Wednesday, May 3, 2017

This Ain't Arizona, Y'all!

Cupressus arizona (Arizona cypress), not in its natural habitat

Well, if this is not Arizona, then why on Earth did I plant an Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica)?!

Even though most of my plant purchases are well-researched, I still sometimes succumb to the lure of impulse buys during a nursery visit.

I knew that I needed/wanted some more evergreen trees and shrubs for a privacy screen I'm trying to establish along the edges of my property.

I also knew that biodiversity is a good thing, but that there aren't many choices when it comes to tough, evergreen screening plants that can handle Tennessee extremes (90-100 degree heat and humidity in the summer, single degree cold snaps in winter, heavy clay soil that alternates between mud and concrete consistencies, etc.)

So when the nursery employee suggested Arizona cypress 'Carolina Sapphire' as an underutilized evergreen tree that might be even tougher than the old standbys in our area (Leyland cypress, 'Green Giant' arborvitae), I grabbed an affordable 3-gallon shrub sitting nearby and headed to the cash register.

Apparently that was a big mistake.

Ain't looking much like a sapphire...

The shrub languished for a couple of weeks and then went precipitously downhill, soon turning brown, crispy and by all appearances, dead.

What went wrong?

Well, I can think of two potential huge problems:

1) Roots/Shoots Mismatch - This was a tall plant. That's appealing when you're looking for instant impact, but I'm thinking it was grown in a sheltered, pampered life among lots of other Arizona cypress plants. Suddenly, it was out in the open on a hilltop, getting buffeted by wind storms. (We've had some doozies this year with straight-line winds around 60-70 mph.) The petite 3-gallon root system couldn't hold the tree upright in the storm, so I went out one day and found it keeled over. I'm sure that was a shock to its system. Even though I promptly propped it upright and staked it in place, it went from moping to failing after that.

That's why usually it's probably a better idea to buy a plant based on the size and health of its roots rather than its top-growth. The top-growth is sexier, but I think you're much more likely in the long run to have a healthy plant if you get a shrub or tree with a substantial root system and modest top-growth rather than the other way around.

2) Two words - Wet Clay - Quoting the Arizona Tree Experts Blog - "Very hardy to many growing conditions: heavy clays, rocky and thin, sloped; they’ll grow pretty much anywhere in the Austin area. The one thing they do need is drainage so don’t confuse them with bald cypress that will grow in constantly wet conditions."

Now it's true we're on a hilltop, but the Arizona cypress was planted on flat ground in the back that can stay sodden for days after a heavy rain or a lot longer than that after a series of rains.

Maybe it would have fared better if I'd planted it on the slope in front of the house?

Will I try Arizona cypress again?

Nope, I don't think so.

I mean, if I lived in Arizona I might try it, but not here in Tennessee. 

I'd much rather plant a tough, forgiving true native like eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) or a regional native like yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria). 

Usually, I like to champion the mantra of "Right plant, right place."

In this case, I'd say my actions would be more aptly described by, "Wrong plant, wrong place."

That's OK. Most of the new additions - the ones I planned out in advance - have worked pretty well so far this year. I'll chalk it up to a learning experience and try to remember this debacle next time I'm tempted to give in to an impulse purchase temptation...

How about you? Any impulse gardening purchases that went awry recently? Or do you prefer to quietly bury your mistakes at the edge of your property? 😏


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