Tips on Training Hinoki Cypress

Hinoki means ‘sun tree’ in Japanese. It tends to grow bolt upright, like a flagpole with foliage.

Hinoki Cypress, Chamaecyparis obtusa, is a popular species for bonsai with intense green foliage sprays covering its branches. This is one of the conifers we can pinch. Let it grow to ramp up energy, then in mid-season cut back the larger shoots with scissors, or, if shoots are shorter, pinch. A good bit of ramification arises from consistent yearly attention to this schedule.

For pinching with fingers take your cues from the hairdresser, who holds a fan of hair together and then trims off the top. Hold multiple Hinoki shoots together and then pinch their tops with the fleshy part of the fingers.

This pinching maintenance is best done in the growing season. June or July are good months, roughly (apologies to Southern Hemisphere growers, I’m…hemispherecentric?) Then they may need another pinch in the fall. Don’t pinch all the time! Let Hinoki grow a while, then pinch. Usually 1-2 times a year is about right. If in a cold climate, maybe once. If a longer growing season, maybe twice.

Here’s our Hinoki before work. This client tree was grown from a young nursery plant for 15 years. Fairly tight growth here so this is a variety, not a seedling plant. There are many varieties of Hinoki but the tighter growth varieties are best, such as ‘Nana’.
After trimming with scissors and pinching with fingers. The branch positions were set by wire, since removed.
Closeup of left side—the twig ‘fingers’ are beginning to appear after several years of trimming and pinching. This tree is about midway through initial training.
Please ignore our weird pointy top…there’s a taper issue up there and we’re growing a slightly taller tree to help correct that. This is where our Hinoki day ended for this round of pad development. In several more years it should be ready for a bonsai pot. We’ll try to revisit this one.
I’ve never shown this image from my apprenticeship before. The date on the file is corrupt (it wasn’t 1980…); probably from 2005 or 2006. This is a mature Hinoki bonsai showing many years of branching and twigging training. I’d finished the left side of this forest but not the right. Training was mostly with scissors because shoots were too old and fat to pinch. It was fun to find this image again.

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  1. Evan Reeves says:

    Would you recommend the same approach for Thuja? The growth patterns and characteristics seem quite similar (frond-like growth, aggressive vertical growth).

    • crataegus says:

      They are very similar, yes, and I’d try this same technique. The Cupressus up here, Yellow Cedar, is similar as well and responds well to the technique.

  2. Faizmie al Hanieff says:

    Beautiful bonsai…

  3. LSBonsai says:

    Hi Michael, thank you for sharing this information. Is the lovely forest from your apprenticeship a species hinoki, or dwarf cultivar? I am playing with both but the cultivars grow so slowly here in the Toronto area. I like the vigor of the species hinoki, but it certainly seems like it will be a challenge to refine. It sure puts the “wild” in wildtype.

    • crataegus says:

      This is a cultivar/variety. It’s definitely got a tighter growth habit. You can work with the normal plant, but they are leggy and it will take much more work to reign them in, mostly, wiring in the early years. Yes, wild in wildtype!

  4. Stephen Liesen says:

    Nice development from scratch. I’d like to see its ramification development over the next ten years.It’s well on its way. All goes to show that you can develop a nice Hinoki with proper technique, if you’ve got 25 years and good bonsai teacher guidance.

  5. Stephen Liesen says:

    I meant to say: …you can develop a nice Hinoki “from scratch”…

  6. Andrew Gutierrez says:

    Hi Michael,

    I’m a big fan of the Bonsai Wire podcast. I was curious when you mentioned ‘pinching’; I’m a beginner with about 2 years under my belt and have mostly developing conifers (large percentage of junipers) since I live in a hot climate in Northern California. I thought ‘pinching’ was something we weren’t supposed to do to conifers or junipers. Could you clarify please on what we’re supposed to pinch and not pinch with developing or refined confers?

    • crataegus says:

      Pinching with the fleshy part of the fingers can be done on some conifers…but not others. Junipers don’t like it much, but then other plants that look a lot like junipers respond well to that. Also, stronger single flush pine candles may be pinched in the spring, whereas Black pine that you’re decandling is cut with scissors—the growth is partially hardened off when we cut, and fingers won’t do it. These are just a few examples, but maybe search for ‘pinching’ on my blog posts and more explanations should come up.

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