Cleyera (Cleyera japonica): How to Grow and Plant Care

If you’re looking for a screening plant which is easy to grow, and provides architectural structure and color no matter the season, Cleyera is a very good contender for the job. 

Read on to discover more about the Cleyera japonica, and what you need to know about this plant, and how you can get the best out of it. 

What is a ‘Cleyera’ Plant?

First and foremost, if you’re wondering how to pronounce this plant, we’ve got you! It’s ‘Klay-YER-uh’. 

It’s native to many parts of the world, including Myanmar, Thailand, India, Japan, Nepal, Korea, and China. It grows under forest canopies, on sloping ground as well as in ravines.

You can recognize the cleyera by its leathery foliage, where each leaf gets to a maximum of 10cm long. It does produce flowers, but this plant is valued for its foliage more than its blooms, and its reddish brown stems. 

The leaves themselves change color throughout the seasons.

It can get a maximum of 30 feet high, but in places that don’t mimic its native habitat, this is more likely to be a maximum of 15 feet. Again, the spread can range, but it’s usually a maximum of 10 feet.

The cleyera, cleyera japonica, or sakaki, is often confused with Ternstroemia gymnanthera, or False Japanese cleyera.

Cleyera Flowers

While people don’t usually grow the cleyera for its flowers, that’s not to say that they aren’t a great feature of this plant all on their own. 

The flowers appear during the first few weeks of summer, where they can appear on their own or in clusters of five. These lovely blooms drape from the base of the leaf, boasting a creamy-white hue. 

They are petite flowers, growing to around 1.5cm in diameter, and have a lovely scent. 

If you get up close, you’ll see that the flowers are symmetrical. If you were to cut one in half, both would be identical.

The flowers are also followed by black berries, which has the benefit of being a food source for birds.

Where to Grow a Cleyera Bush

While you can grow this plant in almost any position, mimicking the conditions it has adapted to over the years will guarantee that this plant will thrive. 

As it grows under forest canopies, it does particularly well in partial shade. As with many plants, the cleyera prefers well-drained soil. 

To get the best out of this plant, use an acidic soil which is full of nutrients. You could also mix some compost into the hole before planting.

Cleyera needs to be out of the wind, so deciding a place for this plant when it can get so tall can be tricky. You can of course prune it to stop it getting too big, but you need to keep on top of it!

It’s also a fairly hardy plant, withstanding conditions in USDA zones 8-12.

If you feel you might not have enough space for this plant, or you don’t want it to dwarf the rest of your garden, you can grow the cleyera as a houseplant. 

Indoors, it is much more slow-growing than it would be outside, so you won’t have to prune it too often. It will reach around 2 feet tall as a maximum size, which is much more manageable!  

Cleyera seeds can be difficult to grow, so it’s best to propagate them if you want a much smaller plant. It will also speed up the growing process than if you were to try and grow it from seed.

Care and Maintenance

Cleyera is a plant that’s easy to grow, and once you get past its first year, it is low maintenance. 

During its first year, it will need regular watering in order to help support its growth. You’ll also need to water in a cleyera if you’ve just recently planted it, repotted it, or if the weather has been particularly hot.

Cleyeras don’t require regular feeding. You could feed the mature plants every couple of years if you wish, but having decent soil or mulching around it occasionally will render this unnecessary. 

Don’t forget, a cleyera is a woodland plant, so it isn’t as “hungry” as some plants can be. The worst thing you can do is overfeed a plant, as this puts it completely out of balance, and you’ll alter its natural growth.

Pests and Diseases

Although cleyera is a very hardy plant, it is not immune to everything. Pests aren’t usually a problem, but there are a few diseases that the cleyera is vulnerable to.

The most common disease that the cleyera is vulnerable to is leaf spot. This can cause a lot of leaves to die, or if left untreated, the death of the plant itself.

You can recognize leaf spot by purple spots appearing on the surface of the leaf. If you catch it early enough, it’s very treatable. It’s always recommended cutting off any leaves which disease has taken hold of, though be careful to dispose of them properly.

Don’t let diseased leaves fall to the floor, as this will not only reinfect the plant, but it might spread to its neighbors. 

You can also use a fungicide designed to treat leaf spot, but you should always be extremely careful when using chemicals in your garden. 

Common Uses of Cleyera

Landscaping Uses

Cleyeras are used for hedges and borders, and don’t mind being heavily pruned back. It’s also useful for hiding unsightly but necessary things in your garden.

They also work well to fill huge empty spaces, adding architectural interest which you can play with within planting schemes. 

It’s a great plant to just pop into an empty space and see how it grows. That way, you can decide what will go well with it, once it starts to establish itself.

Traditional Uses

The cleyera branches are a huge part of the Shinto faith in Japan. The plant is often included in shrines. It’s also used as timber.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Cleyera a Fast-growing Plant?

This depends on whether you’re trying to grow it outside or as a houseplant. Outside, it will grow fastest in partial shade, so long as it gets well-draining soil and enough moisture.

Can Cleyera Thrive in Shade?

Yes. Cleyera particularly likes partial shade, as it mimics its natural environment. You can also grow it in full sun if you prefer. 

Do Deer Eat Cleyera?

Not really. Deer don’t particularly like this plant, especially if there’s a tastier option nearby.

Does Cleyera Flower?

Yes, cleyera plants flower, in late spring to early summer. The flowers are wonderfully scented, and are completely symmetrical, which will satisfy any eye. 

These gorgeous flowers are also followed by black fruits, which birds adore. 

Is Cleyera an Evergreen Plant?

Yes. The cleyera is evergreen, but that doesn’t mean this plant is boring, or that it looks the same all year round. In winter, the leaves turn a lovely coppery color.


While not a hugely showy plant, the cleyera is more for fans of the subtle beauty. It provides structure, color and interest all year round, without you having to put in a lot of effort. This plant mainly takes care of itself, which only makes it more attractive. 

Leave a Comment