Japanese Garden Notes


One of the advantages of taking a Grounds Management course through Meramec is that we got to see the Japanese garden which is closed to the public. Greg, the senior horticulturist for the Japanese Garden, took us around and gave us some great advice.  While most of this doesn’t specifically apply to butterfly gardening, you can apply the principles to any garden.


He talked about this topic most of the time. Here are some tips I wrote down.

  • You are working to create structure.
  • Early spring is a great time to prune as you can see the structure of the branches. Later in the year, things are covered up.
  • You want to allow light to get into the center of the plant.
  • If you have a hole in a plant, create other holes to balance the plant.
  • You can remove about one-third of the plant per year if you need to restructure the plant.
  • He usually starts pruning with shoots that are pointing out from the main plant. Plants talk to you by raising their hands. He uses the analogy of people raising their hands. Those are the first branches he prunes first.
  • If you can – make one cut to take out two branches – saves time.
  • You prune farther back than the edge of the plant. You want to allow it to grow out to where you want it to be.
  • Prune the larger branches – give the smaller branches space to grow.
  • Pruning is a multi-year process. You prune and see how the plant responds.
  • You are constantly watching the plant and see how it is reacting and growing through the year.
  • He doesn’t fertilize 99% of the garden. He doesn’t want a lot of growth. He wants to keep things smaller.
  • Never shear a plant – then you only get growth on the ends.
  • When you prune, you don’t want people to be able to see the cuts. Cut farther in so that the outside foliage hides the cut.
  • He prunes 1/4 of the plant at a time – he moves around in a circle.
  • You want to be able to see into and through the plant – then you know that light is getting into the plant.
  • He use Lysol spray to disinfect his pruners and other tools.
  • Most of his plant shapes are hamburger bun shape.
  • Take off crossover limbs.
  • In parts of the plant that the public won’t see, he makes larger holes so that light can penetrate. Usually he might do this with the top of the plant that the public can’t see.
  • You can train a tree to grow down by pruning out the buds and shoots which grow up and only leaving the buds which point downward.


He keeps many of his trees down to a small size by selective pruning. This magnolia is a standard size tree. He says you can do this with any tree, but need to start when it is young.


This is a viburnum that he keeps very small. The one in my yard is almost six feet tall.

They do use leaf mold as a mulch on herbaceous perennials.

If the garden looks good – don’t mess with it. When you see a problem then you can start to do testing.

He doesn’t recommend bamboo – it is invasive and takes a lot of work.


Greg also talked about layering your plants/trees so that you first see on plant layer then look behind that etc. He even talked about using trees outside the garden as part of the layering process.



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Filed under Gardening, Pruning

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