Italian Cypress Struggling & Pruning Mexican Sage

Question:

 I've built a retaining wall to separate my neighbor's two-story house from my garden. I planted two Italian Cypress trees hoping to hide the view, but they're not doing well. What could be the problem?

Answer:

  • Part of your problem could be an unrealistic expectation. Italian Cypress would not be a shrub that I would recommend for a quick-growing privacy barrier. They're slow-growing, so it's going to be several years from now before their tall enough, maybe five or more years from a gallon container.
  • Now that being said, being planted too deep and over watering are the primary cultural practices that contribute to little or no growth with plants especially conifer like Italian Cypress.
    • The original root ball should be at the soil surface or just above. Unfortunately, with new plantings, a bowl-shaped hole is dug with the plant placed at the bottom. In a short time, the sides collapse, burying the plant.
      • If this were the case, I'd raise the plants. This is easily done by inserting a shovel under the root ball and then gently raising them. It's okay if the top of the first root is exposed. You should then tamp the soil down, eliminating the air pockets, and fixing the plant in its new position.
    •  Italian Cypress does not like to be over-watered, as they're a drought-tolerant plant. Excessive summer moisture promotes root rot.
    • One of the early indicators of a problem is a plant that is struggling with little to no new growth. It's not recommended that they are watered multiple times per week.
    • Once a week during the summer should be adequate if the drainage is better than average; otherwise, every ten days to two weeks is sufficient after the rainy season concludes.
  •  You might now entertain replacing the Italian Cypress with a different variety. After the holidays are over, ask the nursery professional at your favorite garden center for some alternative suggestions. 

Question:

We have just recently transplanted a one-year-old Mexican Sage. I know they go dormant and look like heck until you prune them down in the spring. Since it is in a prominent place in the front of our yard, what happens if we prune it down before it goes dormant? How far down would you prune it now, as it is three feet tall, more or less? Would you recommend doing this?

Answer:

  • I wouldn't recommend pruning it early. It is a judgment call on your part on how far back you cut. 
  • Since it is in a predominant location, I do nothing now. Instead, I'd wait until the plant wilts from the first cold night and then cut the Sage down to the ground and avoid the unattractive look altogether.
  • This might occur in mid-December or January. When and how is all up to you.