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Siberian Cypress - Groundcover of the Future

By Todd Boland (Todd_BolandJanuary 21, 2012
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Not all gardeners may be familiar with Siberian cypress but this evergreen groundcover is enjoying an ever-increasing popularity due to its hardiness, insect and disease resistance. And to think it was only introduced to Western gardeners in the 1970s! Read on to learn more about this versatile shrub.

Gardening picture

(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on November 29, 2008  Comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.) 

Siberian or Russian cypress, Microbiota decussata, is a relatively new introduction to our garden landscapes, but may well become the groundcover of choice for northern gardeners. Before we get into the specific attributes of the plant, a little botany and history on this plant might be appreciated. This conifer belongs to the family Cupressaceae and is somewhat closely related to junipers (Juniperus) and true cypress (Cupressus). In the wild, the plants hail from mountainous areas of eastern Siberia. Due to the remote location, this plant was not discovered until 1923. With all the secrecy between the former USSR and the western world, this plant only became known to the western world in the 1970s! Since its introduction to us, the plant has become increasingly popular.

The plant is quite low, generally between 20 and 50 cm but can spread up to 5 m. The foliage is evergreen and arranged in flattened sprays with scale-like leaves not unlike those found on Chamaecyparis. From a distance, this species looks much like a low-growing juniper. The cones are very small and rather insignificant. In fact, the female cones are the smallest of any conifer. Summer foliage is bright green but from late fall to mid-spring, plants turn purplish-brown. The winter colour provides a wonderful contrast in the winter garden, especially combined with heathers that have interesting winter foliage, golden-coloured conifers and ornamental grasses.

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Close-up of the male and female cones.

This conifer is exceptionally hardy (zone 3 or sheltered areas of zone 2) and in the landscape, can easily rival the best spreading or creeping junipers. However, in my opinion, Siberian cypress surpass junipers since they do not suffer from the host of pests and diseases that plaque junipers. Full sun is best but they will tolerate more shade than junipers. They are not fussy as to the soil as long as it is well-drained and not too alkaline.

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Siberian cypress produces overlapping sprays, lending a graceful appearance.

In the landscape they are premier choices for embankments, roadside medians and cascading over retaining walls. They are quite wind and salt tolerant so lend themselves wonderfully to coastal gardens. Their tolerance to drought makes them ideal choices for the mid-west where traditionally, junipers were the groundcover of choice.

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Large mature Siberian cypress growing over a retaining wall and spilling over a pathway.

Unlike junipers which show tremendous variation in size, form and colour, Siberian cypress are remarkably consistent in habit and looks. So far only one cultivar has been selected. This one is called ‘Fuzz Ball' and has softer, fuzzier foliage than is typical of the species and a more compact, somewhat rounded habit, growing 30 cm by 100 cm. This selection would make an admirable conifer for the smaller garden.

So if you have a problem spot in a relatively open site and junipers are just not up to spec, then try growing Siberian cypress, the groundcover of the future!


  About Todd Boland  
Todd BolandI reside in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada. I work as a research horticulturist at the Memorial University of Newfoundland Botanical Garden. I am one of the founding members of the Newfoundland Wildflower Society and the current chair of the Newfoundland Rock Garden Society. My garden is quite small but I pack it tight! Outdoors I grow mostly alpines, bulbs and ericaceous shrubs. Indoors, my passion is orchids. When not in the garden, I'm out bird watching, a hobby that has gotten me to some lovely parts of the world.

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Discussion about this article:
SubjectTopic StarterRepliesViewsLast Post
The Marketing is Better than Results john_hosie 2 55 Jan 23, 2012 9:32 AM
bulbs cathy4 1 27 Jan 21, 2012 4:14 AM
Vanishing act lortay 0 31 Jan 27, 2011 6:47 AM
Microbiota Resin 2 93 Jan 27, 2011 6:19 AM
Deer Resistant asb 0 22 Jan 26, 2011 7:34 PM
Siberian Cypress burien_gardener 0 34 Jan 24, 2011 2:30 PM
siberian cypress echevaria 0 23 Jan 24, 2011 2:16 PM
Siberian Cypress ms_peteshill 3 54 Jan 24, 2011 1:32 PM
Newfoundland Ground Cover BryGuy73 1 36 Dec 23, 2009 4:46 PM
Siberian Cypress SueB1953 3 50 Jul 22, 2009 10:24 PM
Siberian Cypress qbs 7 105 May 20, 2009 3:32 PM
Already planted some juno61 1 41 Dec 7, 2008 12:36 AM
Siberian Cypress Tweetybadger 1 41 Dec 2, 2008 11:10 AM
Open air debate Anicca 0 46 Dec 2, 2008 12:53 AM
Like them! dragonfly53 1 70 Nov 29, 2008 8:05 PM
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