Bald Cypress Bonsai | Care Instructions

Taxodium distichum

The Bald Cypress bonsai stems from a deciduous conifer with a tall trunk and several branches along the way. It’s part of the true cypress family within the pine order, presenting gorgeous green needles. Other popular names you may recognize include swamp cypress, tidewater red cypress, white cypress, and gulf cypress.

This stunning conifer is native to southern states in the U.S., and it’s Louisiana’s official state tree. The bark is usually grey or red-brown, a variation found in different bonsais. Fortunately, the Bald Cypress is easy to care for, as you’ll see in our article below.

Bald Cypress bonsai

Here’s what you’ll find in our Bald Cypress Bonsai species guide:

Here’s what you’ll find in our Bald Cypress Bonsai species guide:

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Quick Bald Cypress Bonsai Care Sheet

Before we head into the detailed account of how to care for this spectacular bonsai, here’s a quick table for you to browse. If you need more information, check the full guide underneath it.

Recommended soil

Mushroom compost or any soil that retains water

Watering

Should be submerged in water like a swamp, and the roots should never dry

Potting season

Every two years in early spring

Shaping and pruning season

Prune long shoots in spring and autumn

Light

In warm seasons, place outside in the full sun. In colder seasons, protect from cold and wind

Fertilizing

Every week from spring to autumn with liquid fertilizer, or once a season with solid fertilizer. Don’t feed in winter

Propagation methods

Seeds and cuttings; vegetative reproduction

Pests and diseases

Not really susceptible to pests and diseases, but watch out for twig blight

Growth patterns

Roots grow fast in younger years, while the trunk gains height quickly

Recommended styles

Formal upright, slanting, forest, literati, deadwood

Scientific Classification

  • Kingdom:     Plantae
  • Clade:          Gymnosperms
  • Division:      Pinophyta
  • Class:          Pinopsida
  • Order:          Pinales
  • Family:         Cupressaceae
  • Genus:         Taxodium
  • Species:      T. distichum
Bald Cypress bonsai

How to Care for a Bald Cypress Bonsai

With only some of the information available on the Bald Cypress bonsai, you won’t be able to give it the proper care it needs to thrive. We do have an advanced bonsai tree care guide, but it’s better if you apply more specific rules. 

Best Soil

To choose the right soil for your Bald Cypress bonsai, you need to consider where the tree grows naturally. It doesn’t have the nickname swamp cypress for nothing. You’ll want mushroom compost or any substrate that retains water well without too much drainage.

Another option is using a wide tray to create a lovely landscape or hill design. Consider leaving one side or the entire perimeter free for water, building a wall of soil so that it looks like a bank with a river all the way around. In this way, your cypress will have water whenever it needs it.

Watering

As mentioned with the soil, you want the water to remain in the soil for as long as possible. With the spring and summer being hot, it will drink every day, and you need to make sure the roots never dry out. One small hint of drought and the roots are likely to suffer.

You can also bathe the bonsai pot in water so that the soil can become as moist as possible. Even in autumn, ensure that there’s enough moisture in the substrate, especially when the heat remains. However, lower the frequency and amount of water in winter.

Repotting

Unlike many conifers in the cypress family, the roots of the Bald Cypress bonsai thicken quickly. While they may not extend too far into the pot, the thickness is what causes the space to run out. You’ll still be able to prune them, but you should repot the tree at least every two years until it matures.

As it grows bigger, you may want to consider getting a larger container to cover the thickness of the roots. You can extend the repotting to three to four years during the older stages of the tree’s life, especially when you see the roots aren’t growing as quickly anymore.

Shaping and Pruning

If you want decent foliage with strong ramifications, you should shorten the needles in early spring. New shoots appear quickly, so you’ll need to keep a handle on trimming the needles regularly. Wait until they’re slightly longer than you want them before cutting back.

For the summer, let the Bald Cypress bonsai grow for a bit. You can prune again in autumn before the tree goes dormant in winter. It will helo with the overall design so you can retain the shape you want.

Bald Cypress bonsai

Location and Sunlight

Spring and summer call for full sunlight for several hours in the morning and afternoon. The Bald Cypress is one of the top outdoor bonsai trees, as it can handle as much direct sunlight that you can throw it. It’s one of the reasons it likes its roots drowned in water all day long.

While the tree can handle cold temperatures and frost in the swamps, the same can’t be said for the bonsai. The Bald Cypress prefers being inside in winter, where it remains warm and free from the cold rain. Unlike most of its coniferous family, it actually loses its leaves during this time.

Fertilizing 

Since the Bald Cypress grows quite quickly as a bonsai, you’ll want to give it liquid food every week that’s diluted in water. If you prefer to have a slow-releasing fertilizer, you’ll need to top up once a month. However, we recommend the first option since the tree loves water and wants food regularly.

You can still feed it in autumn, as it will store the carbohydrates in the trunk and branches. In winter, stop fertilizing completely. The bonsai will use what it has stored while it goes dormant. This resting period is essential to prepare for the upcoming spring.

