About Hinoki Cypress Trees and Shrubs

Posted by Janit Calvo on

The Chameacyparis obtusa

There are few things in this world that can stop me in my tracks for a moment of private worship. You know what I mean: something catches your eye, and you have no choice but to pause, even if for a second, and to marvel at how anything can be that beautiful.

For me, it’s usually something of Mother Nature’s doing; a sunset, a flower or a beautiful face. But in this case, it’s the Hinoki Cypress or Chamaecyparis obtusa. It is one of the plants that never ceases to amaze me, all year round.

July 4th Patriotic Miniature Garden


Let Me Count the Ways

Among the wide variety of conifers that I've grown for miniature gardening, the Hinoki Cypress has easily become my favorite with over 20 different miniature and dwarf varieties with all kinds of mini garden design potential.

For a shrub-form, try the famous 'Nana' Hinoki Cypress that's a deep emerald green. It'll stay in that globe-shape as it grows slowly at about 2" per year - give or take, depending upon where you are.

The Butter Ball Hinoki is another favorite, (I mean, who doesn't like butter, right? ;o) because the butter-yellow-foliage mingles with a lime-green and deeper greens, another one of nature's magic color-schemes.

For an upright broad shape, try the Nana Lutea or the Thoweil Hinoki. The former wears many leaf colors and gets that winter blush (more below,) and the latter will stay a deep emerald green, with bright green tips emerging in the spring. 

A tiny Fernspray Gold Hinoki Cypress in a 2" pot

For a tree shape, the Fernspray Gold Hinoki is another favorite. Shown above in a 2" pot from our online store. You can trim the bottom-most branches right away to get the shrub into a tree shape. (See more pruning advice below.) The Fernspray Gold will turn a brilliant gold color in the sun, and lime-green in the part sun. That amber you see on the tips is its winter blush - pretty huh? I told you she was a favorite!


Chirimen Hinoki Cypress in a Seahawk Miniature Garden

And for an unusual shape, shown above at right, the Hinoki doesn't disappoint. We love the "Dr. Suess tree," or the Chirimen Hinoki Cypress. It'a another perfect tree for bonsai so we know it's a perfect tree for our miniature gardens. The photo above was taken during the NFL playoffs in January so you can see the winter blush: the deep green foliage with the amber-colored tips...

...And About that Winter Blush

Okay, it's got nothing to do with Valentine's Day nor is it anything I said.

But it is an extra-added bonus that a lot of conifers get in the colder areas in winter. The “winter blush” is a natural result of freezing winter temperatures and the Hinokis change color when we need it the most. 

There are some that have up to five different colors on them at once, just because it’s cold. Some get an amber hue to them and others turn into a palette of amber, rust, yellows, pinks and gray-greens that lighten the dreariest of winter days.

July 4th Patriotic Miniature Garden with Jean Iseli Hinoki Cypress

Above: The Jean Iseli Hinoki Cypress left to grow naturally into a "big" tree shape in this July 4th / Patriotic miniature garden.


Basic Care for the Hinoki Cypress

The Hinokis are originally from central Japan and some can live for hundreds of years which is a testament to their durability. 

They are used to extreme heat in their natural environment in Asia and most are cold hardy to -20 F. The Hinokis grow best in moist, well-drained soil (not wet) and can easily stand a part sun spot if need be.

I find them great for containers too, just avoid that hot, afternoon sun in the summertime so the pot won’t dry out too often, this will put undue stress on them and they’ll get cranky and die. If the roots stay cool and damp, the Hinoki will be happy.

Indoors? - I have read that Hinoki Cypress can be grown indoors but it will need the right kind of environment. In my experience, the indoor climate is too dry, with not enough light and best suited for outdoors only. 

Watering: In containers, regular watering, let the soil dry out to barely damp in between watering sessions to avoid over watering. In-ground, the need water in the dry months after they are established, (which means regular watering for the first full year, at least, after that, it should be established in the ground.)

Light: most do well in full sun when they are established in the garden bed. Hinoki's can be grow in part sun, or 5 to 6 hours of direct sun. In containers, keep them out of the hot, afternoon sun so they won't scorch.

Soil: Basic potting soil with no added fertilizers nor water-retaining polymers is perfect for containers. Soil for in-ground may need some research depending upon the condition of the garden soil you already have. Check with your local independent garden center for more info on your garden soil. (Bring a sample.)

Pruning: A bit of research is needed here, your Hinoki may need some winter pinching to keep it bushy or it will get spindly-looking as it matures. Other's don't need much pruning at all and will turn into a great little tree on its own. Prune no more than ⅓ at a time. Do not cut into brown or dead branches as it will not come back.

The Jean Iseli Hinoki Cypress

Above: The Jean Iseli Hinoki Cypress after a few years of growth, in the miniature garden. 


Hinoki's Are Different

Note that there are other types of Cypress trees and shrubs that we enjoy for our miniature gardening too: the Lawson Cypress are a fun indoor/outdoor tree if you have the right environment, the Sawara Cypress come in a variety of colors and are a tougher, outdoor alternative to the Hinoki and the Cupressus are called Cypress as well, like the Monteray Cypress, a.k.a. the Lemon Cypress, another indoor/outdoor tree for the right spot.

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