Leylands are not horticulturally suited to Georgia. They’re offshoots of the Monterey and Alaskan cypress, both west coast trees that were hybridized for planting around the country. The forbearers of local Leylands were meant for locations where summers are moist (here) and cool (not here!), and they thrive in places like parts of Canada and the United Kingdom where summers are short and wet, nights are long. Shallow-rooted Leylands have suffered terribly here, especially those growing in sites without irrigation. Again, as you drive around you’ll see how many Leylands are suffering, drooping, browning, or dead.
I received a Leyland from a friend of mine 15 years ago. She had moved to a property with lots of road frontage, was putting up a green barrier, and had bought too many of the potted trees; she gave me one and I planted it in my yard. My dad was visiting from New Jersey at the time, and we took a photo of him squatting down low with his hand on top of the tree. In the next photo two years later he was standing with his hand on top of the tree. Now the Leyland is twenty feet tall and flourishing, so far. I live in the woods so I didn’t really need one more tree, but it was a gift from a good friend and an ongoing reminder of my dad, so I still enjoy seeing it every day.
Here are some of the challenges you’ll face with Leylands sooner or later. Cankers do the most damage to these trees. They at first appear as sunken, dark brown or purplish patches on the bark; twigs and branches killed by the fungus turn reddish brown in striking contrast to the green healthy foliage. Disease spores can splash from tree to tree from rain or irrigation, and can also spread via pruning tools. There is no chemical control measure recommended for these diseases and only by careful and sanitized pruning and mulching can one hope to deal effectively with them
A few root diseases may affect Leylands too, and symptoms appear as yellowing of the foliage and tip die back; badly infected trees may show no symptoms and simply fall over. Be careful when removing infected Leylands as root diseases can spread to adjacent trees; either remove the stumps or treat the stump surface with granular borax immediately after the tree is felled.
Instead of Leylands consider diversity to promote tree health. Create screens of mixed trees in clusters of three to five of each type of tree, in a single row or in an alternate layered planting. Rows of staggered plants allow for better air circulation which reduces diseases, and mixed screens avoid passing disease from one to the other, and provide more interest throughout the seasons.
Here’s a short list of choices I collected by Googling “Leyland cypress alternatives”:
n Try tall Arizona cypress in dry, sunny sites or “Green Giant” arborvitae in moist, well drained, sunny sites.
n Broadleaved evergreens provide dense screening and seasonal interest. Try tall narrow cultivars of Southern magnolia, or the compact “Little Gem” magnolia. Sweetbay magnolias tolerate moister soil than most. Fragrant tea olive, Fortune’s tea olive and loquat will all grow to around 25 feet tall.
n Hollies provide numerous choices. For tall and narrow selections consider Foster’s holly, Savannah holly, or Carolina Sentinel. All grow well in sun or part shade.
n Wax myrtle grows to 15 feet and is excellent for sunny, difficult sites with poor soil, sand or wind. Viburnums are also suitable for many landscape situations and their flowers and berries add interest.
Trees are a long term investment, and proper selection is well worth the time and money. As with any additions to your landscape, plan ahead, plant well, care for lovingly, and enjoy.
Information about Extension Solutions for Homes and Gardens can be found on the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension website, www.caes.uga.edu/extension/cherokee ; or contact the Cherokee County Extension Office, 1130 Bluffs Parkway, Suite G49, Canton, GA, 30114, 770-721-7803. The Georgia Master Gardener Extension Volunteer Program is a volunteer training program offered through county offices of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.