S & J Nursery’s Guide to Growing

Cleyera Plants

in the Northeast Florida St. Augustine | Jacksonville area Landscape

(Ternstroemia gymnanthera)

Origins and Best Use of Cleyera for the Northeast Florida | Jacksonville | St. Augustine area home Landscape :

– Japanese Cleyera is a broadleaf evergreen shrub or small tree native to China and Japan in the Pentaphylacaceae family. The family name was previously Theaceae, and the genus is named after German botanist and physician Andreas Cleyer. 

– Cleyera are prized for their upright tall growth habit as well as their unusually dark green glossy foliage. They make a wonderful foundation plant in between windows on a larger home, as they grow taller than they grow wide. The evergreen leaves and the winter interest berries make it an attractive landscape plant. When used as a privacy hedge or windscreen, space the plants 4 to 6 feet apart. When utilizing them with other shrubs give them 5 to 7 feet of space and offset them for an attractive display.

– Leathery leaves are darker above and lighter below and resemble camellia’s new leaves are bronze in color turning green.

 – Cleyera is deer resistant and is a hardy and easy to maintain species which you should definitely consider when planning your garden.

– Considered sacred in the Shinto religion in Japan.

Blooms of the Cleyera :

– In the Northeast Florida | Jacksonville | St. Augustine area Cleyera blooms at the beginning of summer, the flowers occur singly or in an umbel of up to five. The flowers hang from the leaf axils (base of the leaf) and are cream-white in color and pleasantly fragrant.

– After flowering, attractive black fruits are produced which are enjoyed by birds.

Preferred Exposure for Cleyera :

– Select a full sun to partial shade area for this plant, although it may survive in almost full shade. This plant usually does best in a partial shade setting. 

– In hot southern summers, it appreciates afternoon shade and it can in fact tolerate almost full shade.  Once established, they are quite drought tolerant but be sure to plant in an area with some protection from strong winds. 

Quick Note: In Northeast Florida, a plant receiving 6 hours or more of sun exposure is considered to be planted in a full sun location. Afternoon sun with morning shade during the summer where it remains above 80 degrees till 7 and 8 PM is the same as an all day sun exposure and at the hottest time of the year. Also a quick note to remember be mindful of where the sun will be during the summer months, what is sun/ shade in winter and summer can differ.

–  Listed as hardy to at least USDA Zone 7 so this plant should be cold hardy to 5° F. They do not like freezing temperatures and may suffer from prolonged cold spells.

Soil Preference / Salt tolerance of the Cleyera :

 – The plant prefers well-drained, fertile, soil that has high organic matter content in the Northeast Florida | Jacksonville | St. Augustine area. ( compost acts as a sponge soaking up water and releasing it slowly as needed for the plant solving both dry sandy soil and heavy clay soil issues at the same timeAmend with compost generously when planting into dry sandy soils.

– Cleyera is salt tolerant.

Size and Growth of the Cleyera :

Size: can reach heights of 10-15 ft ft in height and 8-10 ft in width if left unpruned to grow up as a small scale ornamental tree. Cleyera respond well to light pruning and can be maintained at the desired height and fullness with semi-annual trimming.

Growth Habit: dense, rounded growth habit that makes them ideal for use as hedges or screens.

Growth Rate: growing up to 3 feet a year to quickly reach 10 to 15 feet in height.

Water Requirements of the Cleyera :

– Cleyera’s have dense root structure consisting of many finely branched roots that dry out rapidly. Although they withstand moderate drought, the shrubs look their best in the Northeast Florida | Jacksonville | St. Augustine area when watered regularly in the absence of rain.

– Daily hand watering is necessary to get the plant rooted and growing on its own after being planted in the ground from an S & J Nursery container. A 3-6 inch layer of arborist wood chips or pine bark/ pine straw applied to the area on top of the soil once to twice a year in combination with compost amendment at planting time helps the soil retain the moisture it gets from rain and supplemental irrigation allowing the soil moisture level to remain more consistent. Both of those mulches also break down into rich compost to feed the plant and improve the soil structure over the years and help keep your plant happy.

Care of the Cleyera in the Northeast Florida Landscape:

 – Amend sandy soils generously with a good quality compost when planting to help your Cleyera plants get established quickly.

Here is a link to S & J Tree Farm and Nurseries Guide to Planting Your Plants into their New Home

– Water every day during the establishment period after planting in the garden from an S & J Nursery container. Be sure to continue supplemental irrigation during the hot summer months during prolonged droughts. Here is a link for S & J Tree Farm and Nurserys information on how to water your newly installed plantings in the Northeast Florida landscape

Watering Guides

 – The best time to fertilize Cleyeras is in spring. Use a slow-release fertilizer formulated for woody shrubs. In the first year of planting, apply at half-strength while the plant is setting out its roots.

 –Mulch thickly at least once a year with arborist wood chips Pine bark or pine straw. Pine Straw is my personal favorite but all of these break down quickly in the landscape, aid in moisture retention and improve the soil structure over time.