How to Grow Hinoki Cypress

A fixture of Japanese gardens, the Hinoki cypress can grow in most climates and soil types. A relatively low maintenance tree, the Hinoki cypress has glossy dark green foliage and triangular skirting, and they are ideal for pruning and showing off. This slow growing tree comes in a variety of shapes and breeds, including slender, dwarf and pygmy varieties. Trimmed, sculpted and styled, for centuries the Hinoki cypress has flourished as a stunning bonsai subject.

Things You'll Need

  • A Hinoki Cypress tree
  • Shovel
  • Mulch or other compost
  • Watering can or hose
  • Shears
  • Fertilizer (optional)
  • Horticulture oil (optional)

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Planting the Hinoki Cypress

Amend your soil. The soil needs to be moist without being too soggy. Adjust your soil’s moisture and draining capacity with compost.

Add mulch or compost. Depending on your soil type and its capacity, add a 3-inch layer of mulch. Mulch maintains soil moisture. Plus, studies show that mulched plants grow faster than non-mulched plants.

Plant the Hinoki cypress in an area that's exposed to either partial or full sun. Sunshine is critical to the tree's growth because the inner and lower branches die and will not re-bud without it. Morning sun will keep the plant resilient. Be careful of drying winds, however. The tree will grow to be about 20 feet high, with a 4- to 5-foot width.

Dig an area for the tree. For burlap wrapped root planting, make that area three or four times the diameter of the root ball (burlap wrapped root). Dig the hole to the same depth as the container or root ball. Use a pitchfork or shovel to make shallow cuts in the sides of the hole.

Plant the tree. Untie or remove nails from the burlap at the top of the ball. Pull the burlap back. The burlap should not stick out of the hole when topped with soil. If the burlap is not natural, completely remove the synthetic wrap.

If the cypress is container-grown, lay the tree on its side to loosen and remove the container. Loosen the roots around the edges. Be careful not to break up the root ball too much. Position tree in the center of hole.

Fill the hole with soil. Top the hole with fresh soil or mulched mix. Do not amend soil with less than half original soil. If the earth is loose enough, add few or no soil amendments.

Watering and Growing

Create a water ring. Around the outer edge of the hole, dig a small ring. This small moat directs moisture to perimeter roots and encourages outer growth. Once tree is established, the water ring can be leveled.

Water in the newly planted tree. Saturate the ground where your tree is planted to fill in spaces in the soil. Leave the water running for a long time to accomplish loading the soil with water.

Prevent the roots of your trees from drying out. Feel down with your fingers a couple of inches in the dirt beside the root ball of the new tree. If the dirt is moist down 2 to 3 inches, do not water. If it is dry, then water the plant. You need to water long enough to moisten the soil 2 to 3 inches down.

Prune to style. If you’d like to prune your tree, use garden shears to cut off yellow-tipped branches as close to the trunk as possible. The best time to prune is when the tree is dormant in the winter, but light trimming is fine anytime of the year. Pruning is up to you. Shape your tree as you want it to look.

Fertilize if necessary. If your tree starts to turn yellow, it might be that it’s not getting enough nitrogen or iron. Ask for some high-nitrogen/high-iron fertilizer at a garden store. The strange coloring could also result from too much or too little water. Be sure to follow the specific watering ritual. and observe any changes in color or dryness.

Maintaining and Shaping

Program your irrigation system or regulate your watering ritual. Once you have watered, or tweaked your irrigation system a bit, the time necessary for watering will get easier to manage and predict. Usually the watering time for the Hinoki is about 30 to 45 minutes, but all soil and saturation levels differ.

Adjust the soil’s pH level. The Hinoki cypress needs a pH level of 4.5 to 7.5. In horticulture, the pH level refers to the acidity of the soil. A pH level of 7 is neutral, which means the tree needs to easily absorb all available nutrients in the soil.

Spray your tree for spider mites. As a preventative measure, spray all surfaces of tree with horticultural oil during the trees' dormant season (usually November-April). This is effective at preventing problems, and the horticultural oils are safe.

Remove any damaged limbs. Periodically, snip off any damaged or discolored branches to maintain the tree's health and beauty. It is common in the cypress but usually the discoloration comes form over- or under-watering.

Let it grow. The Hinoki cypress is a slow-growing plant. Wait patiently for it to develop. It is relatively low maintenance and has a seed start. As long as you water it regularly and maintain its health, it will flourish.

Tips & Warnings

  • Hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa) is one of the most important timber resource forest trees in Japan.
  • Some trees are so thick and bushy that even if it rains the tree may not get enough water on the root ball (burlap wrapped root) where water is vital. As the tree's root system spreads, this becomes less of an issue.
  • Watering is less of a concern from November to March when the tree is dormant and the weather is wet. Watering is a major concern during a string of hot, dry days.
  • When a tree is dug and "balled & burlapped" for sale, some of its roots are cut. Until it can establish new roots in its new location, the tree must have enough water to survive through to its burlap root ball.
  • Most problems growing trees are water related. If you wait for brown branches to appear, it might be too late. Make watering a ritual.


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