Plant Profile: Hinoki False Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Gracilis’)


Today’s post is about one of my favorite evergreen shrubs/small trees, the Hinoki False Cypress. This plant conjures up memories of my days at Virginia Tech. There used to be one right outside the classroom at the greenhouses and I would admire it as I was going to my Floriculture class. At the time, the plant was no taller than me and it was of considerable age…Hinoki False Cypress is a slow growing but striking specimen in the landscape.

It’s this slow growing tendency that makes this plant ideal in the landscape. Even though the plant tops out at around 6′ tall, its pokey growth rate enables it to be used in the smallest of gardens. It is best used as an accent or backdrop for other plants. Its rich, dark green foliage accentuates lighter colored foliage and blooms…imagine it paired with ‘Pee Wee’ Hydrangea or one of the fall blooming Anemones. Stunning! Another popular use is in the rock garden…the plant has an alpine air to it so it fits perfectly.

This particular Chamaecyparis enjoys a little protection from afternoon sun here in Zone 7. Don’t plant it in full shade or it will get rangy and look more like an awkward teenager than a striking specimen. But a little protection from the blazing hot sun can help keep it from turning brown and crispy around the edges. Hinoki False Cypress also enjoys moist well-drained soil. That doesn’t mean it won’t tolerate less…it just means that if it could pick anywhere in the world to put down its roots, moist well-drained soil would be it. If you have an area that is slow to drain after a rain, select another plant for this area; Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Gracilis’ will have no parts of standing water.

In my opinion, one of the most attractive features of this small tree is the foliage when viewed up close. Its sprays of flattened foliage are dark green and whirled in appearance. To me, it resembles a miniature stand of conifers that you would see in a conifer forest. Speaking of miniature, Hinoki False Cypress is often used in bonsais due to its slow growth. And considering that it was the Japanese that perfected the art of bonsai, it makes sense that the plant is native to there. Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Gracilis’ is hardy to Zone 4 so it will breeze right through Mid-Atlantic winters unscathed and look absolutely amazing with a covering of snow in the winter.

There are few pests that enjoy the Hinoki False Cypress. Bagworms can be an issue but they are easily picked off a shrub that only reaches 6′ tall at maturity. As long as it is planted in anything but wet soil, this plant should thrive for years and years in your garden. If you have experience with Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Gracilis’, leave a comment in the section below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!

December 14, 2011Permalink 48 Comments

48 thoughts on “Plant Profile: Hinoki False Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Gracilis’)

  1. I purchased a Hinoki false cypress about a year ago (Fall 2011) and put it in an appx 3 gal ceramic pot. Is on my front porch and gets very little direct light. I water and feed regularly. Many of it’s “leaves are turning brown (from bottom up) and now some lower branches are dying. Looks to be pretty hardy from my research and can’t figure what’s going on. Any suggestions? Think I should put it in the ground or maybe move pot to sunnier location???

    • Then it’s probably in too much shade. Dwarf cypress are a slow growing shrub/small tree so if you have a sunnier area that you can put it so that you can still utilize the pot, do so. Otherwise, go ahead and put it in the ground.

      A camellia would probably do well in your shadier area and it will even bloom for you. Well, I guess that depends where you live. They don’t usually do well north of Zone 7.

  2. I planted a Hinoki about a year ago at the edge of some woods on my property. It has some pachysandra growing within a foot of the trunk. The area gets quite a bit of sun and some shade.
    My problem is a couple of the lower branches are getting yellow. It happened this spring and I removed mulch, which was around the trunk, which cleared up the problem. Now I am wondering if the pachysandra is a problem source. It has been very wet this fall.
    The Hinoki is about 3 feet high with beautiful color throughout most of the tree. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
    Dave Donnelly

    • Hi Dave. I just saw your comment…it must have gotten hung up in cyberworld somewhere. Where are you located? In Virginia, if your pachysandra is thriving then it’s probably too shady for your Hinoki. If you’re up north, this may not be as much of an issue since the sun isn’t as intense. Let me know where you live and I can give you some better feedback. Thanks!

  3. Hi Stacy
    I live in Western Massachusetts. The Hinoki is located in front of most of the Pachysandra, on the South side, so it gets a fair amount of sun. I pulled out most of the Pachysandra which was right up against the Hinoki. Should I fertilize the Hinoki? I double checked the height and it is only about 2 feet tall.

    • If you want to fertilize, I recommend using an organic fertilizer such as Plant Tone or the like. Another consideration is whether the cypress is planted too deeply. It may not be too deep from when you planted it but it could have been too deep in the pot when you purchased it. Unfortunately, it’s a common nursery practice.

