The Japanese culture is unique and fascinating, especially when it comes to gardening. We are always looking for exciting ornamental plants that enchant us with their presence, through their beauty and irresistible nature and Japanese plants are among our favorites. With their different appearance, styles and minimal growing needs, these plants will help you take indoor gardening to the next level.
Japanese gardening traditions are respectfully passed from one generation to the next, so it is safe to say that in Japan, the art of gardening is a complex concept that is more than just growing plants. It focuses on the act of working with a living form and it provides growers with a time of reflection and intentional meditation.
Gardening is a perfect opportunity to spend some quiet time with yourself, focusing on nurturing a plant, and is deeply connected with the foundation of one’s spirituality. In Japanese culture, growing plants is associated with inner growth, patience, strength and an understanding of the longevity of life.
From the numerous species of plants trained to grow as bonsai to complex gardening techniques, Japanese gardening is all about symbolism. Selecting just a few plants for this list was the biggest challenge, but we have managed to find several Japanese ornamentals and gardening techniques that are perfect for beginner and experienced gardeners and also for curious readers.
Keep reading to find out more about our favorite Japanese ornamental plants that you can grow indoors and about some of the most fascinating Japanese gardening techniques.
1. Japanese Maple
In Japan, when autumn comes, Acer palmatum, commonly referred to as Japanese maple trees, fills the parks, hills, and mountains with its bright red, fiery foliage. Although this species is most common in outdoor settings, it can also make for a wonderful indoor companion. You will find this plant in garden shops trained as a bonsai, which is usually a cute miniature of the spectacular Japanese maple tree.
And we have good news – the Japanese maple is the perfect choice for beginners who are still learning about growing and caring techniques. This dwarf tree has moderate sunlight needs, doing just fine with 6 to 8 hours of bright, indirect light. It is a hardy plant that can tolerate the specific low indoor temperatures of the winter months. Watering-wise, the Japanese maple plant loves constant attention, so you can spoil yours with a drink whenever you feel like it to prevent its soil from drying out.
2. Japanese Azalea
With its lovely colourful flowers, the Azalea japonica, also known as the Japanese azalea is an absolutely fabulous stand-alone plant for an indoor setting. But, to give it that complete Japanese vibe, many plant lovers prefer to grow it as a bonsai.
It blooms in late spring, producing numerous flowers that come in various shades including white, pink, and red. Just imagine the overall picture: a small tree having its crown filled with a profusion of delicate blossoms. What can be more eye-pleasing than this?
The Japanese azalea is a well-known ornamental houseplant that demands minimal effort on your part in exchange for its bewitching presence. This buddy thrives in a sunny spot but will appreciate some shade during the hottest days of summer.
When the Japanese azalea reaches maturity, it can withstand cold temperatures that drop to 40 °F (-5 °C). In terms of watering, you will have to do it only when the half top of the growing medium feels dry to the touch.
3. Japanese Peace Lily
As the name already suggests, Spathiphyllum, commonly known as the Japanese peace lily, is a symbol of peace and harmony. This plant is a common choice for offices and homes, especially for those gardeners who are interested in the symbolism of plants. Besides brightening up a space, the Japanese peace lily is also great at cleaning the air of the room in which you place it.
One curious fact about the Japanese peace lily is that what we refer to as flowers, are in fact something else. Those delicate, white ‘blooms’ are in fact leaf bracts that show up over the small, insignificant blossoms.
The Japanese peace lily is one of the most easy-going houseplants that will thrive in a wide range of environments. The Japanese peace lily likes medium to low light, so a location with this type of exposure will suit it best. The plant is far more forgiving when it comes to under-watering than having its feet constantly wet. This means that you need to water yours when the top of the soil is dry.
4. Japanese Stonecrop
Hylotelephium cauticola or Sedum cauticola commonly referred to as Japanese stonecrop or the cliff stonecrop is a succulent species that has a reputation as a low-demanding houseplant.
Native to Hokkaido, Japan, this fellow is easy to grow and care for thanks to its vibrant green succulent leaves that can store generous amounts of water. This feature makes the Japanese stonecrop drought-tolerant for prolonged periods.
The ideal environment for Japanese stonecrops consists of rock gardens and alpine gardens, but this plant can thrive in other types of environments as well. The Japanese stonecrop grows healthy and happy in full sun to partial shade.
During the summer months, it can go through anything as long as it experiences warm temperatures. In winter, you should keep the room temperature above 45 °F (7 °C). If you are a big fan of succulents and want one for your Japanese collection, look no further than Japanese stonecrop!
5. Japanese laurel
The foliage of the Aucuba japonica, commonly referred to as Japanese laurel, Japanese aucuba or Gold Dust plant is stunning, so you must add this ornamental to your collection of Japanese plants. This superb indoor plant looks like someone just splashed it with gold and nothing can compare with its beauty.
What is even better about the Japanese laurel is that it can come in many different sizes, so you can grow it in any type of space. This evergreen species can grow pretty tall in any indoor setting but you can also keep it small in an adorable pot and place it on a dull furniture piece.
Maintenance-wise, the Gold dust plant is a nice plant to start your journey in the gardening world. At maturity, this plant becomes fairly tolerant of drought. However, for its well-being, it would be wise to adopt a proper watering routine in the long term. The Gold dust plant performs best in cold room temperatures and filtered light.
6. Japanese Painted Fern
Athyrium niponicum var. pictum, commonly known as the Japanese painted fern is gorgeous on its own, but the most exciting part is finding out that it comes with plenty of other cultivars that can suit your taste.
The most stunning varieties include A. niponicum var. pictum, ‘Regal Red’, ‘Metallicum’, ‘Burgundy Lace’, ‘Silver Falls’, and ‘Pewter Lace’. If you have fallen in love with the Japanese painted fern, make sure you also check its cultivars to provide your home with the most eye-appealing view out there!
The Japanese painted fern is as friendly as it can be, doing well in a wide range of environmental conditions. Depending on the region you live in, this lafy ornamental can grow nicely in anything ranging from full shade to gentle morning sunlight.
The Japanese painted fern is cold-hardy in the USDA regions 3 to 8, so it is not as fragile as it looks. The watering needs of this companion vary from one season to another. But, trust us, is nothing that you cannot possibly handle! Curious to learn more about this fascinating fern?
7. Japanese Iris
Every respectable grower must try their hand at growing an Iris plant at least once in life and without a doubt, Iris ensata, commonly known as the Japanese iris deserves this spot. This is a flowering perennial, which means that you will have it around for a long time and it will reward you with amazing blossoms.
The blooms are truly special, featuring a generous colour palette of whites, blues, purples, reds, pinks, yellows, and vibrant mixes of these.
The Japanese iris comes from boggy areas, so it will not require well-draining soil to feel ecstatic. It enjoys growing in rich soil that contains plenty of organic matter. Moreover, the water you are using for drinks should be acidic to meet the preferences of this beauty. Unless you are growing your Japanese iris in a zone with very hot summers, you can keep it in full sunlight.
You might be tempted to think that Japanese irises can only grow outdoors, when in fact, these beautiful ornamentals can also grow in pots and containers. These irises can grow up to 80 cm (30 to 31 inches) tall and they don’t need a lot of space to thrive, so you can easily grow them in indoor planters and pots.
When you meet the few demands of a Hydrangea, it can flourish like no other flowering species in the world. The white, pink, blue, or purple flower tufts are an absolute delight to watch and you can have this bliss in your home with little to no effort.
As long as Hydrangea receives bright, indirect sunlight, slightly cooler temperatures, and regular watering during its blooming period, you will have no issue with it.
Hydrangea is a popular plant in Japan and people from there cherish it wholeheartedly. You might already know about the famous Hydrangea temple a.k.a. Ajisai-dera. Now you can bring some of the fascinating Japanese gardening vibes into your home by adding Hydrangea to your plant collection.
9. Japanese Larch Bonsai
Having a Japanese larch bonsai to keep you company is like experiencing Christmas all year round. But, of course, with Japanese vibes! This adorable tree looks very similar to the common Fir tree we are using during the holidays.
The only difference is that it remains much smaller when you grow it as a bonsai and is not that rich in foliage needles. Between us, though, the trunk is more attractive.
The Japanese larch bonsai enjoys lots of appreciation as a houseplant due to its quickly thickening trunk that exhibits beautiful yellow autumn shades, small cones, and flaky bark. Yet, this is not everything! The biggest prize goes to its easy-to-grow nature, thriving in different environmental conditions with minimal watering demands.
10. Japanese Weeping Willow
The ‘Rokakudai’ Weeping Willow is a rare and fascinating bonsai tree that has delicate slender branches and wispy foliage. While it is true that the Japanese weeping willow can look melancholic all the time but the truth is this plant will be the happiest when someone takes care of it.
When you train this cascade of beauty into a bonsai, it turns into a sublime picture from which you cannot take your eyes off. Its long, lazy stems filled with green leaves pair perfectly with the supportive wavy trunk that can grow as tall as you allow it.
Lots of full sunlight and moist soil are the key elements for a thriving Japanese weeping willow. Still, this does not mean that you will have to drown your plant with daily watering. The Japanese weeping willow is according to its appearance – balanced.
