Building gardens that replicate a naturally abundant landscape has been a Japanese practice since ancient times. Plants, water, and rocks are combined with minimal, elegant segregation to provide a spiritual sanctuary which was the only place they sought calmness throughout times of war and struggle.
In all of its variations, a Japanese garden is a place for introspection. The goal while creating one should be to establish an intriguing sense of quietness and tranquility and capture an aspect of nature where DIY gardeners and onlookers can find inner peace.
Creating a Zen garden can be an easy feat, even if you don’t have a green thumb. Provided you know the features and needs of the Japanese plants in your backyard, you are going to create a marvelous space that catches the eye of every visitor.
Don’t have any idea where to start? Here are 15 Japanese plants that are perfect for any Zen garden and are also aesthetically pleasing to the eyes and senses.
15 Japanese Garden Plants
From small trees and colorful shrubs to indigenous and decorative grasses, Japanese plants suit most aesthetic requirements of DIY gardeners.
Here are 15 Japanese plants that will up your gardening game to a whole new level:
#1. Azalea (Rhododendron)
Azaleas, with their stunning clusters of colorful blossoms, have typically been a companion of the late spring. Japanese gardeners have valued them for ages because of their trumpet-shaped blooms in multiple tints.
Azaleas appear in countless variations, making them suitable for almost any setting. Although these woody flowering plants usually grow 1-2 feet tall, some genus can reach up to 25 feet.
For these perennial shrubs, most species bloom during springtime, but there are some that blossom in summers. Moreover, azaleas can be planted in almost any landscape, and they will rapidly give life and color to dreary spaces.
Nothing beats an azalea bush in full bloom in the spring! These low-maintenance shrubs come in such a wide range of hues that it’s difficult to discover one that doesn’t visually settle in any garden.
#2. Japanese Cobra Lily
If you want a highly captivating Japanese plant in your backyard, the Japanese cobra lily is the plant you go for.
Even with their peculiar serpent-shaped blossom, Japanese Cobra Lilies have the unique potential to change their genders from year to year.
These esteemed bloomers have green leaves that are split into 3 or 5 leaflets and bloom in April and May. Because the flowers and foliage form a colony, there is no primary stalk.
The exterior of its stalk is dark chocolate in color, with a milky white interior that is as silky as marble. Its hood scoops up to a high point, revealing the exquisite white lining as well as the strong, white miniature blooms.
This Japanese plant blooms best in moist soil, which is not heavy in clay. Because they are native to the forest, these blooms thrive when planted behind larger plants that offer shade throughout the day.
#3. Black Dragon Japanese Cedar
The moniker “Black Dragon” comes from the dark green blades that seem black in the shade. It has a solid, uneven pyramidal structure that some observers might mistake for a rising dragon after a few glasses of warm sake.
Black Dragon Japanese Cedar is a multi-stemmed annual shrub with a polished pyramidal form. Even better, the fine texture distinguishes it from other landscape plants with coarser leaves.
This plant requires little upkeep. When pruning is required, only the present season’s fresh growth should be pruned, with the exception of any rotting. Additionally, it doesn’t have any significant disadvantages.
Beyond that, it can be placed in your backyard oasis which will give your garden a traditionally rich feel that can transport you to Japan in an instant.
Tip: Japanese cedar needs protection from strong winds, but be sure to give it some room to breathe. This will prevent any fungal disease from ruining your plant.
#4. Oriental Poppy
With colorful blossoms that are more ornate than other species of poppies, these incredibly simple flowers are eye-catching in any Japanese garden. Oriental poppies occur in a variety of hues and bloom forms, including ruffled, flat, and toothed petals.
When placed in full sun, this plant will yield a spectacular show of blooms each year, then fade down and become dormant throughout the summer season. Further, returning to bloom in the fall to create rosettes of new leaves that will last all winter.
Oriental poppies can live for decades if properly cared for, with the exception of chopping down the leaves and savoring the blossoms.
Bonus Tip: Pollinators and hummingbirds enjoy these blooms. At the same time, these blooms are disliked by other aerial wildlife.