  4. I have already sent you a problem regarding my newly-planted, 4 ft. Hinoki false cypress and the fact that the top branches are turning reddish-brown. I also want to add that the tree is planted in full sun light, but, of course, we don’t get THAT much sun in the Pacific N.W. I live west of the Cascade Mountains, and we get plenty of rain from October through April (sometimes June). I want to save this tree because it is so beautiful. Thank you. Carolyn Henry

      • I have a similar problem. 7 ft. tall false cypress planted at front of house mid October 2014 in Pacific NW. It gets morning shade, afternoon sun. We had high winds last fall, and it lost some small “branchlets”, but no major damage. I noticed a couple brown branches a couple of weeks ago, and went out to prune them off. I noticed that the tips of the needles are turning a brownish red and send off a dust when moved. This is mostly prevalent on the top and back side of the plant. The plant is located near a corner of our home, about 4 feet from the house and not under the roof overhang. Is this natural, or a sign of distress? The plant is on a slope in fairly loose soil & although drainage is good, it does have enough organic material to allow a moisture supply to the plant.

    • Hello, Carolyn. I am hoping you can share some of your findings with me. I have a similar problem. 7 ft. tall false cypress planted at front of house mid October 2014 in Pacific NW. It gets morning shade, afternoon sun. We had high winds last fall, and it lost some small “branchlets”, but no major damage. I noticed a couple brown branches a couple of weeks ago, and went out to prune them off. I noticed that the tips of the needles are turning a brownish red and send off a dust when moved. This is mostly prevalent on the top and back side of the plant. The plant is located near a corner of our home, about 4 feet from the house and not under the roof overhang. Is this natural, or a sign of distress? The plant is on a slope in fairly loose soil & although drainage is good, it does have enough organic material to allow a moisture supply to the plant.

  5. Just an update on my Hinoki in Massachusetts. It has grown about a foot taller, is somewhat wider and there is no longer a trace of brown foliage. It is now a perfect specimen. I did use some Holly Tone fertilizer, as per recommendation from Stacy. I also water whenever there has been a period with a lack of rain.
    Thank you Stacy.

  6. I live in New York (zone 5) and have a Cham Obtusa Gracilis planted in the front of my house (west side). I planted it this spring and it has been doing great. Now come late Sept I see the inside of the branches are turning yellow to brown. The tips are still green. Is this just a natural cycle like I see with white spruce? Or is there something wrong with my tree. It is a beautiful tree that I would have to loose. Thanks for your help!!!! Jen

    • It’s hard to say why your Hinoki is turning yellow to brown but I have a few guesses. Was your summer wet like Virginia’s? And did it stop raining within the last month? If so, the difference in precipitation could be causing the issue. My other guess is that it needs a wee bit of fertilizer. Just a touch…not too much. Pick up some natural fertilizer like Espoma and fertilize at the low rate listed on the bag. The idea is not to force new growth (it’s way too late in the season for that) but to satisfy the plant’s nutrient requirements. Let me know if that helps!

      • Yes we had the same weather…..VERY wet then no rain. I put some Holly Tone around the tree and watered good. So I will keep my fingers crossed. Thank you!!!!

  7. Hello I was gifted my Hinoki false cypress by my mother. I live in a condo that has east exposure. The Hinoki has been repotted in a 2-3 gallon pot with drainage holes. It is located on my balcony with partial protection and has full sunlight from morning to afternoon. Problem is the branches on the bottom are starting to brown. I water the plant every approx 2 weeks with a full 2L of water. I went back to the store where the Hinoki was purchased and I was informed that they should be properly planted in the earth. As I said I live in a condo so that’s not really an option. Is there anything that 1) you could recommend for me to try and 2) anything I can do to prepare it for the winter season. As I said my balcony is mostly protected from strong wind so snow rarely is a problem; I’m more concerned with the temperature. Oh I also live in Toronto Canada…sorry as you can probably tell I have totally brown thumbs but I really want to keep and save this tree!! Thanks

  8. Hi, I live in Louisville, Kentucky and would like to know the best time to plant any kind of Hinoki. We had a record rainfall, in October, of over 8 inches, so the ground is wetter that usual, for this time of year. Would it be advisable to plant Hinoki, this late in the year? Thanks.

    • Hi Shirley. As long as your soil isn’t saturated and soggy, you should be fine to plant your Hinoki now. I’m assuming that Louisville is in Zone 6(B) so the ground shouldn’t freeze for a long while. Here in Richmond, VA the ground doesn’t usually freeze until January and then it’s only a couple of inches down. Hope that helps!

      • Thanks very much. It does help, for our normal weather patterns, but this year is being anything but, normal. After a record wet, October, we are having a below average temperatures, for November. What is the latest to plant Hinoki, in normal Zone 6 conditions. Thanks so much for you response.

