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 japonica 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 japonica , pronounced Klay-YER-uh, is a broad-leaf evergreen shrub or small tree, native to Japan, China, Korea, northern India, Nepal, Thailand, and Myanmar. In those parts of the world, it typically grows 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. It’s an important part of the shinto religion. It is a small tree with dark green bell shaped leaves.

The leathery but smooth leaves of cleyera japonica, a gorgeous evergreen shrub, 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 Japonica Flowers

Cleyera japonica blooms in early 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. These early summer flowers are about half an inch (1.5 cm) in diameter and have five petals.

The white flowers are classified as actinomorphic, which simply means the flowers are radially symmetrical, i.e., the white flowers 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 Japonica 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 japonica 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 japonica shrub is reasonably cold tolerant and is hardy to USDA zones 8 to 12.

Care and Maintenance

Cleyera japonica is an easy to grow, low maintenance plant, which has moderate water requirements. Although its drought tolerance may not be as high as other evergreen shrub plants you might grow, it typically grows quite well with minimal moisture and all kinds of soil conditions. As long as you take care to water regularly, you should be fine.

In general, 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.

You should keep your Japanese cleyera in full sun or direct sunlight. Full shade isn’t ideal, though this tough, sacred tree can occasionally survive conditions outside of direct sunlight, particularly if it’s sheltered from strong winds and other stressors.

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

Cleyera japonicas 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 japonica 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 Japonica

Here are a few ideas for how you can use Japanese cleyera – a beautiful broadleaf evergreen shrub.

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.

As a fairly dense evergreen shrub, it is commonly planted as a screen for pool pumps and other less attractive features. Its smooth bark and yellowish green to dark green, bell shaped leaves make it a popular choice for landscaping.

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 religion 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 japonica 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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