True to its name, the dwarf Hinoki cypress may be one of the more diminutive evergreens you can grow, but it makes an oversized contribution when it’s included in landscaping or container gardens. With its fan-shaped foliage ranging in color from golden yellow to deep green, this compact shrub is an excellent winter interest plant that also looks great all year long. Dwarf Hinoki cypress shrubs add extra texture and dimension when included in rock gardens, entryways, and many other planting sites. They work particularly well for gardeners with small spaces. What’s more, this dwarf evergreen is a good candidate for topiary displays and even bonsai.
Meet the dwarf Hinoki cypress
The full-sized Hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa) hails from southern Japan as well as parts of Taiwan. Special in its own right, the Hinoki tree has long been sacred to those who practice the Shinto religion. While Hinoki cypress trees can reach heights of 75 to 130 feet, their dwarf Hinoki cypress counterparts are slow growing and much smaller.
Although many different Hinoki cypress dwarf cultivars exist, Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Gracilis’ is among the most widely available. ‘Nana Gracilis’ has a globe-like growth habit. Its dark green foliage also includes some flashes of silver and is arranged into soft, fan-like clusters. (Incidentally, when shopping for a dwarf Hinoki cypress, you may notice some commercial growers list the plant as a Dwarf Hinoki False Cypress.)
Other cultivars you are most likely to find include Koster’s False Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Kosteri’ ), which features bright green foliage which goes slightly bronze in winter and a more pyramidal growth habit, and Night Light™ Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Conschlect’ ) which has loose, yellowish-green foliage marked with golden tips.
Once you do settle on just the right cultivar, find out whether the nursery you plan to buy from offers a healthy plant guarantee. Also, ask whether they’ll send a free replacement plant if the cypress you ordered is lost or damaged in transit.
How big does a dwarf Hinoki cypress grow?
The rate of growth of a dwarf Hinoki cypress partly depends on the cultivar you choose to grow as well as your microclimate. As a general rule, you can expect most dwarf Hinoki cypress specimens to grow between 1 and 6 inches per year. They are very slow growing, so in about 10 years, they can reach from 1 to 5 feet tall. Their mature width ranges from 2 to 5 feet and, at full maturity, they can top out at 10 to 25 feet.
But reaching their mature height can take many, many years. Case in point, Dan Robinson, owner of Washington state-based Elandan Gardens, tended a dwarf Hinoki cypress bonsai tree that was nearly 60 years old. It was 4 feet tall and its trunk was 5 inches around. (Valued at $20,000, the tree was stolen in 2012! “It’s like a child somebody stole,” Robinson told a local reporter at the time. Sadly, it has not been recovered.)
Where to plant this compact evergreen shrub
Since dwarf Hinoki cypress trees are such slow growers, they’re perfect for containers placed on a deck or patio, arranged in plantings by front doors, or interspersed with perennial flowers in the wider landscape. They also make great additions when mixed with other kinds of conifers to create an evergreen hedge. Just be sure to give your dwarf Hinoki cypress a place of honor in front of taller, wider, or faster-growing trees and shrubs.
With proper care, most types of dwarf Hinoki cypress can tolerate periods of high heat and humidity very well. They generally thrive in USDA hardiness zones 4 through 9. (For best results, consider your specific hardiness zone and microclimate when choosing a dwarf Hinoki cultivar to grow.)
Whether you obtain a potted or balled-and-burlapped tree, early spring is an ideal time for planting. Your dwarf Hinoki cypress can grow in most any soil type as long as it affords good drainage. Like most other evergreens, it will perform best in soil that is rich in organic matter and has a slightly acidic pH.
Once you’ve settled on a planting location, dig a hole that’s about a foot wider than the plant’s root ball. Plant the cypress, using the soil that came out of the hole to backfill, and then water it in well. Remove the burlap and twine before planting if the plant’s roots were surrounded with it. If it was growing in a pot, loosen the roots with a hand-held garden fork or hori hori knife before placing the shrub in its planting hole. Finally, adding mulch around newly planted dwarf Hinoki trees helps them to retain moisture. Mulching also guards plant roots against cold, drying winter winds.
How much sun does a dwarf Hinoki cypress need?
These beautiful little shrubs prefer full sun, but they will tolerate partial shade. In this case, “full sun” typically means six hours of direct sunlight each day. As for dwarf cypress trees planted in shady areas, they’ll still need a minimum of three hours of sunlight daily.
