Japanese Elkhorn Cedar: Tips On Growing An Elkhorn Cedar Plant

Japanese Elkhorn Cedar: Tips On Growing An Elkhorn Cedar Plant

By: Liz Baessler

The elkhorn cedar goes by many names, including elkhorn cypress, Japanese elkhorn, deerhorn cedar, and hiba arborvitae. Its single scientific name is Thujopsis dolabrata and it is actually not a cypress, cedar or arborvitae. It’s a coniferous evergreen tree native to the wet forests of southern Japan. It doesn’t thrive in all environments and, as such, it’s not always easy to find or keep alive; but when it works, it’s beautiful. Keep reading to learn more elkhorn cedar information.

Japanese Elkhorn Cedar Information

Elkhorn cedar trees are evergreens with very short needles that grow outward in a branching pattern on opposite sides of the stems, giving the tree an overall scaled look.

In summer, the needles are green, but in autumn through winter, they turn an attractive rust color. This happens to varying degrees based on variety and individual tree, so it’s best to pick yours out in autumn if you’re looking for a good color change.

In spring, small pine cones appear on the tips of the branches. Over the course of the summer, these will swell and eventually break open to spread seed in the autumn.

Growing an Elkhorn Cedar

The Japanese elkhorn cedar comes from wet, cloudy forests in southern Japan and some parts of China. Because of its native environment, this tree prefers cool, humid air and acidic soil.

American growers in the Pacific Northwest tend to have the best luck. It fares best in USDA zones 6 and 7, though it can usually survive in zone 5.

The tree suffers easily from wind burn and should be grown in a sheltered area. Unlike most conifers, it does very well in shade.

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Conifers for Shade

Evergreens make excellent neighbors. For year-round good looks that complement almost everything, try shade-tolerant evergreens, like Emer­ald Spreader™ Japanese yew (USDA Hardiness Zones 5–7).

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Take the Self-Guided Tour

Welcome to Yuko-en, the Official Kentucky-Japan Garden. Download our Self-Guided Tour Brochure

Yes, dogs are welcome in our garden!

Guided tours of the Yuko-en may be scheduled. Let us know. We would love to show you around our beautiful garden and tell you about its history.

(1) Tokugawa Gates

The large gate marks the entrance to the garden and represents the Tokugawa Shogunate Era 1603-1868. The gate was built by local craftsmen, carpenters and metal workers. To fully experience the garden, according to custom, as you enter, leave your worldly stresses and cares behind. The path is lined with native cane, a plant similar to Japanese bamboo.

(2-3) Tahara Snow Lantern

At the top of the path is a large Yukimi Gata, snow lantern. This type of lantern is most beautiful after a snowfall when the roof line is highlighted. Beyond the lantern is a Maple Grove, it includes a variety of maple trees from both America and Japan. From this point, the pathway opens to a portion of the garden that represents the Bluegrass Region, suggesting gentle rolling hills. The majority of trees in this area are redbuds and cedars. Our local redbuds offer a familiar spring color in Kentucky. To the left is a small Shizedourou lantern which honors the beauty of unrefined stone. It is meant to look as if it has been weathered in nature. Just ahead, in front of the vermillion bridge are Sakura or Japanese cherry trees.

(4) Koi Pond

Water is an important element in Japanese gardens and the large koi pond is a central feature of Yuko-En on the Elkhorn. Koi are the national fish of Japan. They can grow to more than three feet long and live for 100 years. The Iris bog at the southern end of the pond, with its decorative Kotoji lantern, serves as the pond’s natural bio-filter. Two other lanterns grace the pond, the Maru-yukimi round top snow viewing lantern and the Rankei lantern, with its arched supporting column extending over the lake so that its image is reflected in the pond.

(5) Upper Waterfall and Mountain

A limestone outcropping forms the waterfall. The small cone shaped mountain form was inspired by the island of Yakushima in southern Japan, famous for its thousand year old cedar trees and great cascading mountain streams.

(6) Tahara Waterfall Garden

Just before you reach the lower falls, you will see a sculpture of Watanabe Kazan (1793-1841). See the Kazan handout to learn about his influence in our sister city Tahara

(7) North Elkhorn Creek

Elkhorn Creek was the pathway to settlements in the Bluegrass and continues to be a shared resource in the life of the community. In 1860, Walt Whitman wrote of the Elkhorn in his epic poem Leaves of Grass. The creek is part of the Shakkei or borrowed scenery of the garden.

(8) Wallace Dam

The pathway continues under the US 25 bridge to Cardome Landing, a small park with a picnic area and access to Elkhorn Creek. The waterfall created by the dam adds a charming view from the garden.

(9) Hermit’s Hut – Elkhorn Viewing Spot

Log structures are familiar to both Kentuckians and Japanese. Here, triangular cut logs replicate the ancient treasury building in Nara, Japan. The cedar posts at the front reflect a Japanese stylistic element. The weighted roof is used in the mountainous regions of Japan to hold shingles in place during typhoons. The rocky landscape approach is similar to the Temple of One Thousand steps in Akita Prefecture.

(10) Cerebral Dancer

Metal sculpture by Mark Wallis of Spencer, IN.

(11) Stone Garden

This is a classic Japanese style stone garden. The subtle patterns of the raked pebbles are meant to remind us of peaceful streams, the larger stones, islands. The moss along the base of the south wall provides a subtle green backdrop for the gray color of the stones. Enjoy the patterns raked by area volunteers.

