Bald Cypress Bonsai Care Guide
The Bald (or Swamp) Cypress, which has origins in Mexico and the United States – comes from the genus Taxodium, which consists of two species: Taxodium distichum (Swamp Cypress) and Taxodium ascendens (Pond Cypress). Both may be used for bonsai, although the Bald Cypress is much more commonly seen as such.
This tree thrives in hot, moist conditions, and tends to be found throughout the American south, though it also grows as far north as Massachusetts and Minnesota.
A deciduous conifer, this is a hardy tree, capable of living up to 800-1000 years.
The Bald Cypress has double rows of small needles growing on narrow green twigs. The needles turn brown in autumn and drop along with the fronds. The bark is gray or brown and has ridges of a scaly, fibrous nature, and the tree is conical and upright. These trees grow quite vigorously and offer good leaf reduction (by about half), as well as a root system that can experience significant visible growth in just one season.
Temperature / Lighting / Location:
The Bald Cypress bonsai should be kept outdoors (but can be kept inside if exposed to enough sunlight during the day and kept cool for dormancy), and can tolerate cold down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. If winters are more severe, be sure to shelter it from extreme temperatures and use needles or leaves to protect the roots.
These trees grow best in a climate with a hot summer, and need full sunlight.
Don't worry about over-watering this bonsai, it thrives in swampy soils. If kept outdoors, particularly in summer, it may need watering more than once a day. Water by filling the pot right to the rim.
The soil pH should be maintained between 6.5 and 7.5. Fertilize weekly with 10/10/10 throughout the spring. In late summer through fall, reduce frequency to bi-weekly. After your tree goes dormant, offer it a dose of 0-10-10 and then refrain from fertilizing until the next spring.
Hold off on cutting your new Bald Cypress for a few years, or else you run the risk of it developing a narrow, scraggly trunk. This bonsai species is well suited for informal upright, upright, literati, slanting, double trunk, and group shapes. Hard prune in late winter, this will spur new growth. Pruning may be carried out throughout the summer, and new growth will appear at the pruning site. To thicken a branch, allow it to grow for a season or two before trimming.
Great care must be taken with this fast-growing bonsai because wires can easily cut into the branches as they thicken. Either keep a very close eye on the wires, or use raffia to tie the branches to the pot's rim or even to a lower place on the trunk. Shape foliage by pinching it back by hand in the spring and summer – do not cut the needles as brown spots will appear at the cuts.
Bald Cypress can be propagated by seeds, cuttings, or air layering. Perform layering in the spring, and plant cuttings throughout most of the year.
Only repot or prune the roots in the spring. Because the root system of the cypress grows exceptionally fast, you should root prune at least every other year, unless you want to develop cypress knees. Knees – those unique lumpy growths at the foot of full-grown cypresses – can be reproduced in a bonsai by waiting about three years to repot, then gently arranging the "knees" to poke out of the soil a bit.
The soil should be heavy, swampy, and wet, unlike that of most bonsai species. The tree needs this heavier soil to retain enough moisture. Root rot is very rare in these trees so it's very unlikely that you'll get a soil that retains too much moisture for the cypress.
Use a shallow, flat, preferably earthen-ware type pot, as these mimic the tree's natural habitat and the colors are complimentary to the look of the cypress. The container needs to be able to hold up to a lot of moisture.
Insects / Pests & Diseases:
One of the major benefits of the Bald Cypress bonsai is that it doesn't lend itself to very many pests. The worst problem that may occur is twig blight, a fungus that attacks when the tree has dead or wounded tissue, generally due to stress from over-pruning. This disease will kill branch tips; you should immediately remove them as soon as identified. Proper pruning and fertilization can ward off twig blight.
The Bald Cypress is a beautiful and classic choice in a bonsai, even for a beginner. Its evergreen appearance as well as its growth rate – offering a quick reward for the new bonsai artist – make it a highly desirable species. With its thirst for water and resistance to most insects, it's also easy to care for, making it the perfect tree for beginners and veterans alike.