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Sky Pencil Holly vs Italian Cypress: What Is The Difference?

Privacy plants are a real find for those who like to sit in silence away from the eyes of others. Indeed, what can be more beautiful than a green wall of living plants? Today we will take a look at two plants that are used in most cases as screen plants.

The main difference between Italian Cypress and Sky Pencil Holly is their size. The Italian Cypress is much taller and slightly wider than the Sky Pencil Holly.

In addition, Italian Cypress needs more light than Sky Pencil Holly. And Italian Cypress tolerates periods of drought better than Sky Pencil Holly.

  Sky Pencil Holly Italian Cypress 
Name Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’ Cupressus sempervirens
USDA Hardiness zone 5-9 7-11
Mature height 8-10′ 35-40′
Mature width 2′ 5-8′
Growth rate medium fast
Light exposure full sun, partial shade full sun
Soil moist, drained moist, drained
Soil pH 5.5-7.0 6.0-7.0
Watering 1-2 times per week in a drought 1 time per week in a drought
Diseases fungus fungus
Pests insects, mites insects, mites
sky pencil holly vs italian cypress

Sky Pencil Holly and Italian Cypress

Italian Cypress higher than Sky Pencil Holly

As I mentioned earlier, the size of both plants is fundamentally different. Sky Pencil Holly is much shorter than its competitor, rarely exceeding 10 feet in height. In most cases, it will be 8 feet tall. It will not be more than 2 feet wide.

The Italian Cypress easily reaches 40 feet in height and under ideal conditions can even exceed that mark. But the width is not much greater than its competitor, averaging 5 to 6 feet, rarely 8 feet.

The growth rate of both plants is also very different. Italian Cypress grows much faster, with an annual growth rate of 1-2 feet. Whereas Sky Pencil Holly grows 6 to 8 inches a year, but if you feed it, it will grow 10 inches a year.

So if you’re looking for a hedge plant, Italian Cypress is a much better choice. First of all, because you need fewer plants to get a dense screen. Secondly, you will achieve privacy much faster because of the faster growth rate.

Shape is different

The next distinguishing feature of Sky Pencil Holly and Italian Cypress is the shape. Of course, both plants have a strict columnar shape, but even here there are differences.

Sky Pencil Holly has a multi-trunk structure. This means that there is no distinct central trunk, but instead several trunks of varying thickness.

On the other hand, Italian Cypress has one central trunk from which the side branches branch off. Occasionally, competing central stems may appear, but they rarely reach the size of the main trunk.

As a result of the multi-stem structure, Sky Pencil Holly has a blunted tip. At the same time, the Italian Cypress has a sharp tip like the tip of a spear.

The downside of Sky Pencil Holly’s multi-trunk structure is that it can be easily broken apart by snow in winter. Even a strong wind can break it into parts. Tying multiple trunks into a bundle does not always solve the problem. You won’t get anything like that with Italian Cypress.

This is where I have to issue a caveat. If you choose Italian Cypress as a hedge plant, do not trim it back until it has reached the height you want for the hedge. If you cut it sooner, multiple stems will start to form where you cut it and you will get the same result as with Sky Pencil Holly.


Italian Cypress is not as hardy as Sky Pencil Holly. It is recommended to grow no further north than the 7 USDA hardiness zone. This is understandable since Italian Cypress’s natural habitat is in the Mediterranean and northern Africa.

Sky Pencil Holly, on the other hand, can tolerate cooler temperatures. Most nurseries recommend growing it from zone 5. In most cases, Sky Pencil Holly can grow in colder climates, but as I mentioned above, it can be broken up by snow.

As for the south, Italian Cypress performs much better here. It can tolerate the climate of zones 10 and 11. Whereas Sky Pencil Holly cannot grow south of zone 9. Also in hot climates, Sky Pencil Holly may have some difficulties, which we will talk about later.

In conclusion, if you live in the northern United States, Sky Pencil Holly is a better choice. For the south, the Italian Cypress is a more suitable option.

Sky Pencil Holly does not tolerate drought well

Due to the particular shape of the leaves, Sky Pencil Holly evaporates more moisture, so it needs more water. This is especially true in zone 9, where the sun is strong and the plants lose a lot of water during the day.

To keep Sky Pencil Holly comfortable in zone 9, you need to water at least once a week during the dry periods. The amount of water should be 2-3 gallons, depending on the size of the plant. To avoid watering by hand, you can set up automatic watering or plant it in a moist area.

Italian Cypress is much more drought tolerant. It tolerates prolonged periods of drought very well and there will be no consequences. So if you live in a dry climate or don’t want to bother with watering, Italian Cypress is your best bet.

Also, regardless of which of these two you choose, you must water them in the first years while they take root. This can be 1-2 years after planting or a little longer. You need to constantly monitor the moisture in the soil around the plants. If the soil is more than an inch dry then you need to water your plants.

Italian Cypress needs full sun

The relationship to the sun is also different for these plants.

The Italian Cypress needs more sun because in nature it grows in sunny places. The more sun it gets, the more dense its crown will be.

You have to plant it in a place with at least six hours of direct sunlight a day. Otherwise, it will have fewer needles and the crown will be narrower. In addition, the lack of light will make Italian Cypress more susceptible to fungal diseases.

If you have plenty of shade in your yard, these would be ideal conditions for Sky Pencil Holly. This plant tolerates both full sun and partial shade well. You need to give it at least 3 hours of direct light a day.

The further north you go, the more sun Sky Pencil Holly will need. But 8-9 zones will be good if you do not plant it in full sun and limit it to semi-shade. In this case, it will be much more comfortable.

They have different foliage

The last difference between these plants is the shape of the leaves.

Sky Pencil Holly has small rounded leaves reminiscent of boxwood leaves. Thanks to this shape it looks a bit more interesting, especially when used as a specimen plant.

Italian Cypress is a coniferous plant, so the leaves are narrow and thin but very abundant.

Sky Pencil Holly has a slightly thicker crown because of its large leaves. But it is still less wide than its competitor. So if you want a low hedge for afternoon shade Sky Pencil Holly is the right choice, although you will need to plant them at a smaller spacing than Italian Cypress.

If, on the other hand, you live in the south and need a tall screen quickly, Italian Cypress is a better candidate.