How to Grow and Care for Japanese Pagoda Trees

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Japanese Pagoda Trees: Care and Growing Guide

The confusing name, Japanese pagoda tree (Styphnolobium japonicum) of this Chinese native is probably the only thing that will make you question this impressive tree. Japanese pagoda trees are perfect if you live in an urban setting, are looking for a flowering shade tree, or are planning a Japanese garden.

The Japanese pagoda is undoubtedly a beautiful tree that you will want to add to your garden design if you have space and patience to dedicate the reward that comes when it is ready to be displayed.

Botanical NameStyphnolobium japonicum
Common NameJapanese pagoda tree
Plant Type Deciduous tree
Mature Size50 - 75 ft. tall, 50 - 75 ft. wide
Sun ExposureFull sun
Soil TypeWell-drained sandy loams
Soil pHAdaptable
Bloom TimeJuly
Flower ColorCreamy white
Hardiness Zones4-8 (USA)
Native Area China

Japanese Pagoda Trees Care

Japanese pagoda trees have exceptional ornamental value, can be grown in a wide variety of conditions, and are for the most part easy to maintain. The only two downsides are waiting for the tree to flower, which can take ten years, and the wood is sometimes weak, which can be alleviated with structural pruning (And if you want a tree that blooms faster, the Styphnolobium japonicum 'Regent' cultivar will produce much earlier, at six years.)

One important thing to consider when selecting a Japanese pagoda tree is the shape of its trunk. Be sure to select a tree with a single leader or a single trunk that splits into branches at 45-60 ° angles from the trunk.

Branches that form a narrower angle will eventually need to be pruned so that a weak groin does not form. Buying some will save a lot of work in the future.

The ease of maintenance of this unusual tree, plus the floral reward and its ability to handle harsh conditions, make it well worth a look. It is generally available in most smaller nurseries in their hardiness zones.

When purchasing the Japanese pagoda, you may see it listed as Sophora japonica. This synonym is an outdated name, often misused by horticulturists and nurseries, instead of its correct scientific name. You will buy the same tree as Styphnolobium japonicum.


Japanese pagoda trees need full sun to thrive, and you'll see a big difference in flower production in less than that. Providing partial sun will not harm the health of the tree, but it will affect its ornamental value, so you will probably choose this tree first.


A desirable attribute of the Japanese pagoda tree is that regardless of soil conditions or soil configuration, it adapts. This positive is one of the main qualities that make this tree attractive as a shade tree.

It grows incredibly well in tree holes, in parking lots, and as trees on streets where there is a lot of air and surface pollution, soil compaction, and poor soils.

Ideally, the soil for this tree would be well-drained sandy clay that is rich in nutrients but would adapt to almost any environment except moist, soggy soil.


Once your Japanese pagoda tree has been established, it is very drought tolerant. Of course, it will work better as an ornamental and will produce more flowers with additional watering.

However, no supplemental water is needed if you want to be environmentally friendly or do water-based gardening.

During the first season, water the Japanese pagoda tree or any tree using the standard two to three gallons of water per inch of trunk diameter. After the first year, how you want to water your tree depends on the light and soil conditions, but the tree will tolerate some drought.

Temperature and humidity

Pagoda trees are not incredibly unstable when it comes to temperature. It is easily frost resistant down to -25 degrees Fahrenheit when ripe, but can be damaged by frost when young.


Unlike other trees that generally do not require fertilizers, supplemental fertilizers are often beneficial. Remember that no flowers will be created for at least 10 years, so giving the tree fertilizer for those first 10 years is a waste of nutrients.

When your Japanese pagoda starts to bloom, you'll want to use a fertilizer with a high phosphorous NPK formulation as your fertilizer of choice. A 10-30-10 is an excellent mix for flowering trees.

Is the Japanese Pagoda Tree Toxic?

Parts of the Japanese pagoda are toxic, although traditional medicine in China has used for thousands of years. Fruits are the toxic element of the tree, while the rest of the tree, specifically the flowers and leaves, is what has been used traditionally.

It is recommended that you do not attempt to harvest from your own Japanese pagoda tree; Instead, if you are interested, you should buy from a trustworthy and trustworthy source.


The fruits should not be consumed by humans or pets. Symptoms of ingestion include facial swelling and dizziness. Contact Poison Control if a human or animal has eaten the fruits.


Pruning your Japanese pagoda tree will be the most labor-intensive maintenance you will have to do when caring for your tree. However, if you buy good nursery stock and prune it well for the first three to four years of your tree's life, your workload will drop dramatically down the road.

After the first year, once your tree is established in late fall or early winter, you will want to do the first pruning.

The pruning you will do is purely structural. You will try to give your tree a unique leader, with solid secondary branches perpendicular to the leader at 45-60 ° angles from the trunk.

Cut inner branches that have acute angles less than 45o. For the next year, keep up this effort and keep doing it until you have a rounded crown.

When the tree grows too large to continue, you may need to call in a licensed arborist to continue the work started. It will be much cheaper for your service due to your work and the tree you initially chose.

Enjoy This Video Tutorial About Trees

Source: Cornell SIPS

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