(12) Children’s Stone Garden

A smaller stone garden has been constructed so that visitors can create their own design. Feel free to create as many patterns as you wish in this hands-on Japanese style stone garden. Inspiration for many raked patterns comes from the natural pattern found at the ocean or in river beds when water flows in and out leaving ripples in the sand.

(13) The Villa

Yet to be completed this lovely structure will serve as a community meeting place, event and educational center. Currently it is being used for Japanese style exhibits to be viewed through the windows.

(14) Arched Bridge and Dry Stream

The bridge arches over a stream similar to those in Japan’s volcanic mountain region. When the stream is dry, the rocks become a karesansui, dry landscape or dry mountain water. In this way the stream remains, whether there is water running or not. When flowing, the stream runs into the pond below.

(15) Raku House

This structure houses a kiln used to create a special type of pottery associated with the early tea ceremony in Japan, the raku tea bowl. This is the only working kiln within a Japanese style garden in or out of Japan. Event and monthly firings of the kiln by potters in the region are open to the public.

(16) Maho-An Tea House

Set in a lovely grove of pine trees, this open air building is designed to be used for the tea ceremony and also serves as a quiet resting place in the garden.


Crape Myrtle

Many varieties of crape myrtle are cultivated as dwarf and semi-dwarf trees. Many of these grow only tall enough to be considered shrubs, between 3 and 5 feet tall. There are several semi-dwarf varieties to choose from when the attributes of the classic crape myrtle tree are exactly what your landscape needs. The Zuni, Pecos, Pink Velour and Hopi varieties each grow between 8 and 12 feet high while providing abundant pink blossoms in spring and bright shades or orange and red foliage in the fall. Burgundy Cotton reaches 12 feet tall and offers white blossoms, but no fall color. For those who prefer a red-blooming crape, there is Centennial Spirit and Christiana, both of which grow 8 to 12 feet high and provide brilliant autumn hues.


Retail trees we plant carry a full 1 year replacement warranty!


Our Tree Farm – David City, Nebraska

Arbor Hills Tree Farm, LLC is a family owned business. Our nursery is located near David City, Nebraska. The nursery today consists of a large variety of high quality fast growing trees – shade, ornamental and evergreen. We provide Quality Field Grown Nebraska Trees – directly to our customers, at the lowest possible price. New home landscaping, screening, commercial or residential, Arbor Hills will work with you to provide the most beautiful Nebraska grown trees available. We grow most of our tree inventory and transport in early spring – to a holding site in West Omaha for distribution. Most Trees can be delivered and planted within 5 to 7 days if you reside in the Omaha metro area. We also source other high-quality trees from other growers to supply the Eastern Nebraska and Western Iowa market. The B & B trees we deliver have been established seven to ten years with caliper sizes of 2″ to 5″ reaching heights from 12′ to 20′ We also spade plant JUMBO size trees using 50″ or 90″ spade mounted trucks.


Crop Trees

Fruit and nut trees are two of the most common types of tree that can be found growing under 14 feet, thanks to the popularity and the success of breeding miniature varieties. Dozens of varieties of apple, citrus, stone fruit and nut trees are available to the home gardener. The Starkspur Winesap apple grows between 8 and 10 feet tall and attracts birds and butterflies into the landscape, as well as providing its owner with crisp apples in the fall. Bonanza miniature is a dwarf peach recommended by the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension. Bonanza grows to 6 feet and produces large, sweet fruit. The Garden Prince is a genetic dwarf almond reaching 10 to 12 feet. It begins bearing young and bears heavily.


How to Take Care of Elkhorn Ferns

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Think of a fern, and you probably imagine a lush green plant sprouting from the forest floor. Elkhorn ferns (Platycerium bifurcatum) won't be among them, however: They grow on trees. Elkhorn ferns are epiphytic plants that obtain water and nutrients from the air rather than the soil. Elkhorn ferns are tropical in origin and are hardy outdoors in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 through 12. Named for its distinctive fronds, the elkhorn fern -- which is also sometimes called a staghorn fern -- is not easy to grow, but its showy appearance is worth the work for many home gardeners.

Provide growing medium for your fern, such as epiphytic or sphagnum fern mix. Elkhorn ferns can be placed in this medium in a wire basket or mounted to a wooden slab or piece of bark with the moss acting as a cushion around the crown. They grow best when provided with the latter, according to Missouri Botanical Garden.

Locate the fern in a warm, humid location. Indoors, this might be a sun room or greenhouse.

Protect your elkhorn fern from direct sunlight. Elkhorn ferns grow on tree trunks in their native environment, where they receive only dappled sunlight. Indoors, filter sunlight with a sheer curtain.

Water mounted ferns or ferns grown in wire baskets by immersing the root ball in lukewarm water for 15 minutes biweekly. Outdoor ferns attached to trees should be watered with a can or hose biweekly as well. The roots should be allowed to dry slightly but never completely before you water them again.

Watch for scale. Although elkhorn ferns don't usually suffer serious insect infestations or diseases, they do sometimes suffer from scale. Treat the fern with a narrow-range horticultural oil applied soon after you see the scale, which are usually active from late winter to early summer, according to the University of California IPM Online. Use enough of the oil to thoroughly coat the fern.


Watch the video: Ep. 17 - Mounting Staghorn Ferns