Camellias are a low-upkeep, shady flowering plant that blooms from late fall to early spring. Their blossoms can be as modest as a wild rose or as full-blown as a peony, and they are present as trees or bushes.
While you’ll cultivate them for their blossoms, the dark lustrous permanent foliage looks gorgeous all year long. The popular camellia is quite well known, especially for its double-cultivated variants, which have overlapped petals in a variety of colors ranging from white to pink to red and even multicolored.
These bushy plants can be cultivated as showpieces in a box, boundary, or in groups to make a flowery fence.
When space is at a limitation, camellias can also be groomed to grow up the side of a wall. Its expansive, arching growth variants will be a fantastic choice.
They may require some attention, particularly during the growing period, but if you enjoy pruning and shaping plants, they’ll be right up your alley.
#6. Japanese Maple
An Acer tree, popularly recognized as the Japanese Maple, is a must-have in every Japanese garden. These everlasting shrubs and trees come in a wide range of sizes, from miniature kinds that mature to a maximum height of two to four feet to big trees that can reach heights of more than 25 feet.
They are well-known for their ease of growth and strong but graceful growth patterns. Moreover, their leaves are structured like a maple tree and feature seven evident points.
These low-maintenance tree species make excellent box plants or can be planted straight into the garden as well.
Due to their gorgeous leaves and unusually interesting appearance, they are appreciated in a variety of gardens.
Keep in mind, this Japanese plant thrives in bright sunlight and damp, well-draining soil.
#7. Black Bamboo
If you want to give your Zen garden a forest-like feel, planting black bamboo is a must. In your Japanese garden, black bamboo will provide lovely dark parallel lines and delicate see-through leaves. Remember, there are many different species of bamboo to pick from, but black bamboo gives you a distinct advantage.
It has an intriguing and uncommon appearance while also being elegant. Above all, the dark stems with lengthy sections are hard to miss and will stand out against a green background.
To top it up, it can be used to partially obscure or cover plants, trees, or other elements that require shade. Even more, it could contribute to your backyard with a natural forest appearance and a sensation of exciting curiosity.
#8. Japanese Iris
Is there a spot in your garden that never appears dried out? Make the most of this wet spot by planting Japanese irises, which thrive in moist conditions all year. The Iris ensata is thirsty for both water and fertilizer, and it will repay you with long stalks that can reach 5 feet in height.
With appealing light green foliage, this blooming perennial comes in a variety of shades, featuring purples, blues, and whites. Once the plant is appropriately positioned, the maintenance of a Japanese iris is reasonably simple.
Because of their affinity to colorful pollinators, Japanese Irises are often described as “botanical butterflies.” These delicate beauties make an immediate impact when grown in groupings, with their straight foliage and crisp lines.
Furthermore, they can be extremely resilient to low temperatures and hassle-free to grow when given ample sunshine.
#9. Sawara Cypress
Another graceful plant for any Japanese garden is this everlasting shrubby conifer. Its attractiveness and strangely symmetrical texture certainly add charm to your landscape throughout the year. In fact, it bears short, proportional cones, unlike many other cypress trees, which make it perfect for a small space.
These plants offer consistent green foliage in your yard at a moderate to middle-high height and will demand little upkeep.
There are various types of similar Japanese plants, including the award-winning “Curly Tops,” which range in color from dark silvery green to steel blue with curly tips.
In spite of their unruly leaves, this plant is rather pleasant to touch. Even better, the “Soft Serve Gold” variant comprises green to golden foliage.
Hydrangea blossoms are absolutely magnificent if you’re seeking a show-stopping garden flower. This shrub is covered in large orbs of blossoms in the summer and spring. Also, Hydrangeas are shockingly easy to cultivate despite their beauty.
Despite their tendency to be big show-stoppers in any lawn, even the most inexperienced gardener won’t have to inquire how to grow hydrangeas because these marvels practically grow themselves.
The ideal time to plant your hydrangeas would be in autumn, followed by early spring. The goal is to give your sapling plenty of time to develop a strong root system before it blooms.
