Should I plant a bald cypress in Central Texas?

Bald cypress, Taxodium distichum, are some of the most beautiful, largest and longest lived deciduous trees in Central Texas. I would like to buy some land, so I can plant a forest of these trees; I love them so much. They occur naturally around lakes and rivers, and are commonly planted around ponds and poorly drained areas where extra water can be found year-round. They are commonly referred to as deciduous redwoods.

Poorly drained areas where bald cypress trees generally occur are highly anaerobic, swampy (very low oxygen) areas. To help compensate for this, bald cypress trees have evolved ‘knees’ or upwardly growing roots that aid in gas exchange above the water. This should be taken into account when planting this species in your back yard, as they can play havoc with the lawn mower.

One widely planted variety of bald cypress in the Austin area, the Montesuma bald cypress, Taxodium mucronatum, naturally occurs along the desert riparian zones of the Rio Grande Valley, and is subsequently more drought tolerant than the more common variety. It also tends to put out very few ‘knees’, if any. Many of my customers have successfully planted and maintain these trees on their properties.

Another factor to consider when planting bald cypress trees is their high rate of growth. Under favorable conditions, these trees grow fast and get huge! How big? Take a boat or canoe trip on Lake Austin and you will see monsters. They are magnificent, but they need space. Also, the larger they get, the more water they require. If you want to plant them, they need space.

The biggest mistake people make when planting these trees is that they plant them in areas with poor, shallow soils and little or no summer water. Radiant heat along hot streets and in planters and areas between the sidewalk and the street are probably not good choices in this area for long-term survivability. So many times, I see entire rows of these trees turn brown after the first summer drought. Sunny, south facing back yards with too much sun on the roots, little to no irrigation or mulch, and shallow rocky soils may not be the best choice either.

Remember, you can’t water a bald cypress tree too much! It wants to grow in a pond! Water, water, water! And give it a lot of room. Montezuma cypress should be planted where less water is typical and in lawn areas where cypress knees can be problematic.