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Deceiving Bald, Majestic Tree

One project always seems to lead to another. I find myself saying this all the time, especially when working in my garden.

I have noticed recently that sometimes one project leads to a different way of seeing things than you saw them before. As I continue with my project of transforming my formal garden into a simple Asian-inspired space, I have begun to see other parts of my garden in a different light.

Not to worry, I am keeping on task, but I have simply begun to observe and enjoy a few plants in a whole new way that have been in my garden for years.

In the area where I moved my old, iron Spanish table, I now have the opportunity to grow several tropical ferns due to the fabulous shade cast by the nearby bald cypress. This particular bald cypress, Taxodium distichum, is called ‘Shawnee Brave.’ It was planted when we moved in about 12 years ago and has grown quite tall. Now taller than our two-story home, we can expect it to reach a height of 50 feet or more.

Feathered bald cypress
One of the nice things about this specific cultivar is that it is quite narrow in comparison to the straight species, so it is right at home in my small urban garden. Currently, it is only about 10 feet wide and I don’t expect it to get more than 15 feet wide.

The foliage is what I have begun to observe in a whole new light. With the addition of my old table into the area, the summer foliage seems softer and more olive green to me than ever before. I am sure it has always been this beautiful, but my eyes are now totally focused on all its soft and subtle beauty.

The leaves are more like the tiny needles of an evergreen, but with a much softer fern-like texture. It looks like an evergreen, but in fact is a deciduous conifer (a cone-bearing tree that loses its needles or scales in autumn). This throws people off because what looks evergreen with small round cones starts to turn a beautiful cinnamon-rust color in autumn and loses all its leaves, or goes bald, thus the name.

I have heard stories of homeowners mistakenly cutting down a perfectly healthy bald cypress in the fall or early winter thinking it was an evergreen that was dead or dying. Bald cypress looks dead from fall until well into the spring. This proves that a little research goes a long way, or when in doubt, ask.

Over the years, our neighbors have come to enjoy the bald cypress in our garden as much as we do. They can see it rising high above our common fence near their water garden from the back of their house. Recently, they lost a large maple in the front of their house during a storm and asked if we would plant a bald cypress for them in its place. We were thrilled, of course, and agreed to plant one without hesitation.

Wet or dry soils
Our urban gardens prove that while bald cypress frequently does grow in standing water or very wet areas, especially in their native habitat, it is not always necessary for them to grow and thrive. My garden is naturally quite dry, and I suspect our neighbors’ is the same, and both bald cypress trees are very healthy and beautiful. They may simply grow at a slower rate in Kentucky’s drier areas.

An interesting and very versatile tree, the bald cypress can find a home in many garden situations and many environments. It is known for being incredibly strong and wind-resistant, and can last hundreds of years. It is very successfully planted singly, in a grouping where space permits, or in a row as a hedge.


by Angie McManus

We have two emerald green arborvitae trees that have turned almost completely brown on the top half, but are still green on the bottom. We did have bagworms and have treated them, but what should we do with the brown portion? Should we cut the brown portions off?

Bagworms are the most common problem with arborvitae. They can be very destructive, and if not controlled they can eventually kill your evergreens. Unfortunately, they are sometimes mistaken for cones and if they go unnoticed they can do damage that is irreversible.

Arborvitae, like other evergreens, will not put on new growth after the foliage is lost. You may consider removing the two that do not look good. Cutting the tops off will take away from the shape of the evergreen and since they are not healthy, they will eventually need to be removed.

The life cycle of these insects does not last just one season. They over-winter and new generations are produced every year, so keep an eye on your other arborvitae to make sure they are not infected.

To learn more about bagworms and control options, visit the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture site at, type in “bagworms” in the college search box at the bottom, and several helpful articles will pop up.




Go to, click on Home & Garden, then “Ask The Gardener” link to ask a question.

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