How to Arrange a Japanese Garden: Choosing the Right Plants

January 21, 2017
Posted in Garden

What pops in our mind when we hear the word “Japanese garden”? Harmony, contemplation, nature… Many of us strive for these things in our daily lives. In the previous post we have already learned the general rules of a Japanese garden composition and discussed its must-haves – ponds, paths, stone lanterns, gazebos. But what’s a garden without plants?

Actually, the most complicated thing about creating a Japanese garden in moderate climates is the proper selection of plants. Let’s see how to choose them correctly.


Firstly, remember that it’s easier to arrange a Japanese garden on the southern or south-eastern side. Plants must be not only frost-resistant, but also deciduous, ornamental and non-bright. The starting point for the composition is a few large trees up to 2.5 meters. Middle-size trees and bushes have a support function: they protect the cozy nook from the outer world. Don’t’ plant the trees too close to each other: the distance between trees and bushes also matters for the sense of contemplation in a Japanese garden. The things we usually see in the wood may serve as accents: roots of trees of unusual shapes, mossy stumps and stones.


One can hardly imagine a Japanese garden without a cherry blossom, or sakura, strewn with lovely little pink flowers. But cherry blossoms are warmth-loving and won’t survive winter frosts. That’s why in cold regions they can be replaced with a dwarf Russian almond (Prunus tenella) or an ornamental plum.

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One more traditional Japanese garden plant is a downy Japanese maple, or fullmoon maple. It has gorgeous leaves of different colors depending on the variety – from green to dark red. Mature trees’ branches are very fragile and can break even from sleety snow. So, if your climate is unfavorable for a Japanese maple, try an elderberry, or black elder.  Of course, the color range of its leaves is not as rich as maple’s one, but its read-leaf subspecies look gorgeous as well. Besides, elderberry is undemanding – feeding it with some mineral fertilizers just once a year will be enough.

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When it comes to bushes, a nice choice is cold-resistant varieties of rhododendrons. For instance, Rhododendron yakushimanum or Rhododēndron brachycārpum, which can withstand the temperatures as low as -30 degrees Celsius.

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Other equally beautiful and undemanding shrubs are the Japanese barberry and the Japanese meadowsweet. The barberry is a nice ornamental plant, which greatly retains a pre-defined shape. As for the meadowsweet, it’s especially valued for its numerous rosy-pink flowers.


Conifers are also welcomed in Japanese gardens. You may pick up pines, firs, spruces and junipers – anything to your liking. The color may vary from dark green to light blue, and the size from tall to dwarf-like – choose what’s more suitable for your soil type.

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Besides classical trees and bushes, a Japanese garden may feature bonsai plants. They are especially relevant for cold regions as can be easily brought indoors for the winter.

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