      • Thanks very much for the response and it would be very helpful, under normal Zone 6 weather conditions. This year has been anything but “normal”. After a record wet October, we are having a colder than normal November. What is the very latest that it is advisable to plant any kind of Hinoki, in normal Zone 6 climate. Thanks so much for your response. It is greatly appreciated and I am sharing with others. Regards, Shirley Oliver.

  9. I am considering planting Hinoki false cyprus in pots in front of my apartment building in NYC. The exposure is East, and there is plenty of sun – no buildings across the street. Also set back from street so no salt problem when it snows.
    Would an hinoki make it in a pot? If I wanted a six foot specimen, how big a pot would I need?

  10. How does Hinoki do in coastal areas such as central New Jersey? We’re about 3 blocks west of the ocean. Arbor vitae, cherry laurel, liriope, holly, and callery pear do well in my yard. Will hinoki?

  11. We planted ours last spring and it gre over a foot but this winter it is turning brown all over it. We live in Denver and have had decent snowfall and melting this year. It gets about 5 hours of direct sun in the winter. Much more in the summer. Even though it is winter it is still very dry. Should I be watering this every few days or doing something else to help it?

  12. Mine too is looking really bad ( can send picture to see ). I’m located in the North part of Indianapolis, IN. Can anything be done to save it – or is this just too picky of a plant to keep looking nice?

  13. A kind gentleman just ‘gave’ me a Hinoki last summer. I didn’t know him; he had an extra I believe and just saw me working in my garden in Southeast Michigan. I am quite certain it is the type this forum is about. It was about 2.5′ and all green and gorgeous and I planted it in a sunny to part shade portion of my garden, protected from the west wind by the house, but it gets a lot of wind anyway. There is a pretty old Oak 10-12′ away with a high canopy. It started to turn a little brown in the top 1/3 late summer; then this spring looked about 1/2 brown; but now has some green at the very top. We had a pretty brutal winter for Michigan, lots of snow and even below zero weather, but shouldn’t have affected a zone 4 plant. I don’t think I planted it too deep, but do you think the problem is too much moisture? I believe I planted it at the depth it was in the pot, or slightly higher. The ground slops away from the trunk all the way around just slightly. Should I just dig it up and replant higher? Or, should I just fertilize with Holly tone or Plant tone first. I don’t believe I fertilized it, though I amended the soil with humus and soil conditioner (my soil is somewhat clay dominant) when I planted it. The brown areas are one branch at the bottom, some interior mid way up the plant are totally dried and brittle, and at the top though as I said this definitely has green coming in underneath. Others branches are still soft but the fronds are almost all brown, maybe some green coming in now. I have no experience with this little lovely tree and love its shape, but should I prune out the dead growth? I would love your advice.

  14. I’m considering purchasing the Hinoki False Cypress Tree at Lowes. We do get quite a bit of rain from April through July here in Bruceton Mills, WV zone 6. The soil is mostly clay after about 4 inches. I plan to plant in a kidney shaped berm along with other plants and I would like to know how deep and how wide should I dig out and replace with good type draining soil? How deep and how wide do the nursing root system go?

    Thanks for your help! Allan

  15. I planted a 7ft Cham Obtusa Gracilis last year next to my front door. It looks excellent except for the lower half where the deer ate mostly all of the foliage (the deer seemed to eat everything during this extra harsh winter here in NY). Do you feel there is any possibility of the foliage growing back or should I be thinking of something to plant in front of it to disguise the deer damage.
    Thanks Jen

  16. Hey, I have a golden dwarf honoki cypress. It is in a pot that has drainage holes, and I try to keep the soil moist.
    My problem is that some of the branches and foliage are turning yellowish.
    My guess is that it isn’t receiving enough light. Does that sound accurate?
    And if so, once I move it into full sun during the day, do you think this foul age will regain color? Or is it already gone? I could just pull it.
    Thank you!

    • Full sun will bring back out the yellow color. Shade tends to make them green, not yellowish. I would move it and wait to see if the health improves

  17. I just recently purchased a drawf hinoki that is about 2.5 ft tall. What caught my eye was how the nursery had it looking like a topiary with just the leaves on the tip of the branches. My question is will the tips bush out more or will it start sprouting more leaves on the bare parts. I love the topiary look (I planted it in a 3 x 2 foot area in front of my porch with full sun) or did I just get a sick plant?

  18. Hi,
    I live in zone 6b in Northern VA, and planted this Hinoki tree as a specimen plant in the center of my patio flower bed against a cream colored vinyl fence, about 6 feet high. I planted 2 small eonymus bushes to each side of it but now realize that it is not the best looking shrub to be beside this tree because the branches are straggly. What would you suggest I plant right next to it that would give it a Zen look and complement its shape? I have a Japanese snowbell tree 10 feet to the right of it and just shrubs in between, and German bearded iris. Five feet to the left of the tree, I have a butterfly bush. Please advise. Thanks.

