Wintertime gardens can look a bit bland if there’s an overdependence on deciduous plants vs. evergreens. Sure, evergreens can help liven a winter wonderland, but even then something’s needed to contrast the very “greenness” of these plants. One such contrast plant worth considering is the Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica).

Cupressus arizonica

With its lovely color and striking features, Arizona cypress is a wonderful evergreen sure to bring you the “blues.”

Photo Credit: James H. Schutte

Cupressus arizonica 'Blue Ice'

‘Blue Ice’ is an especially silvery Arizona cypress selection.

Photo Credit: Gerald L. Klingaman

Cupressus arizonica 'Limelight'

If you’re looking for an Arizona cypress with a little less blue to it, the bright lime-green ‘Limelight’ is a good choice.

Photo Credit: James Burghardt

Cupressus arizonica 'Silver Smoke'

‘Silver Smoke’ is a popular Arizona cypress cultivar.

Photo Credit: James Burghardt

A conical-growing evergreen tree of the cypress family, Arizona cypress is capable of reaching 50 feet tall and 30 feet wide, but it seldom exceeds half that size in landscape situations. As the tree starts growing, the bark peels off annually, revealing bright-orange strips. On older trees, this peeling stops and the bark becomes smooth.

Commonly cultivated forms have glaucous blue-gray foliage comprised of tiny, v-shaped needles closely pressed to the stem to form a four-sided rope. The small branches divide irregularly, giving the tree a kind of open look when viewed up close, instead of the compact look of a juniper. Seeds are borne in a round cone about an inch across.

Arizona cypress is native to regions of the desert southwest, where rainfall averages between 15-20 inches a year. The tree ranges from lowland areas to up to 5,000 feet in some parts of Arizona. Though centered in the Grand Canyon state, natural stands are also found in California, Utah, New Mexico and the Big Bend region of Texas.

I think of Arizona cypress as being a desert plant, although in reality it grows in an area having a monsoonal climate – dry most of the year with much of the rainfall coming in summer via random thunderstorms. To assume that such a plant would grow in a wetter climate seems unlikely, but the tree actually grows in much of the US, as long as temperatures don’t drop below zero in winter. Though it’s a trouble-free plant when young, making about a foot of growth a year, it often dies inexplicably when it reaches mature stature in 20 or 30 years.

The Arizona cypresses sold in nurseries are now mostly vegetatively propagated clones selected for the dense coat of wax on their leaves. ‘Blue Ice’, ‘Blue Pyramid’ and ‘Silver Smoke’ are the ones occasionally found. ‘Blue Ice’, discovered in the 1960s by a New Zealand nursery professional, is probably the most common.

Arizona cypress makes a good addition to a screen planting, where it can be mixed with other evergreens to create a pleasing wintertime effect. It can also be used as a lone specimen, where its conical form can make a striking display. The tree should have full sun, good wintertime drainage and be allowed to fend for itself. Irrigated beds tend to hasten the occurrence of root rot problems.

With its lovely color and striking features, Arizona cypress is a wonderful evergreen sure to bring you the “blues” – in a good way!