What Is a Lemon Cypress?

A.M. Boyle

A lemon cypress is coniferous evergreen tree that has greenish-yellow foliage. The leaves give off a lemony fragrance, especially when cut. It is a hardy, versatile tree, and people use it both indoors and outdoors. Like many evergreens, it requires very little care, thrives in a variety of climates, and retains its color all year long.

Gardening experts suggest seasonal spraying, usually spring, to avoid an aphid infestation.
Gardening experts suggest seasonal spraying, usually spring, to avoid an aphid infestation.

Sometimes known by its more formal name, cupressus macrocarpa, the lemon cypress is considered a conifer. This means that it bears cones, like a pine tree, in order to reproduce. It also produces clusters of thin, needlelike leaves. Some gardeners recognize the tree by its alternate names of Goldcrest or Monterey cypress. As an evergreen, the tree retains its color year round, although in the colder months, the vibrancy could fade a bit. The name, lemon cypress, likely originated not only because of the tree’s distinctive yellow-green hue but also due to the pleasant citrus scent it gives off, especially when the needles are cut.

A lemon cypress should be planted in soil that is mixed with sand to ensure ample drainage.
A lemon cypress should be planted in soil that is mixed with sand to ensure ample drainage.

The tree, native to California, thrives in a variety of climates but does best in moderate areas that are not subject to extreme heat or cold. It prefers moist, well-drained soil, and many experts recommend mixing sand with the soil to prevent the area around the roots from becoming waterlogged. While the cypress does well in both sun and shade, its color becomes more vivid if it has four to five hours of sunlight a day.

When planted outdoors, the lemon cypress needs very little care, especially once it has matured. Only occasional pruning is required to help it keep its natural triangular shape. To keep the tree in optimal condition, experts do recommend regular feeding with acidic-based plant food. Although it is a hardy tree, it is susceptible pests such as aphids, and gardening enthusiasts suggest seasonal spraying, typically in the spring, to avoid an aphid infestation.

Given its versatile nature, the lemon cypress makes an excellent decorative potted plant. When planted in a container, either indoors or outdoors, gardeners should prune the tree regularly to keep it at the preferred height. Otherwise, left unchecked, the cypress can grow as tall as 10 feet (approximately 3 meters). Talented gardeners might also consider going beyond regular pruning and give the tree a unique shape.

Due to its cheery color and invigorating smell, some people have used the lemon cypress as an alternative to the traditional Christmas tree. The leaves of the cypress are soft, though, and don’t hold up well to heavy ornaments. Consequently, care should be taken by anyone using the tree in this fashion.

Some varieties of lemon cypress have silver-tinted leaves rather than the traditional yellow. Others are considered dwarf varieties and won’t grow very tall at all. Regardless of which variety a person chooses, the tree is bound to add unique beauty to any garden.

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Discussion Comments


I had a lemon cypress last year that I had planted outside. It died after a few months.

Lemon cypress is sold all across the US at nurseries and stores, but it's a tropical zone plant. So it can only survive in zones 7, 8 and 9 in the US. I live in zone 4, so naturally mine didn't survive.

If anyone is planning to get a lemon cypress, please check your hardiness zone on the USDA hardiness map. If you're not in 7, 8 or 9, it will be too cold for the lemon cypress. I wish someone at the store had told me that.


@SarahGen-- I have an indoor lemon cypress too. I love mine and use it as a Christmas tree.

Lemon cypress needs plenty of sunlight, but it also needs humidity. I'm guessing that your is not getting enough moisture. Brown tips usually happen due to air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter which cause dry air.

Give the plant enough water. It's a good idea to make sure that air from the heater is not blowing on it. If you have a humidifier at home, using that for a little bit every day will help.


I have a small indoor lemon cypress in a pot. I bought it a few weeks ago because I loved the scent. I think it's doing well, but the tips appear to be drying out and have become a little brown. It's winter but I'm keeping the lemon cypress by the window. Is this normal or am I doing something wrong?

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