Plant This: Beautiful ‘Blue Ice’ Arizona cypress


Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica) is not native to the Austin area, but it grows well here provided it has proper drainage and full sun. If you’ve driven by Central Market at the corner of N. Lamar and 35th St., you’ve seen a stand of these majestic, pyramidal conifers growing more beautiful with every year. The ones pictured above line the side yard of Deborah Hornickel’s central Austin garden.


Ever since seeing them in her garden, I’ve wanted this tree. So when I moved into my new house, I bought two ‘Blue Ice’ Arizona cypresses and plopped them into a rare sunny spot in my new garden, before it even was a garden. Isn’t the foliage stunning, especially against the orange wall? Ah, if only it were a fabulous orange wall. It’s only the cedar boards of my new side-yard fence in the morning light, soon to fade to a soft gray.


The foliage is a beautiful icy blue AND it smells like a Christmas tree. Ahhh.


Even the bark of the young trunk is lovely.


Confession time: I squeezed these cypresses into a narrow side yard in my desperation to give them sun, and now that my new fence is up, they do not have adequate room to grow to their mature size: about 30 feet tall and 8-10 feet in diameter. It’s the classic mistake of a plant lover.

And you know what? I don’t care. I’m leaving them there so that I can enjoy them for however many years until they outgrow their space and have to be removed. I bet I get 10 years out of them, which will be 10 happy years.

Update 3/12: I moved one of the trees to a new spot a couple of years ago, and the other is growing straight and tall and, so far, not too wide. I love it!

Note: My Plant This posts are written primarily for gardeners in central Texas. The plants I recommend are ones I’ve grown myself and have direct experience with. I wish I could provide more information about how these plants might perform in other parts of the country, but gardening knowledge is local. Consider checking your local online gardening forums to see if a particular plant might work in your region.

All material © 2006-2009 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

20 Responses

  1. Nicole says:

    I love those-esp the lemony foliage. I have one small one but it may have to remain potted because I don’t think it could handle the sea blast or an un-sheltered spot in summer heat.

    Lemony? It smells like a piney Christmas tree to me. I wonder if we’re thinking of the same tree, Nicole, because Arizona cypress loves the heat and tolerates drought very well. Probably not sea blast though. —Pam

  2. Ben Thomas says:

    Now that is a nice tree… I said I want that soon as a saw it :D! I checked it out and its hardy here so I defiantly want to give it a try… if I can find someone selling one around here.

    They are more commonly available in Austin than they used to be, Ben, but ‘Blue Ice’ was hard to find. I hope you can find them in your part of the country. I ended up getting my two from different nurseries and would have taken a third if I’d found one. Which would have been completely insane considering how big these trees get. —Pam

  3. Les says:

    At last a plant that we can both grow that isn’t a Knockout Rose or a Live Oak. We have a real hard time growing a lot of the needled evergreens with blue foliage, but this plant and just a few others do well for us, and I love the aroma.

    Needled evergreens don’t grow so well in Austin’s alkaline soils either, Les, which is one reason I’m mad for this cypress, which does. Like you said, it smells wonderful. —Pam

  4. Jean says:

    I’m so glad to hear you say that. I make those choices too (i.e. to squeeze something in even when I know it’ll outgrow the area) although I always feel guilty for doing it. There are just some times when a plant looks best at a smaller stage. Enjoy it then at the right proportions for your situation at the time! Beautiful close-ups of those needles, btw.

    I feel guilty too, Jean, particularly in that “do as I say, not as I do” way. But I can’t help it. I’ve simply got to grow this tree for as long as can, damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead! —Pam

  5. We’re also guilty so it’s nice to know we’re in such good company (though not with the same tree). That is really a great looking plant — certainly against the orange. When the cedar fades to silver it will look quite different, but I’m betting just as attractive!

    I’m dying to know what tree you’ve crammed into too small a space, Linda. —Pam

  6. Gail says:

    That’s exactly the right philosophy Pam! I’ve planted a Smokebush that will be too big at some time. In the meantime I love it where it’s planted.. gail

    I am in good company, it seems. Despite knowing better, many of us have done the same thing. Carpe diem, right? —Pam

  7. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    That’s my girl talkin here. Let em grow and love em. They look well worth the adulation.

    You made me smile, Lisa. Thanks for the supportive comment (you enabler). ;-) —Pam

  8. Randy says:

    What a beautiful tree, Pam! I’m sure you’ll find a way to make it work. :-)

    Thanks, Randy. It’ll work for a while anyway. —Pam

  9. Phillip says:

    We had one of these in the garden but I had to get rid of it and it just killed me to have to do it. It got way too large for our garden and the bottom of it really looked awful. It is an awesome tree.