Even if you don’t have enough space in your backyard to cultivate hydrangeas, learning how to grow hydrangeas in a container allows you to savor these lovely blooms. As long as it meets the principles of hydrangea upkeep, you will have these stunning color-changing blooms in your precious garden.
#11. Japanese Cherry Blossom Tree
You cannot create your Japanese garden without the trademark cherry blossom trees! They are a sight to behold during the winter season with their stunning blooms that will leave you in a trance.
These blossoms are a sign of rebirth and the fleeting essence of life, as they usually survive no more than two weeks.
The blossoms of various cherry trees will have diverse shades of pink, some plum-toned, others brilliant white, and the flowers will have a mild and subtle floral aroma.
Apart from their coloring, sakura trees vary in the volume of petals, scent, flowering periods, tree leaves, and cherry tree forms.
Keep in mind, cherry blossoms can be planted in bright sunlight, medium shade, or predominantly shady locations with firm, fertile soil. It’s important to keep the soil moist but well-drained.
Tip: While cherry blossoms ideally favor acidic soil conditions, they can adjust to various PH values.
#12. Japanese Wisteria
Wisteria has a way of producing a large number of blooms of the same kind simultaneously and looking absolutely breathtaking.
This is seen in cherry blossoms and well-known Japanese floral gardens, the monochrome blossoms that stretch all the way to the horizon.
Wisteria is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful and romantic plant species present, and it comes in a range of colors. Classic lavender, light magenta, white, blue, and violet blossoms are among the most common hues this magnificent plant grows in.
You can add garden benches under your wisteria plants and transform them into a relaxing or reading corner.
#13. Dwarf Mugo
Mugo pines are the biological offspring of considerably taller evergreen trees common to Europe’s mountain regions, which provides an indication of how resilient they are.
Although Mugo Pine can grow in size with age, it is pruned into a compact mounding structure in the Japanese garden. This is the simplest of the little conifers to grow in yards, and it’s commonly planted alone or in small groups with rocks.
It has now become trendy as an everlasting contrast in perennial gardens, but it works best in a grouping with other miniature shrubs that require texture variation.
Bonus Read: The mugo pine is a pricked coniferous perennial that is popular in landscaping.
#14. Plantain Lily
Hostas also referred to as “plantain lilies” or “giboshi” in Japanese, are prevalent in Asia and can be found across Japan. Their modest yet fascinating appearance fits particularly well with Japanese-style gardens.
The slender spikes of lavender or white, trumpet-shaped flowers that bloom for several weeks during the summer are a delight.
What’s more? Hummingbirds love them!
Hostas are planted for their enormous, heart-shaped leaves, which vary in size and form depending on their species. They’re frequently variegated, with accent colors on the leaf margins. In the winter, all hostas become inactive, shrinking to virtually nothing, and become excellent partners for ferns and plants with leaves, such as the Bleeding Heart.
Its leaves are often dark green, light green, yellow, cream, white, and blue, providing your backyard with a beautiful pop of color. Even though they are excellent container plants, hostas are capable of lasting for ages on earth.
#15. Japanese Boxwood
Japanese Boxwood is a modest perennial tree with a small to medium size that is ideal for Japanese gardens. It features small, glossy, spherical, and thick green leaves that keep your yard looking healthy even in the dead of winter.
But wait, there’s more. With its classic round or oval shape and dense foliage, this plant is ideal for filling in spaces in a Japanese garden-especially those of medium to the low height.
They will create a sense of consistency and symmetry while disguising those annoying “low-end gaps” when placed among other bushes and tiny perennials with more peculiar forms.
Contrary to popular beliefs, a Japanese or Zen garden is a simple yet extravagant element to have in your home. Each of these Japanese plants maintains positive energies around your house and adds enticing depth to any piece of land.
You can also pot small shrubs and place them on your window sills or study tables. Another traditional addition would be a performing pond in your garden. This could be labeled as the “beautiful, aesthetic space” as a legacy for your future generations to cherish.