Hinoki Cypress Pruning and Maintenance

For over fifteen years this Hinoki has been trained uniformly. No upper branch got thick, no lower branch got weak. It’s wonderful work by a client of mine, grown from a young sapling. 

With benches full of trees, it’s easy to pass a tree by several years in a row. Hard to know why I chose this moment over the same date last year, or two years from now, to design this tree. Sometimes I think trees wink at us, “Right now is a good time, bubba.” 

Outside of early summer being a good time to work on Hinoki, I’m convinced of the wink.

In this session I decide on a front. In the process I cut many branches off. Also, I share a maintenance technique for this easy to grow conifer. 


Hinoki Cypress after more than 15 years of slow development from a small seedling. Here’s our front. The opening on the lower trunk, and two options for a key branch, right and left, helped to decide that.


A branch removed to expose more of the front. 


Another low branch removed. Branches in the middle and top were also removed. 


After initial branch removal. Tree is still dense, however. 


Pruning off a back branch.


A view up into the tree from the front.


A gallery of removed branches. This represents 15% of the total foliage mass.


Here’s an interior shoot that I’ll remove. It’s alive, but weak, and unlikely to grow again. Most of these come off by pulling with the fingers. Woodier ones will need a scissors. This lightens up the foliage and focuses growth.


Here’s a shoot we want to preserve. But in early summer we want to pinch it, if strong. If we do nothing, the exterior shoots get stronger, and branches lengthen.


After pinching. It’s confusing, this group of plants. Junipers generally weaken if pinched. Cypressus and Chamaecyparis are often pinched with good results, without any weakening, and create good regrowth density. Junipers will often display their displeasure after pinching by producing juvenile growth. But Hinoki you can pinch without concern for displeasure. (As long as the plant is strong and growing.)

Before and after pinching. It should look thin. Pinched in early summer, the pads will fill in again by fall—but with more density, and shorter.


The tree after pruning and pinching. This is only halfway there—the low branch on the left may be removed, and others further up the trunk. For now, leaving extraneous branches will continue to build this still young, not-quite-a-bonsai. The poof off the top is what’s left of a leader pruned back last year. I want the crown to be that high, but it needs to fill in. Also for the future—shortening some branches and leaving others long will reduce the clean-cut profile, Christmas tree look. 

July 2022 Bulletin Board:

  • Soon! Carmen and I talk about accents on the Bonsai Wire podcast (we’ll upload it in a few days). For now, check out Jonas and Andrew’s Farm to Table recap.
  • Interested in accents? Learn the accent plant styles (not just mine), how to design them, the many ways of creating them (including the “ikebana” method), and maintenance and display in our 3-hour online course, Saturday, July 16. And, it’s spy-themed: Wild For Accents This is the most popular Seasonal-lite we offer, sign up early! Send an email to crataegusbonsai@gmail.com.

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  1. Stephen Liesen says:

    I liked your blog Michael. I particularly appreciated you discussing the differences between juniper and hinoki cypress development and maintainable. They are handled differently which most people don’t realize. Thanks

  2. August Day says:


    • Gerald says:

      As Micheal eluded to. There are often a number of sacrifice branches that look similar to permanent branches that are feeding the tree and finishing off detail tapering.

      Looking very stately, love the gentle touch

    • crataegus says:

      Hello August—-it’s likely difficult to see in these photos, but given the length of the branches, the growth that was left was appropriate. In the top of the tree, the branches had shoots all the way to the trunk. The bottom, only halfway to the trunk. On those bottom branches you don’t want foliage that close in, or the branch looks young.

  3. Jeffrey says:

    Love the Hinoki. It is a beautiful bonsai.

  4. RAY NORRIS says:

    Thanks Michael, great information

    Sent from my iPhone

  5. Joyce Tsuji says:

    Hi Michael, thank you for sharing the process of working on this tree. Your initial comment about the tree winking at you and its appearance made me think of the unofficial mascot of my alma mater (google “Stanford tree”). Seriously, regarding your comment “Junipers will often display their displeasure after pinching by producing juvenile growth,” would you pinch the mature scaly growth of a healthy Foemina that you were try to grow as a needled juniper, such as the one on your blog? Thanks so much for all of your informative blogs! Best wishes, Joyce

    • crataegus says:

      Hi Joyce, if you get mature growth on the Foemina I’d treat it as a normal scale juniper like Shimpaku. Let it grow then the strong parts cut back with scissors. Foemina is one of the most likely to revert to needle-type foliage on pinching.

  6. teaniner says:

    Can a hinoki revert back to juvenile growth if cut too much or weaker, similar to how a juniper will do?

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