cleyera shrub

Cleyera (Cleyera japonica): How to Grow and Care

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Are you looking for an easy-to-grow hedge or screening plant which looks great in every season? Cleyera may just be the perfect plant for you, read on to learn more about growing and maintaining this useful plant.

What is a Cleyera Plant?

Cleyera, pronounced Klay-YER-uh, is a broad-leaf evergreen shrub or small tree, native to Japan, China, Korea, India, Nepal, Thailand, and Myanmar. In those parts of the world, this plant may be found growing in the understory of forests on slopes and in ravines.

This plant is commonly known as Japanese cleyera or sakaki, and its scientific name is Cleyera japonica.

The leathery but smooth leaves of cleyera are 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm) long and the plant has smooth, reddish-brown bark.

It generally grows to 10 to 15 ft (3 to 4.5 m) high and 8 to 10 ft (2.4 to 3 m) wide although mature specimens may reach a height of 30 ft (9 m) as a tree in its natural forest habitat.

Known more for its attractive long-lasting leaves of varying colors than its flowers, this plant makes an excellent garden subject. This plant is often confused with False Japanese cleyera, Ternstroemia gymnanthera, a very similar plant that is used for similar applications.

cleyera shrub
Cleyera japonica photo by Zhangzhugang – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Cleyera Flowers

Cleyera blooms at the beginning of summer, the flowers occur singly or in an umbel of up to five. The flowers hang from the leaf axils (base of the leaf) and are cream-white in color and pleasantly fragrant. The flowers are about half an inch (1.5 cm) in diameter and have five petals.

The flowers are classified as actinomorphic, which simply means the flowers are radially symmetrical, i.e., they can be cut into two identical halves. After flowering, attractive black fruits are produced which are enjoyed by fruit-eating birds.

How to Grow a Cleyera Bush

Select a full sun to partial shade area for this plant, although it may survive in almost full shade. This plant usually does best in a partial shade setting. These plants enjoy a well-drained, slightly acidic soil.

Richer soils are preferred, and it is therefore suggested to mix in a little compost with the soil when planting.

This plant is occasionally grown indoors as a house plant, where it is slow-growing and will usually only reach a size of about 2 ft in a pot. Outdoors, cleyera grows at a moderate speed and can be successfully grown from seed or cuttings.

Although not fast-growing, it is important to consider the potential size this plant may attain if left to mature without control. This plant does not appreciate especially windy conditions so consider this when selecting a planting site.

Cleyera shrub is reasonably cold tolerant and is hardy to USDA zones 8 to 12.

Care and Maintenance

Cleyera is an easy to grow, low maintenance plant, which has moderate water requirements.

As such, it should be watered when young (for its first year or so), if recently planted or re-potted, or during particularly hot weather. Watering regularly during the plant’s first year is recommended.

Mulching the soil around the base of your plants will assist in maintaining soil moisture to the roots, although care should be taken to leave the soil immediately around the stem without mulch and free draining to prevent rot.

Cleyeras do not require frequent fertilizing although you may want to feed mature plants every few years. Spring is the best time to feed your plants, just be sure to follow the usage instructions on your fertilizer as too much mulch damage your plant.

Pests and Diseases

Cleyera plants are generally hardy and disease resistant. The most common disease reported in C. japonica is leafspot, which can result in as much as 30% defoliation of the plant. This condition is identified by small to large purple spots on the leaf surfaces.

Leafspot in these plants can be controlled with a fungicide such as Daconil, Halt, or Immunox. It is also recommended that in case of leafspot infection, the area around the plant be kept clear of fallen leaves to prevent re-infection.

Common Uses of Cleyera

Landscaping Uses

The most common use for cleyera shrubs is planting in groups as a hedge or border, due to its tolerance for relatively heavy pruning. It may be used as a screen for pool pumps and other less attractive features.

Cleyera tree works equally well as a foundation plant around the entrance to your home or along open stretches of walls.

This plant is, however, attractive enough when left to grow in its natural form and may even be used as a specimen plant.

Traditional Uses

Interestingly, the branches of cleyera bush are used in the sacred rituals of the Japanese Shinto faith and the plant is often found in shrines. The wood of this tree is also collected for use as timber for construction and furniture.



Although not a particularly showy species, cleyera makes up for its subtle floral display with its interesting and attractive evergreen foliage. It is a hardy and easy to maintain species which you should definitely consider when planning your garden.

For more similar plants to grow, check our list of shrubs.

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