Propagation Methods 

The top ways to propagate the Bald Cypress are via seeds and cutting. Both methods take well, but it depends on how long you want to wait for a decent girth on the trunk. With cuttings, you can have a small tree that looks like a bonsai almost immediately. However, growing from seeds is more rewarding with a longer lifespan.

Another way to propagate it that’s not common among conifers is vegetative reproduction. You’ll find sprouts on stumps of old trees or forgotten roots in the soil. The only issue with this method is the poor health you’ll have to deal with, as well as poor development over the lifespan.

Pests and Diseases

The Bald Cypress bonsai is resilient against most pests and diseases. Due to its love for swampy conditions, it can withstand root rot and most fungi. An exception to the rule is twig blight, and you’ll need to remove any shoots or leaves that show signs of this disease. Insects and pests aren’t really fond of this species.

Growth Patterns

You’ll enjoy rapid growth of the leaves and branches in spring and summer. Even autumn showcases some last-minute development. The Bald Cypress bonsai enjoys gaining as much height as possible, and even some branches will attempt to extend upwards when you stop the crown from growing.

Recommended Styles

When you find the Bald Cypress in nature, you’ll notice how the trunk rises to meet the sky with branches on either side. You can go for formal upright or slanting, as these are the styles that are the most natural to it. There’s the option of a bonsai forest too if you want to place several next to each other in the soil.

If you want a more specialized design, it does well with a deadwood bonsai style. You can also attempt cascading, but we don’t feel that it’s suitable for this species. Finally, feel free to set your creative juices loose with a literati shape.

Bald Cypress bonsai

Considerations for Growing an Indoor Bald Cypress Bonsai

You may reach a situation or desire where you want to grow the Bald Cypress bonsai inside your home. While its cousin, the Italian Cypress, can do quite well indoors, there are some aspects that sets them apart. Please take these factors into consideration.

The Sun is King

We can’t stress this enough: the sun is king when it comes to the Bald Cypress. Your bonsai needs several hours of light every day, especially in the warmer months. It uses photosynthesis to create food for energy so it can create new leaves and cells. 

If you’re keeping your bonsai inside, make sure there’s a window facing the east in the morning. Should it be facing a different direction, you need to make a plan to ensure the sunlight reaches it at some point during the day for a lengthy time.

Swampy Water Means Life

Even on the inside, your Bald Cypress bonsai will need lots of water. Of course, it may drink less if you don’t have as much sunlight as it needs. Still, you’ll need to keep that soil as moist as possible so the roots don’t dry out.

When pressing your finger in the soil, some wetness should stick to your skin as a sign that there’s sufficient moisture. You can also keep a tray under the pot so that any liquid draining out can still be used when necessary. Another option is cutting open a small plastic bottle, placing it upside down into the soil, and using that to water daily.

Keep Temperatures Warm

Winter can be devastating to a Bald Cypress as a bonsai, especially where frost and low temperatures are concerned. You’ll need to find a way to keep the area where you keep the tree warm. Fortunately, it can handle anything down to 29°F, but we don’t recommend letting it get that low. 

It will still lose leaves since it’s deciduous, but our concern is the internal structure and cells. Even if you keep the windows closed at night, that will help in some way. Don’t use a heater, as the heat may confuse the tree that wants to rest for the dormant period.

Remain in the Hardiness Zone

The hardiness zone for the Bald Cypress bonsai is 4 to 10, which covers several regions in the United States. It’s for this reason that bonsai enthusiasts love growing it, as it has few restrictions. It can handle most climates, but you need to remember that keeping it inside changes the dynamics of growth. While it’s fine to do so in winter, we recommend that it only be kept outside in summer.

Match it with Other Bonsais

Your bonsai tree will look lonely if it’s the only one you have. While the Bald Cypress looks majestic on its own, there are some other species that will look magnificent near it. You can choose from different types of bonsai trees, but usually, other conifers and pines will complement its appearance.

Of course, it depends on the appearance you’re looking for or if there are colors in your home you want to match. If you want contrasting hues, you can aim for bonsais with rich flowers in the summer or bright leaves. In these cases, the Flame Tree and Japanese Maple are prime examples of good matches.

The Leaves Will Fall

It doesn’t matter how much light and warmth you provide inside your home. Your Bald Cypress bonsai will still lose its needles in the winter. People have tried to replicate spring and summer during the cold season, but the tree is smarter and knows it needs to rest.

You need to keep this in mind when keeping the tree inside. Your carpet, tiled, or wooden floor will have these needles lying on it if you don’t have a wide enough container or tray below. Be prepared to do daily cleaning in winter until spring arrives.

Bald Cypress bonsai
Image courtesy of Sarah Stierch | License Details

Final Thoughts on this Gorgeous Conifer

The Bald Cypress is a stunning bonsai that will keep you company for several decades if you look after it properly. While most trees don’t like their roots wet all the time, the same isn’t true for this one. As long as you give it plenty of love and sunshine, it will display your artistic expression for everyone to enjoy.

How tall you decide to let it grow is up to you. However, we’ve never really seen a small bonsai of this species, which would look strange compared to its natural counterpart in the wild. Remember, the Bald Cypress can live for more than 600 years, so it can easily pass down to a few generations. So keep that in mind when deciding how big you want your bonsai and how to shape it.

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