It’s worth noting that there is some variation between different varieties and their responses to sunlight. For instance, the foliage on cultivars such as Night Light™ Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Conschlecht’) turns a pretty, bright gold when grown in areas with strong sunlight.
Watering a dwarf Hinoki cypress
As your specimen slowly becomes established, you should water it about once each week. Just don’t overdo it. While these evergreens do like moist soil, they don’t like periods of prolonged “wet feet.” Not sure whether you should water or not? Carefully dig your fingers into the top few inches of soil around the plant. If it feels dry to the touch, it’s likely time to water. Add 3 to 5 gallons of water slowly each time you water, allowing it to gently soak down to the roots. Once the plant is established, you’ll only have to water during times of drought.
Fertilizing this small conifer
Dwarf Hinoki cypress trees aren’t heavy feeders. After all, they don’t have to regrow a whole new set of leaves year after year as other types of trees do. They’re also just naturally very slow growers.
One way to give them a nutrient boost is to work extra worm castings or mature compost into the soil. But, if you would like to use something stronger, you can always add an evergreen-specific organic fertilizer or a tree and shrub fertilizer in early spring.
Do you need to prune a dwarf Hinoki cypress to keep it small?
Let’s say you’re growing the popular Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Gracilis’ cultivar and want to make sure it stays small. If you never pruned it, this particular dwarf Hinoki cypress would take a full decade to reach the three- or four-foot mark.
In general because of their naturally upright growth habit and slow rate of growth, dwarf Hinoki cypress don’t require regular pruning—unless, perhaps, you’re growing them as bonsai trees or deliberately shaping them as topiary. But it is a good idea to prune any damaged or diseased branches. And, if you want that ‘Nana Gracilis’ to stay extra small, some very conservative snipping of new growth is all you really need. Late summer or early fall is a good time for pruning.
Do deer eat dwarf Hinoki cypress plants?
We aren’t the only ones who can appreciate the dwarf Hinoki cypress’s striking foliage colors and textures—hungry deer happen to like these evergreens, too! If you fail to protect your plantings, you could lose some of them to nibbling deer in your area. Fortunately, I have had good luck keeping my dwarf cypress plants safe by covering them with deer netting. Both heavy-duty bird netting and garden fencing work well to keep deer from chewing up bark and needle clusters.
Watch this video for a quick synopsis of info on caring for this small, evergreen shrub:
Dwarf Hinoki cypress may be fairly low-maintenance, but that doesn’t mean they’re impervious to pests or pathogens. These evergreens sometimes play host to:
- Bagworms—Unless you have several of these shrubs, you should be able to inspect and hand-pick the bagworms’s signature bags before these populations get out-of-hand. But if you do have a large bagworm infestation, you can apply Bt spray. (Bt—or Bacillus thuringiensis—is a type of bacteria which affects only larval stage insects like bagworm caterpillars.)
- Scale insects, aphids, and mites—You may be able to dislodge most scale insects, aphids, and mites with a strong stream of water from the garden hose. For heavier infestations, you can put beneficial insects to work for you or, worst-case scenario, apply insecticidal soap.
- Root rot—If your soil drains poorly or you overwater, you could cause your cypress to have root rot. At first, root rot-affected plants may exhibit yellowing leaves and branches which die back. Eventually, the tree may drop its needles altogether and die. Since root rot is a soil-borne, fungal disease, it can easily spread to neighboring plants in your landscape. If you lose a dwarf cypress to root rot, it should be removed and discarded—not composted—and any potentially contaminated gardening tools should be sanitized.
Little tree, big charm
Unlike trees which lose their leaves and enter a period of dormancy in winter, this petite evergreen keeps its unique foliage year-round. It’s also a very slow-growing tree, making it a great choice for use in tight spaces, on small parcels of land, and in container gardens. Dwarf Hinoki trees also provide great winter interest and work well in decorative hedgerows throughout zones 4 through 9.
In terms of maintenance, the dwarf cypress needs little in the way of fertilizer or pruning. Once established, it is drought-tolerant. High heat and humidity levels are no trouble either. If you have a garden spot with full sun or even partial shade and well-draining soil, you can easily succeed with this charming evergreen.
Interested in finding—or just learning more about—a specific rare variety? Check out The American Conifer Society which has an extensive, searchable database including more than 100 different varieties of dwarf Hinoki cypress.
For more great shrubs for your landscape, please visit the following articles:
- Compact evergreens
- The best low-growing shrubs for the front of your house
- Early spring blooming shrubs
- Flowering shrubs for the shade
- Dwarf flowering shrubs
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