Pruning shrubs in Japanese gardens (karikomi)

Adachi Karikomi
Karikomi
is a special design and pruning technique in a Japanese garden which is often seen done with plants of the Rhododendron family in Japan.

It is separated into the usual karikomi and o-karikomi – a larger element in the garden put together by more than one shrub.

 

 

 

 

What I want to talk about here today is how to prune a shrub in karikomi style.

Other than the usual topiary forms, the bubbles in Japanese gardens are never a perfect ball. While the top is round, the shrub grows straight to the ground unlike the example picture below, which is a shrub in a western style garden.

The tools used for karikomi are the karikomi basami – hedge shears, and gardening shears. When under time pressure, a motor hedge shear is used (barikan).

 

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The theory of karikomi pruning is quite easy. First, one small area on the shrub is cut in a rainbow-shape. This is done not on top, but slightly under the top of the bush. From here the gardener works towards the top, the sides, the back and the bottom until the whole shrub is pruned. With a bamboo broom the shrub is patted until all cuttings fell off and with the garden shears all the small branches, sticking out now, are cut.

Finished!

However, there is still more to Japanese style karikomi. