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Plants for Japanese Gardens

By Amber Kelsey ; Updated September 21, 2017

Japanese gardens often look like works of art, containing lush plants, water elements, rock arrangements, pavilions and ornamental fences. Gardeners should select their Japanese garden plants according to plant vigor, bloom color, intended use and their United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Hardiness Zone. Japanese gardens look more natural with a wide variety of plants spaced out so that each plant becomes a focal point.

Japanese Spirea

Japanese spirea (Spiraea japonica), a deciduous shrub in the rose family (Rosaceae), grows well in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 8. Indigenous to Japan and China, this plant reaches between 4 and 6 feet in height and 5 to 7 feet in width. Small pink flowers add color to Japanese gardens in June and July. The green foliage sometimes turns orange or red in the fall. The Japanese spirea needs well-drained soils in fully sunny locations. Fire blight, root rot and aphids occasionally affect this plant. Gardeners often plant Japanese spirea as borders.

Japanese Peony

The Japanese peony (Paeonia japonica), an herbaceous perennial belonging to the Paeoniaceae plant family, only reaches about 18 inches in both height and width. Native to the Japanese islands, this peony thrives in USDA zones 5 to 8. Fragrant white flowers bloom in May for about a week. Japanese peonies need rich, moist soils in partly shady positions. This plant occasionally suffers from Phytopthora blight and Botrytis blight. The Japanese peony works well in shady border areas.

Japanese Quince

Japanese quince (Chaenomeles japonica), a deciduous shrub in the Rosaceae family, generally does well in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 8. This dwarf shrub reaches heights up to 12 inches and widths ranging from 2 to 3 feet. Red-orange flowers bloom in April before the foliage emerges. The yellow-green quinces ripen in the fall, and are often used to make preserves and jams. The Japanese quince prefers well-drained, loamy soils that receive full sun. These plants sometimes contract fungal diseases in warmer regions. Gardeners often use this plant as shrub borders in Japanese gardens.

Japanese Hornbeam

The Japanese hornbeam (Carpinus japonica), a tree belonging to the Betulaceae family, is a native Japanese plant that does well in USDA Zones 4 to 9. This tree grows between 20 and 30 feet in height with similar spreads. The green flowers blossom in April. This tree needs rich, moist soils in fully sunny locations. Twig blight and cankers sometimes affect this tree. The Japanese quince works well in shady sections of Japanese gardens.

Japanese Camellia

The Japanese camellia (Camellia japonica), an evergreen plant in the Theaceae family, needs well-drained, acidic soils in partially shady positions. Native to Japan and China, this plant usually thrives in USDA Zones 7 to 9. This seasonal bloomer features flowers in red, purple, yellow and pink tones. Japanese camellias grow from 7 to 12 feet in height and 5 to 10 feet in width. Gardeners must plant this camellia in a space large enough to handle its spreading habit.

Japanese Witch Hazel

Japanese witch hazel (Hamamelis japonica), a deciduous shrub belonging to the Hamamelidaceae family, reaches between 10 and 15 feet in both height and spread. Winter hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 8, this plant prefers acidic, moist soils in fully sunny locations. The frost-tolerant, fragrant flowers bloom yellow clusters in February and March. Green leaves turn attractive shades of red, purple and yellow in the fall. Insect galls, Japanese beetles and leaf rollers sometimes feed on the foliage. Powdery mildew and leaf spot occasionally attack this plant. Gardeners often use the Japanese witch hazel as a background plant, tall hedge or shrub border in Japanese gardens.