    (Fingers in ears. La la la la la, I can’t hear you!) Ah, you’re telling me what I know to be true, Phillip, and yet…the shovel remains in the garage for now. :-) —Pam

  10. TexasDeb says:

    Hmmm – is it technically considered a “mistake” when you made the choice to enjoy the plant where you wanted it for a decade or so? Perhaps that could be considered more a (cough-cough) “temporally delineated design selection”.

    I like the way you think, TexasDeb. There’s always a way to spin mistakes decisions like these. —Pam

  11. Amy Emerick says:

    I love those evergreens. Pretty photos of them, too. We have cedar trees in our backyard…grrrr. Not my favorite evergreen of choice. They are pretty big and do provide shade and privacy. I thought you put up a piece of orange paper at first :) Have a good weekend!

    I like a cedar or two or three in a garden, Amy. Older ones especially can have a wonderful gnarled shape, and they smell great. Of course, the pollen from the males isn’t so great. —Pam

  12. I’m thinking those beauties DESERVE an orange wall! (They do make semi-opaque outdoor wood stain in orange. I’m just sayin’!) :)

    I hear you, Kim. It did cross my mind to paint that fence orange. But no, I believe I’ll leave it natural. I’ll just cloak the fence with orange-flowering Mexican flame vine next summer. —Pam

  13. Maybe you could move the fence? Spoken like a true plant lover.~~Dee

    Yes, spoken like a true plant lover indeed, Dee! —Pam

  14. Cindy, MCOK says:

    Pam, I bought an Arizona Cypress, variety Carolina Sapphire, at the 2008 Plant and Bulb Mart and moved it around several times until I settled on a spot I think it can be left. I planted it in a bed around a pine tree which will probably have to be taken down eventually. By the time the pine needs to go, the Cypress should be a nice size.

    That sounds like a good plan, Cindy. ‘Carolina Sapphire’ variety is lovely too. —Pam

  15. Seeing the Arizona cypress at Deborah Hornickel’s garden made me notice (and covet) one too, Pam. I found out later that Philo doesn’t like them – probably a good thing, since a Blue Ice would have a hard time finding sharp drainage and full sun here!

    They look great against the fence, and (better put those hand over your ears again) if you do have to take them down someday – think of the vast quantities of fabulous mulch ;-]

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    Philo doesn’t like them?? Ah, how can that be? :-) Great comment about the mulch, Annie. I can just imagine how great it would smell. —Pam

  16. Christopher says:

    One of our employees was eating from a tree out front just last week. I love this plant. Thanks for sharing this plant Pam.

  17. Christopher says:

    Oops…thought I was on the Guava page…she was not eating the Cypress. Haha!

  18. sandy says:

    I have three gorgeous Arizona cypress in my Austin yard; in the seven years since I planted them they’ve grown from about 4 feet to maybe 12-14 feet. They tolerated the last two years’ drought just fine, but I just noticed the needles of all three have begun seriously browning in the bottom third. Should I be concerned? Does anyone know what is going on with them or how to stop this?

    I wish I knew, Sandy. Actually, I’ve seen some browning on one of mine as well this year, but I did just move it a few months ago and thought perhaps it was stressed from that. It might be worth asking Mr. Smarty Plants. —Pam

  19. John says:

    I bought one of these because I saw some here in San Antonio. My neighborhood builder decided to put ugly oak trees in every lot! So I dug them out and added a Austrian Pine and the Arizona Blue Ice Cypress instead. I love the way this tree smells! awesome. The one I bought is 7ft and I plan to put some lights on it this Christmas.

  20. Al Dente says:

    Hi Pam
    i have read also your other post about the Mountain Cedars and how allergic you are to them. Set that in the back of your mind for a minute :)
    I have been having clogged ears for the past 3 years which give me trouble with balance and vision. Scariest of all is when they make me tipsy. Notice i said tipsy and not dizzy. I believe my problem is allergies in combination to a mild neuralgia due to having shingles on my face 5 years ago. Shingles on the head is another ball game and very dangerous but that aside, today i went for a scratch test to figure out my allergies. Mountain Cedar, Arizona Cypress and the Juniper.
    I developed these allergies after the shingles.
    If you are allergic to the Mountain Cedar you might be allergic to the Arizona Cypress, which including the Juniper pretty much are in the same family.
    Of course since you planted your Arizona Cypresses in 2009 you should know by now.
    As far as too close to the fence… That is ok. Start the canopy above the fence line.
    You wished for an orange fence, which might be too late now because of discoloration but they have stains out there that might help you. In the old days i used the fantastic Carver Tripps stains and paints. They had one might fine ‘persimmon’ stain at the time which i used on interior window shutters. You could also dilute some orange paint to your liking.
    By the way, i guess they have different varieties of Arizona Cypresses and i am not sure if they all promote allergies. Ciao and good luck!