Making a Japanese Garden

Learn how to cloud prune shrubs and trees

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Other links on this site may lead to other companies that I'm associated with.

If you're intrigued by the idea of making a Japanese garden, you will be interested in learning how to use cloud pruning techniques on some of your Japanese garden plants.

The shrubs and small trees most often used to create these shaped bushes are junipers of all kinds and many pines, especially those that don't get very big.

Making a Japanese Garden
Cloud pruned evergreen shrubs

Cloud pruning will take many years to be really effective - this is a long term prospect.

Junipers are slow growing and evergreen shrubs with interesting scaly bark, and distinctive foliage, which on some kinds, takes on two different growth forms.

Some of the new growth is scaled like a fish, and the older growth appears to be fuzzy and more open. The new growth is easily pinched off before it gets tough and woody, and as the plant continues to grow through the summer, you can get many flushes of growth.

Other plants such as pines only have one flush of growth per year, and they are only pruned at the time the 'candles' are expanding.

Junipers are used in Japanese rock garden design because of their ease of growth, and their lush green, blue or pale yellow foliage. Amenable to pruning, these shrubs are used for bonsai as well - many reaching a great old age, venerated and valuable.

Plain old juniper, ready for a make-over

A juniper cutting that is four or five years old and showing some branching will be the perfect candidate. The first step is wiring the trunk and branches to resemble an old tree.

If you look at ancient trees, the boughs always are either horizontal, or dipping towards the ground. Copy this when shaping the tree or shrub.

To start cloud pruning, take off any shoots or growth from the bottom of the branch, and any that sprout directly upward. The sideways growing twigs are what you want to keep. Shorten any of these back to make them more bushy when new growth emerges in the spring.

cloud pruning, early stages

The initial wiring is in place; this is very rudimentary at this stage. As the tree is bent by slowly adjusting the wire, it will take on an aged and characterful appearance.

In old woodcuts from early Japanese gardening books, sometimes you'll see plants with bamboo poles sticking out at odd angles; this is another way of training the trunk to take a certain shape.

When you're wiring your cloud pruned trees with copper wire, it's absolutely essential to remove the wire and rewind it often - the bark will be scarred forever if it is left on too long. This is a typical novice mistake - don't make it.

As you immerse yourself in making a Japanese garden, you'll see the value in patience; this is a long term project, but the results are well worth it.

Japanese Rock Garden

Japanese Rock Garden Pictures

Japanese Garden Plants