  19. I live in the West Central Highlands of Virginia. I have a Cham obtusa gracilis planted in a large container positioned at the end corner of the house. It is about 4 ft. tall and has been in the container for a year. It had been doing very well but in the last month or two has developed brown leaves close to the trunk and the leaves at the ends of the branches are beginning to turn brown. I’ve moved the container so that it will get more sun and have today put some Tree Tone around it. I’m afraid it’s dying. A friend suggested I plant it in the ground but I wonder if that would shock it. It was not planted too deeply – perhaps not deeply enough. I fear I have been inconsistent in watering it. The container drains very well.
    Any thoughts on how to save the tree? Thanks.

  20. Hi!,
    This is the second year we’ve had our hinoki. We are in New York City and its in a very well drained planter, south facing. We dote on our little tree and it has thrived since we git it. This Spring I noticed the tips of all turned brown, I don’t remember that happening last year. Any idea of what it could be and what to do about it?
    Really appreciate your suggestions.

  21. Hi,
    I am trying to find a Cham obtuse gracilis tree for in front of my house (in NY). Most places sell the “Nana Gracilis”. I have a Gracilis “slender”. Are these the same trees? If not, what is the difference? Most of the trees I have found at the garden center are on the smaller side (around 3ft tall). Do you know the growth rate for these? I have not been able to find a garden center that is familiar with both names.
    Thanks for any insight.

    • They are different plants. The Nana in ‘Nana Gracilis’ means that it’s a dwarf version and the one that I reference in the article. Have you tried an independently owned garden center? Or a landscape supplier that sells both wholesale and re-sale? They would likely be able to get one in for you.


  22. I just purchased an Hinoki False Cypress in a pot. It’s about 5.5 – 6 ft. tall. I live in the Pacific Northwest east of the Cascades. It has been in the upper 90s to over 100 for weeks. This week we are in upper 80s to mid 90s. Can I put this in the ground or should I wait for cooler weather? Any help would be greatly appreciated.


  23. I recently purchased several bonsai trees @ a local nursery. The care tickets are all missing.
    I reside in Williamsburg VA. I wish to keep them outdoors I have full sun in the morning and partial shade in the afternoon.
    the one tree is listed as Chama, obtus “Sunny Swirl” lse
    the second tree is listed as Chamaecyparis obtus “Melody”
    the third tree is listed as Thuja orientails “Morgan”

    Can you possibly assist me on their care. Each of the pots they are in has drainage holes.

    In advance many thanks for your assistance.

  24. I would like to plant a two foot Hinoki False Cypress in a sunny planting area in the front of my condo, but that area just had a “Black Walnut” tree removed two months ago. I was told the soil stays toxic for at least 6 months and forever for some plants. All the lists I find for plants that can be planted near where a Black Walnut was, never seems to list any evergreens. Would it be a big gamble to try an plant the Hinoki in that soil? Should I wait 6 months. Would really appreciate your advise. Thank you, Pat

  25. I would like to try to confirm the average maximum width for a Gracilis (Slender Hinoki)” and if planing where only afternoon west planed high up against a house near its entrance so drainage will not be an issue also getting an idea of how fast these will grow would be helpful. We would like to place these as a screen to two large air conditioner units . We hope they would remain dense enough so we can not see though them when we plant thena nd as the merge together especailly at the first 3 feet which is the hight of the ac units.
    Look forward to your reply, Thanks Robert

  26. Hi. I found others with my problem, but no published response, so, I will tell you about our hinoki.
    It is about 7 ft, planted close to the house on the north side in the Pacific Northwest. It did great for about 2 years, then began to get brown in the center. The top of the tree became brown, and the foliage began to curl at the tips.
    We cleaned out beneath, spreading the mulch away from the trunk, in case the people who put it in for us put it in too deep. We have not seen any bugs or caterpillars on it. My husband, in a drastic response, removed about 16 inches of the treetop. Now it looks very sad and silly.

    Please advise us. I like this little tree.

  27. Hello. I’m looking to purchase a Slender Hinoki. The picture above doesn’t resemble the picture I’ve seen … Is this the Slender Hinoki? If so can you tell me the difference between it and the others? Thx!

  28. I’m considering planting HInoki cypress on facing west here in Santa Fe NM (5B). I worry that the july-august heat may be too much for them. What do you think?

    • I imagine that your sun is pretty brutal in New Mexico. I think that the Hinoki would probably benefit from some afternoon shade in that environment.

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