As Christmas approaches, lemon cypress plants emerge, draped in holiday costumes. You have seen these small, yellow evergreens for sale at garden centers, food markets, and gift shops. Greenstreet Gardens is selling a gnome carrying a basket with a lemon cypress. The gift shop at Longwood Gardens has draped them in mini lights. A few years ago, Trader Joe’s sold Grump trees inspired by Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The trees were wrapped to bend and droop with a large ornament. Admittedly, these are cute and would make great gifts but then what? How do you take care of the live plant?
The lemon cypress is a yellow-colored form of the Monterey cypress (formerly named Cupressus macrocarpa, and now called Hesperocyparis macrocarpa). The ‘Goldcrest’ cultivar is commonly found during the holidays and will give off a citrus or lemony scent when brushed. In its real life, it is a narrow, columnar evergreen that can grow very large. Here, it can live a dual role of houseplant or outdoor plant.
As a houseplant, the lemon cypress prefers cool temperatures in the 60s, but as much light as possible. That is hard to do indoors. Also, the humidity indoors in the winter is low so you may have to increase it around the plant. Water when the soil is dry in the top inch. Make sure the plant is in a container that has drainage holes. You may have to separate the plant from the holiday décor after Christmas and repot the plant in a container with drainage holes and better potting mix. Also, keep in mind that pests such as spider mites, aphids, and mealybugs flourish during the dry winter months.
Outdoors, a lemon cypress plant can eventually grow to 6-10 feet tall and 1-2 feet wide. It can be grown as a specimen, hedge, bonsai, or container plant. If you bought one for the holidays or received one as a gift, keep it indoors until the last spring frost, usually mid-May. Plant either in the ground or in a container.
Lemon cypress prefers cool, moist summers. It should be grown in full sun, but here in the DC area, it may need protection from the afternoon sun when temperatures get in the nineties. Plant in well-drained soil and water well after planting. Continue to water to make sure it has water until established. The lemon cypress is hardy to Zone 7.
Enjoy your holiday lemon cypress and use these tips to prolong its life in the new year.