Hinoki False Cypress Bonsai Care Guide

Classed as a false cypress, the Hinoki is a beautiful evergreen tree with coniferous foliage, making it a very suitable bonsai tree for a classic look.

Native to central Japan, the Hinoki false cypress is a great choice, but not for those just starting out in growing plants as bonsai trees.

Interested? Here’s what you need to know. 

Growing A Hinoki Cypress As A Bonsai Tree

A very attractive option for a bonsai tree, the hinoki cypress only gets more beautiful with each year. Given the right care, it can last for hundreds of years. 

You can recognize a hinoki cypress by its deep reddish brown bark, peeling with age, and scale-like foliage. It also produces petite cones which can reach up to 1cm wide.

The scientific name of this striking plant is Chamaecyparis obtusa, and you’ll also see it labeled as the Japanese cypress.

The reason why the hinoki cypress is called the false cypress is that it only resembles one. It’s not actually related to the cypress, which is part of the Cupressus plant family. Instead, the hinoki cypress comes from the Chamaecyparis family. 

In its normal form, it’s grown for both its ornamental value and its timber, where it can reach up to 115 feet tall. It is worth noting that it is classified as Near Threatened in its natural habitat.

As a bonsai tree, it will stay at a much more manageable height, usually at about 50cm tall when mature, but this depends on how you prune it, and what style you choose. 

While it makes a great bonsai tree, it is not a wise choice for beginners (see also Bonsai Beginners Guide).

The reason for this is that while the plant is technically classed as a slow-growing tree, it will put out a lot of new growth quickly, which tends to overlap and cause problems. 

How Should You Start A Hinoki Cypress Bonsai Tree?

Growing a hinoki cypress bonsai is relatively easy, provided that you grow it from cuttings. Trying to grow a hinoki cypress from seed will be difficult at best, and it could take years to get a healthy sapling.

Using cuttings vastly speeds up the process, and it means that you don’t have to wait nearly as long before you can train it into your desired shape.

When picking your cuttings, make sure they are all around 2-3 inches long, and preferably still green. This will ensure that the cuttings root quickly, and give them the best chance of thriving.

Put the cuttings straight into damp compost, and pop the container into a bright indirect spot which gets plenty of warmth.

Can You Grow A Hinoki Cypress Bonsai Tree Indoors?

No. As a tree species that likes cooler temperatures, it will not survive indoors. It simply won’t get enough light, and the atmosphere inside is too warm and dry for this bonsai. 

Care Guide: How To Make Sure Your Hinoki Bonsai Tree Thrives

Sunlight And Position

A hinoki cypress bonsai tree needs as much sunlight as you can possibly give it. This goes for both the growing season, and during the winter. 

Place it somewhere sheltered if possible, to protect it from strong winds. Normally, it will tolerate winds just fine, but the combination of fierce winds and cold temperatures will make your hinoki cypress bonsai suffer.

During the winter, you’ll need to provide your hinoki cypress with some protection from freezing temperatures. Keep it somewhere unheated, like next to your house, a porch way, or an unheated greenhouse.

Wherever you choose to store your hinoki cypress bonsai over winter, make sure that it can get as much light as physically possible.

Soil Requirements

The key to keeping your hinoki bonsai tree healthy is to give it the right soil. It absolutely needs to drain well, and it must not contain lime.

If you live somewhere that gets consistently warm temperatures, your hinoki bonsai tree will benefit from some water retention crystals in the soil, to help with moisture retention.

Having said that, you may want to add a layer of grit into the bottom of the container, which will help improve drainage. It will also divert water from pooling at the roots for too long, which would cause root rot. 

When To Water

As bonsai trees go, the hinoki cypress loves lots of water. This can make watering tricky, as you need to strike a balance between giving it enough water while not flooding the soil, and drowning the roots.

Adding some horticultural grit to the soil will help to a degree, but it won’t save your bonsai tree if you overwater it. 

Don’t let your hinoki cypress bonsai dry out completely, but allow at least some of the water to evaporate from the top few inches of the soil.

During the height of summer, you may find yourself watering your hinoki cypress bonsai as much as once a day.

Always aim to water your bonsai tree less during the winter months, as the plant won’t need as much with its reduced growth, but you still need to prevent the soil from drying out completely.

Fertilizing Your Hinoki Cypress Bonsai

As the soil needs to be very well-draining, this can compromise the level of nutrients which are packed into the soil.

As bonsai compost mixes go, they tend to have little goodness. This is by design, as too many nutrients will cause the plant to grow much taller than you’d want as a bonsai tree.

This means that you do need to feed your hinoki cypress bonsai during its growing season.

Use a balanced liquid fertilizer, one which has the same amount of each ingredient, and use it sparingly. Only feed your hinoki bonsai tree when it requires watering, about every three waterings or so from spring until summer.

You don’t need to fertilize your hinoki cypress bonsai during the winter, and this can do more harm than good, so save your fertilizer until spring!

How to Prune A Hinoki Cypress Bonsai Tree

Pruning is something that all bonsai enthusiasts learn, and it’s usually by trial and error. When it comes to pruning a hinoki cypress bonsai, you need to be careful how you do it.

It’s an unforgiving plant if you take your scissors to it. Some branches will die off completely if you cut them back too hard, or it can kill the whole plant.

It’s important to prune your hinoki bonsai regularly. Not only will this keep it healthy, but it will also keep it compact. 

The easiest way to prune it while causing the least damage possible is to pinch out new growth with your fingers. Using scissors will cause the surviving leaves to turn brown, so put them down! 

Repotting A Hinoki Cypress Bonsai Tree

Typically, your hinoki cypress bonsai will only need repotting every three years or so as a young tree.

Trim back around a third of the total root ball, and this will help stop it from becoming pot bound when you put it back in the same size container.

It’s worth noting that the roots on this particular species grow quickly, so you may need to remove more than a third, depending on how fast your specific tree grows its roots.

Once it starts to mature, you can get away with waiting four years before you repot it. 

Whatever the age of your hinoki bonsai, only repot it during spring.

Conclusion

A hinoki false cypress tree is a great choice for bonsai growing, as it’s a long-lived and attractive plant. 

Because of its rate of growth, and how unforgiving it is to improper pruning and care, it’s not one that’s suitable for beginners, but take good care of it, and it will reward you for years to come as a striking and eye-catching bonsai tree.

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