Hinoki Cypress Trees

Growing Tips for Dwarf, Semi-Dwarf Types

Picture of a Hinoki cypress.
Picture of a Hinoki cypress. David Beaulieu

What Are Hinoki Cypress Trees?

Plant taxonomy classifies Hinoki cypress as Chamaecyparis obtusa. 'Gracilis' is the name of the cultivar with which I deal here, the common name for which is "Slender Hinoki cypress." The Slender cultivar is not a full dwarf Hinoki cypress (see below), but is compact enough for most landscaping needs. Hinokis are actually a type of false cypress, as indicated by their genus name, Chamaecyparis.

In terms of botanical classification, Slender Hinoki cypress plants are classified as evergreen conifer trees.

Tree Characteristics

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Gracilis' trees are intermediate-sized or "semi-dwarf" Hinoki cypresses, being more compact (about 15 feet tall at maturity, and about 5 feet wide) than the species trees (which reach more than 50 feet in height) but not as short as 'Nana Gracilis,' the full dwarf (9 feet tall at maturity). The flattish sprays of scale-like needles will remind some of arborvitae, but the sprays of Hinoki cypress trees curl down slightly. Adding further charm to a mature plant is its nodding top and arching branches, which also droop at their tips.

Although not a weeping tree, the "droopy" appearance of a mature Hinoki cypress (in its foliage sprays, branch tips and top) is certainly its outstanding feature, giving the tree a soft appearance. On young plants, the branches appear to twist and turn every which way.

Planting Zones, Sun and Soil Requirements

Indigenous to Japan, Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Gracilis' can be grown in USDA planting zones 5-8.

Grow this tree in full sun and in a well-drained soil. Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Gracilis' is not fussy when it comes to soil pH, but you should add humus to the soil to provide nutrients.

Uses in Landscaping, Tips

Use a pair of Slender Hinoki cypress trees in a symmetrical planting, as you would other evergreens popular for foundation plantings, such as dwarf Alberta spruce and columnar junipers. It can serve as a specimen plant in a Japanese garden.

Do not plant Hinoki cypress under any tree that sheds small leaves. As those small leaves fall, they will get trapped in the splayed foliage (which is quite dense). You will probably want to clean out this debris, adding to what landscaping chores you already have. I made the mistake of planting mine under a honey locust tree, and, believe me, as minor as this consideration may sound, heeding my warning can save you quite a bit of inconvenience.

Care: Pruning Hinoki Cypress Trees

You can prune (or simply pinch out, using your fingers) new growth to shape Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Gracilis' and make it less susceptible to damage from snow and ice, but never make pruning cuts into the older branches (unless you wish to remove a whole branch in order to give your plant a better shape), since they will not generate any new growth.

Slender Hinoki Cypress Trees vs. 'Nana Gracilis,' The True Dwarf

You may scoff at the classification of a tree that will eventually reach 15 feet as "semi-dwarf," but the fact is that Slender Hinoki cypress trees are extremely slow growers. This means that, if you buy a small one, for many years you will enjoy a tree that fits very reasonably within a small space. But if you are planning for the long-term and have a very strict space requirement, buy 'Nana Gracilis' Hinoki cypress, instead. 'Nana Gracilis' is the true dwarf. But even this true dwarf Hinoki cypress will reach 9 feet at maturity.

Origin of the Scientific Names for Slender and Dwarf Hinoki Cypress

Slender Hinoki cypress bears the scientific name of Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Gracilis'; for the true dwarf Hinoki cypress, it is Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Gracilis.' Here is how those names break down, so that you can remember them better:

  • Chamaecyparis means "false cypress."
  • Obtusa means blunt, referring, I assume, to the appearance and feel of the needles.
  • Gracilis is Latin for "slender."
  • Nana is Latin for "dwarf."