘Wilma Goldcrest’ is fast-growing with a more open branching habit than ‘Goldcrest.’ A mature ‘Wilma Goldcrest’ can reach six feet tall instead of the 12-foot tall ‘Goldcrest.’

Common Problems

This ornamental tree can be susceptible to damage in cold and hot extremes. Dieback can occur in these conditions and with prolonged dry soil unless established in the landscape. It is also prone to certain pests that can be treated and diseases that are more demanding to control.

Pests

Close-up of Borer larvae in the roots of a tree. Borer larvae, the immature stage of wood-boring beetles, exhibit a slender, cylindrical body with a distinct, hardened head capsule. It has cream to white coloration and a segmented body.
Reduce the damage that pests can do by maintaining a healthy, vigorous plant.

Borers and cypress aphids can pose problems for this plant. Borers live among the roots and become bark beetles. The best control is prevention through cultural practices. Keep soil evenly moist to keep plants vigorous.

Fluctuation between periods of drought and overwatering can stress the plant and increase susceptibility to borers. If borers are present, remove the plant and soil to keep them from spreading elsewhere in the garden.

When growing it outdoors, spray the plant with water occasionally during warm months when pests are most active to deter and knock insects off the stems. A simple horticultural soap can rid the plant of aphids if infestation occurs. 

Diseases

Armillaria, Phytophthora, Botrytis, and Coryneum canker are common diseases. Most of these are caused (or added to) by irregularities in soil moisture and air circulation that can lead to a less vigorous plant.

Armillaria

Close-up of a cluster of honey-brown mushrooms, commonly identified as Armillaria, on the bark of a tree. The cap of these mushrooms is convex and has a light tan color, featuring darker scales that radiate outward from the center.
Honey fungus targets and kills plant roots. The appearance of a white powdery substance or honey-brown mushrooms can identify it.

Armillaria, or honey fungus, attacks and kills the roots of many perennial and woody plants. It often appears as a white powdery substance at the ground level of the bark. Sometimes, clusters of honey-brown mushrooms appear above the soil.

Armillaria can cause sudden death of the plant. If this fungus is present, excavating and removing the plant and soil is the only control. Remove the infected area to keep it from spreading to other garden areas.

Phytophthora

Close-up of a cypress plant affected by Phytophthora, in the garden. The vibrant and lush foliage of the cypress becomes discolored, taking on a brown hue. The branches exhibit dieback and withering.
This fungal root rot leads to gradual plant decline by affecting feeder roots.

Phytophthora is a fungal root rot that causes a slow decline of the plant, impacting feeder roots so they can’t uptake water and nutrients.

The best control is proper cultural management, especially in not overwatering the roots. A fungicide can be applied if the plant shows signs of stress like leaf drop and brown or decaying feeder roots.

Botrytis

Close-up of cypress branches affected by Botrytis disease. Leaves have brown spots and “fluffy mold” on the surface. The leaves of the plant are scale-like and are arranged in flattened sprays.
Treat by pruning off infected areas, providing outdoor air ventilation, and using fungicides.

Botrytis root rot is a fungal disease, especially prevalent in high-humidity conditions with limited air circulation. Brown spots and “fluffy mold” are indicators of botrytis.

To treat botrytis, trim the infected areas and place the plant outdoors with good air ventilation. Plants can be sprayed with a fungicide as a last resort. Take care not to overwater or overfertilize, which weakens the plant.

Coryneum Canker

Close-up of a gardener's hands pushing apart the branches of a cypress plant to show areas affected by Coryneum Canker. The branches of the cypress are densely packed with scale-like leaves that are arranged in flattened sprays, giving the tree a lush and layered texture. The leaves are dark green. In the area affected by the disease, the leaves are brown.
Entering existing plant wounds, Coryneum canker causes lesions and branch dieback.

Coryneum canker, or cypress canker, is a fungus characterized by lesions on bark and stems and branch dieback. This fungus moves into already-existing wounds on the plant, especially during periods of prolonged fog or moisture.

Again, the best control is preventative – a plant well-adapted to its environment is less susceptible. If cypress canker occurs, remove affected branches to prevent spread to the whole plant.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I keep my lemon cypress beyond the holiday season?

Yes! Keep them year-round as houseplants and as garden specimens. Make sure to offer plenty of light, evenly moist soil, and winter protection. The bright foliage makes a striking addition to the landscape or interiorscape in any season.

How big do lemon cypress get?

These are dwarf cultivars of the larger Monterey cypress. ‘Goldcrest’ can grow to 12 feet tall and 6 feet wide in the landscape and much smaller in a container. ‘Wilma Goldcrest’ is even more dwarfed at a maximum of six feet tall in the landscape and as small as three feet in a container.

How do you overwinter lemon cypress?

In USDA hardiness zones 7-10, it can be planted in the landscape. Offer protection from winter winds, even where hardy. In colder climates, keep your plant in a container and move it indoors during winter. Keep soil evenly moist in a well-drained pot, and keep away from heat vents and fireplaces to avoid excessive drying.

Final Thoughts

With its striking color, form, and lemony fragrance, it’s no wonder lemon cypress has achieved The Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit

Use this pretty tree as a landscape specimen, hedge, topiary, bonsai, or container planting. Pair it with winter hardy annuals like violas and pansies for high contrast during cooler seasons. In warmer months, the chartreuse color and fine texture are beautiful against deep purple foliage plants like heuchera and bladed leaves of ornamental grasses. Its cheery and bright needles add an unparalleled punch to the garden.

SHARE THIS POST
A concrete soil bed nestling areca palm trees, adding a touch of tropical elegance to the garden. Interspersed among the taller areca palms, short and charming plants complete the scene.

Trees

How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Areca Palms

Are you looking for a low-maintenance tropical tree that makes an excellent houseplant? Areca Palm is a wonderful plant that thrives in a consistent environment inside the home. In this article, gardening expert Melissa Strauss shares all you need to know to grow this pretty tree.

Homemade Gift box wrapped in kraft paper and pink Sedum flowers on wooden table.

Product Reviews

27 Best Gifts for Advanced Gardeners

The gardener in your life will deeply appreciate a thoughtful gift to help them grow more food or flowers, but it may be overwhelming to figure out what to buy them if you don’t know much about gardening. Former organic farmer Logan Hailey has you covered with the best holiday gardening presents for any budget!

Four thriving potted herbs arranged on a sun-kissed terrace. Their vibrant leaves create a lush, aromatic display against the backdrop of the outdoors. The herbs soak in the warm sunlight, embracing nature's nurturing embrace.

Herbs

13 Easy Herbs to Grow in Containers

If you don’t have the space for an expansive outdoor herb garden, these 13 herbs are proven to grow well in containers, allowing you to grow whatever you fancy with limited space.