11. Japanese Fern Tree
In an outdoor setting, Filicium decipiens, commonly known as the Japanese fern tree grows quickly and it can reach up to 10 feet (3 m) in height. Indoors, however, you can keep this ferny tree at the size of your preference by adding pruning to its caring routine. The process is not difficult at all and, trust us, the showy results are worth even more effort.
When you grow a Japanese fern tree indoors, you will have one of the most peculiar images ornamental-wise. This plant comes with somewhat odd foliage: the long and thin leaves emerge from the stems in a fern-like way. The leaves appear packed together pretty tightly, forming a dense and alluring crown above the thin trunk. Although its leaves are very similar to those of ferns, our buddy right here is not a fern at all!
The Japanese fern tree will have the time of its life in a location that mimics the tropical conditions of its natural habitat. It is a plant that comes along with a high need for warmth and direct sunlight. If you manage to mimic a tropical climate in your home, the Japanese fern tree will be more likely to flourish during its blooming season in winter.
12. Japanese Bird’s Nest Fern
Asplenium nidus, commonly known as the Japanese Bird’s Nest firn is a foliage ornamental with ruffled leaves that will bring life to any dull corner. The name, as you might have guessed, describes the plant’s bird-nest appearance. lovely ruffled, wavy fern. Its name references a bird’s nest-like appearance. This plant comes with different cultivars and if you are looking for a small houseplant, you should check out the ‘Leslie’ dwarf variety.
Aspleniun nidus will thrive if you grow it in a humid environment with plenty of bright indirect light. Like most ferns, the Japanese Bird’s nest fern is quite sensitive to direct sunlight, so make sure you offer it protection from sun, especially during the summer. This attractive ornamental is an epiphytic plant, which means that it grows on the surface of other plants, but it is not parasitic. In its native environment – raiforests, this plant can be found growing on trees.
Other Fascinating Indoor Japanese Gardening Trends
If you are not familiar with Kokedama, we should tell you that it is not a particular species of plant but a centuries-old Japanese garden art. This artsy practice is almost as popular as the bonsai one, bringing lots of value to Japanese culture.
With the ”koke” word meaning ”moss” and the ”dama” one meaning ball, you might already get what this is all about. Kokedama consists of putting a tree, plant, or shrub as the main attraction above a moss ball, which is the supporting point. You can find Kokedama globes at your nearest garden shop or prepare your own if you are looking for fun gardening activities.
It is important to mention that not every houseplant works for Kokedama. A species is suitable for this if it remains small in size, grows slowly, and is hardy and tolerant to less ideal growing or environmental conditions. Some of the most Kokedama-friendly plants are the Spider plant, Ficus tree bonsai, Rex begonia, Chinese money plant, Dwarf ZZ plant, or Cebu blue pothos. Become a Japanese gardening master by reading our complete guide to Kokedama.
Mini Zen Gardens
A tsubo-niwa is a type of very small garden that is very popular in Japan. The term tsuboniwa consists of the word tsubo, wich is a Japanese unit of measurement (approximately 3.3 square metres or 36 squar feet) although the size of the tsubo-niwa can vary, and niwa, meaning “garden”.
The best way to describe the concept of Tsubo-niwa is as a semi-indoor garden or an indoor townhouse garden and it is a key feature of some traditional Japanese homes. A number of different terms exist to describe the function of townhouse gardens. Tsubo-niwa has a rich history and symbolism in Japanese culture and it is still quite popular. If you travel to Japan, you will find this type of concept in many Japanese restaurants, public buildings, residences, and hotels.
The aim of the Tsubo-niwa is to bring nature indoors, to allow people to be in contact with nature and to make an indoor space seem larger. In small homes, these indoor gardens are used for passive ventilation as they can make the space feel cooler during the hot summer months. It is not uncommon for Tsubo-niwa to include some sort of water features such as a fountain or a washing basin.
If you were not fascinated by Japanese gardening, you surely are now. The Japanese culture teaches us how to be closer to nature and how to use gardening to relax our minds and bodies. In this day and age, we all tend to focus on our daily tasks and activities and we oftentimes forget to breathe and to look towards nature for inspiration. Nature can recharge our batteries and remind us that we need to be patient and thankful.
No matter what Japanese ornamental you pick from our list, you will find a lifetime friend. All these plants come with particular features and needs that make them seductive even for the pickiest gardeners. Japanese plants can be very friendly indoor ornamentals and most come with very few demands.
Japanese gardening techniques can make perfect hobbies if you are looking to relax and forget about the hum-drum of everyday life for a while. Although Japanese gardening may seem a bit intimidating at first, there is nothing to worry about as the beauty of gardening consists in tackling new challenges and not being afraid to take risks.
What are your favourite Japanese ornamentals? Share your thoughts in the comments!