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Cloud pruning is a Japanese method of training trees and shrubs into shapes resembling clouds. It is known as 'Niwaki', the translation of which is 'garden tree'. The style is said to depict the distilled essence of the tree. This type of pruning does not have to be used in solely Japanese-style gardens; it can be used as a feature in gardens of many different styles.
Suitable for Box, yew, Japanese privet and some pinesTiming Early or late summerDifficulty Moderate, it can take a long time
This method can be used on a number of deciduous or evergreen trees and shrubs. However, evergreens produce a more striking specimen and give all-year-round interest. Plants seen as cloud-pruned specimens include:
Other interesting specimens would be Phillyrea latifolia, Luma apiculata, Japanese holly (Ilex crenata), Camellia japonica and Osmanthus × burkwookii.
Trim annually with secateurs or shears in early or late summer to keep specimens in shape. Faster growing species may need to be trimmed twice a year. Suckers and unwanted branches can also be removed. If you have chosen a flowering shrub, be aware that you will need to prune it after flowering, otherwise you will cut off the flowers.
You can start off with any size plant. However, there are a couple of things to consider;
Buying a ready-shaped specimen is always an option but if you want to have a go at shaping your own, here's how;
This can also be attempted on existing trees and shrubs in the garden.
It is important that you trim specimens annually with secateurs or shears in early or late summer to keep specimens in shape. It can take a while to recover shapes that have been lost. Plants with larger leaves look better if they have been pruned with secateurs as shears can leave untidy cut/damaged leaves, which are more apparent on larger leaves.
Some of the more readily-available specimens of cloud pruning are Japanese privet (Ligustrum japonicum). This is because it is quick growing and so reduces the overall cost. However, its speed of growth does mean it needs to be trimmed several times a year.
Cloud pruning is generally trouble free. The only thing required in large quantities is patience and sharp shears or secateurs.
Plants that are cloud pruned can look very much like bonsai trees. The only difference between niwaki and bonsai is that bonsai are grown in containers and niwaki are grown in the ground. The size of the plant has nothing to do with the naming, it is purely from how it is grown. Both subjects are highly prized art forms with Japanese gardeners taking years to be qualified in this specialised area.
For a more in-depth look into this subject, refer to the book Niwaki: pruning, training and shaping trees the Japanese way by Jake Hobson (2008, Timber Press, ISBN: 9780881928358). It contains a full study of the subject and illustrates many beautiful examples. This book is also made available through the RHS Lindley Library.
BonsaiHedge trimmingPollardingShrubs: pruning evergreensShrubs: pruning summer-floweringTopiary
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In this fully revised edition, you’ll find updated advice by the RHS experts on what, when and how to prune.
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