How to Grow and Care for Cleyera

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Cleyera is a genus of shrubs with about 20 recognized species. Native to China and Japan, and naturalized in Mexico and Central America, this plant is tender and evergreen.

This slow-growing perennial shrub is as much grown for its attractive, colorful foliage as for its fragrant Spring flowers and late summer berries.


The Cleyera evergreen is considered sacred in the Shinto faith in Japan and it appears in Japanese mythology. The name “sakaki” comes from the Japanese words for tree and spirit.

Plant Facts

Scientific nameCleyera japonica
Common namesJapanese Cleyera, Sakaki
Height10 to 15 feet (2.5 – 3 m)
Width8 to 10 feet (2 – 2.5 m)
USDA Plant Hardiness Zonezones 8 to 10
Native toChina, Japan
Blooming seasonSpring
Flower colorsWhite
Plant specific featuresExcellent foliage color and neat dome shape

How to Plant and Grow a Cleyera Bush

Cleyera is lovely shrubs to grow against a large wall; they tend to grow taller than they spread outwards. 

They can be used as specimen plants or used en masse to make a hedge, screen, or windbreak. 

Because you can plant in full sun or partial shade, you have a very wide choice of planting positions for a cleyera shrub and companion plants. 

Where to Plant

Although they will tolerate a partially shaded location, a position in full sun is the best for a cleyera shrub. 

One of the best uses for this evergreen shrub is as a hedge or privacy screen since they will provide fall and winter interest with their evergreen foliage and winter berries.

When to Plant

It’s best to plant in the spring or fall; if you plant in the spring, be prepared to provide more watering, since you need to keep a newly planted cleyera well-watered for the first growing season. 

Cleyera Shrubs Care and Maintenance


Cleyera will tolerate slightly alkaline soil, however, it will do best if planted in slightly acidic soil. The soil should be well-draining and rich in humus or organic matter. It will grow in sandy soil too.


When Cleyera japonica is newly planted, it needs frequent and regular watering for at least the first growing season. 

When watering, water deeply every few days, rather than just dampening the soil more often. This will encourage your plant to develop a sound, deep root system which, once established, will enable the cleyera to tolerate longer spells of dry weather. 

Keep an eye on the shrub for the first two years, to make sure it has developed a robust root network. After this, the Cleyera will tolerate drought and supplementary watering requirements will be considerably reduced.


It’s not necessary to fertilize the shrub every year, but the cleyera will benefit from feed every two or three years. At the start of the growing season, you should apply a slow-release, general-purpose fertilizer that is designed for trees and shrubs. 

Apply at the rate given by the manufacturer. Too much fertilizer will damage your plant.


This is a shrub that will benefit from plenty of light, but it requires some protection from the strong rays of the afternoon sun. This is especially true if you are growing a variegated variety of cleyera.

Pruning and Repotting

The best time to prune C. japonica is in the spring. Start by removing all dead, damaged, or diseased wood, and then you can cut back any branches that spoil the neat appearance. 

It is better to cut the unwanted branches off to the stem at the center of the plant rather than simply cutting off the ends of the branches.

Pruning in this way will encourage denseness in the center of the shrub, and get rid of the excessive exterior growth. This will help to keep the plant in a tidy shape.

If your C. japonica shrubs are growing as a hedge, then if you shear them regularly, you will be able to keep a well-formed hedge.  


Take hardwood cuttings in the early spring, before the start of the growing season. Make your cuttings around 8 cm long, and remove the lower leaves. 

Using hormone rooting powder, before inserting them into trays filled with dampened potting compost, will speed up the rooting process.

It will take up to two months for the cuttings to root, at which time you can pot them up, plant them out, and treat them as mature plants.

Pests and diseases

In the garden, very few pest problems will affect the Japanese cleyera. Soil that doesn’t drain well means that the cleyera will have its roots sitting in soggy soil, and this can lead to root rot. 

Leaf spots, yellowing of the leaves, and stunted growth can be the result of either too little or too much water. High summer temperatures and dry soil can lead to this issue occurring more commonly in the fall.

If growing as a houseplant, then the biggest threat to the plant’s health will be spider mites. To reduce the risk, spray the shrub with water every day. 

Spider mite prefers warm, dry conditions to areas with high humidity. 

Temperature and Humidity

Cleyera is often used for a houseplant as, with regular pruning, it can be kept shapely and small. It is a shrub that does well indoors, as normally rooms are of an ideal temperature for the growing season. In the plant’s dormant season, if possible move the plant to a cooler, but still light location.  

Other Uses for Cleyera

Sakaki wood is used for making tools as well as for fuel. Because the tree is considered sacred in the Shinto religion, it is frequently found growing in cemeteries as well as parks and gardens. These sacred trees are also used to decorate shines.

The wood of the sakaki is hard, smooth, and close-grained. For these reasons, it is often sought out for boat-building, and for the fabrication of house and furniture constructions.

Types of Cleyera You Can Grow

C. japonica “variegata” commonly known as Romeo Cleyera, is a variegated variety with dazzling foliage in three colors. Being easy to care for, and providing year-round interest, this is a popular gardener’s choice.

If you are looking for a fast-growing shrub for a hedge, then the C. japonica “Bigfoot” is an ideal choice. It is an upright-growing plant, that will eventually attain a height of up to 20 feet (6.1 m) if allowed to grow unchecked.

Particularly adaptable, this variety will tolerate both sun and shade and bears glossy, dark green evergreen leaves. 


Most people grow cleyera as a hedging plant or as a specimen shrub. However, if you prune it regularly, and train it when young, you can produce an attractive multi-trunked tree that is ideal for a small to medium-sized garden.

*image by YK1500/depositphotos

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