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How to Grow Japanese Cedar – Cryptomeria

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Cryptomeria —often called Japanese Cryptomeria–is a graceful conifer that grows eventually into a skyline tree, however, there are several dwarf cultivars that are low-growing and well-suited for even small gardens. 

Cryptomeria has soft bright green to bluish green foliage during the growing season. Needle-like leaves can turn brownish-purple in cold weather. Branches are slightly pendulous; the species tree grow pyramidal towards maturity. Straight trunks are in red-brown bark peeling in strips. Dwarf cultivars are effective accents in a conifer collection or in a large rock garden.

Cryptomeria is a genus of just one (possibly two) species. Cryptomeria is native to conifer forests in China and Japan. 

Cryptomeria japonica
Cryptomeria japonica

Get to know Cryptomeria 

  • Plant type: Evergreen shrub or tree
  • Growing zones and range: Zones 6 to 9  
  • Hardiness: Hardy to Zone 6 
  • Height and width: Species Ctyptomeria japonica can grow to 50 feet ((15m) tall and half as wide; shrub cultivars grow from 2.5-5 feet (.8-1.5m) high, 2.5-4.5 feet (.8-1.4m) wide. 
  • Growth rate: Medium
  • Form and habit: Compact, dome-shaped, pyramidal; eventually skyline tree with a straight columnar trunk, thin red-brown bark peeling in strips; branches, slightly pendulous.
  • Foliage: Narrowly, wedge-shaped light to dark green needlelike leaves .3-.8 inch (.8-1.8cm) long, which point forward in spirals around shoots; becomes bluish as the shrub matures and turns rust-red in cold weather; roundish, red-brown cones .8-1 inch (2-2.5cm) wide.  
  • Fruits: Globular cones .5-1 inch (1.3-2.5cm) long, dark brown.   
  • Uses: Use larger forms as specimen planting; use smaller forms as foundation plants, background for deciduous shrubs and for perennials; sometimes used in closely planted goes for a Japanese garden effect.  
  • Common name: Japanese Cryptomeria, Japanese cedar
  • Botanical name: Cryptomeria 
  • Family name: Taxodiaceae
  • Origin: Forests in China and Japan

Where to plant Cryptomeria 

  • Plant Cryptomeria in full sun or high shade. 
  • Cryptomeria needs protection from wind  
  • Plant Cryptomeria in rich, deeply dug, well-drained, moist, somewhat acidic soil; pH 6.0 to 6.7.  
Dwarf Japanese cedar, Cryptomeria japonica 'Globosa Nana'
Dwarf Japanese cedar, Cryptomeria japonica ‘Globosa Nana’

When to plant Cryptomeria 

  • Set container-grown Cryptomeria in the garden in spring or autumn.
  • Sow seed in containers in spring.

Planting and spacing Cryptomeria 

  • Space Cryptomeria according to its width at maturity; from 5 feet to 25 feet (1.5-10m) apart.
  • Set container-grown Cryptomeria into humus-rich, light, moist soil that is on the acid side, pH 6.0 to 6.7. It adapts to heavy clay soils.  

How to water and feed Cryptomeria 

  • Give Cryptomeria regular water.  
  • Feed Cryptomeria with an all-purpose organic fertilizer in spring.

How to prune and care for Cryptomeria 

  • Pruning season for Cryptomeria is after growth is completed. 
  • Some species, like the dwarf Japanese cedar, do not need pruning.  

Cryptomeria pests and diseases 

  • Needle necrosis, branch dieback, and root rot can occur in young plants.
  • Nematodes can cause stunting of Cryptomeria.
A Japanese cedar tree, Cryptomeria japonica
A Japanese cedar tree, Cryptomeria japonica

Cryptomeria propagation 

  • Sow seed in containers in a cold frame or in a seedbed in spring.
  • Root ripewood cuttings in late summer or early autumn.

Cryptomeria varieties to grow 

  • Cryptomeria japonica, this species Cryptomeria can grow to be a tall, elegant tree with a straight trunk; it matures into a pyramidal or conical form that reaches 50 feet (15m) tall and 25 feet (7.5m) wide; branches are layered from its pointed top to the ground. There are several smaller cultivars list below.
  • ‘Globosa Nana’, grows slowly to a height of 2-5 feet (.6-1.5m). It’s an excellent evergreen for rock gardens and shrub borders and works well as a background plant in large perennial borders. It succeeds in seacoast gardens if protected from the worst of the wind.  
  • ‘Elegans’, Plume Cedar, Plume Cryptomeria, quite unlike species. Feathery, grayish-green, soft-textured foliage. Turns coppery red or purplish in winter. Grows slowly into a broad-based, dense pyramid, 20-60 feet (6.1-18.3m) high. Trunks on old trees may lean or curve. For Oriental effect, prune out some branches to give tiered look. For the most effective display, give it space. Makes a good formal hedge if trimmed every August.  
  • ‘Benjamin Franklin’, a non-dwarf cultivar with blue-green foliage grows 30-40 feet (9.1-12.2m) tall.  
  • ‘Lobbii Nana’ (‘Lobbii’). Upright, dwarf, very slow to 4 feet (1.2m). Foliage dark green.  
  • ‘Pygmea’ (‘Nana’), Dwarf Cryptomeria, bushy dwarf 1.5-2 feet (3.8m) high, 2.5 feet (6.4m) wide. Dark green, needle-like leaves, twisted branches.  
  • ‘Vilmoriniana’, slow-growing dwarf 1-2 feet (2.5-5.1m). Fluffy gray-green foliage turns bronze in late fall and winter. Rock garden or container plant.  

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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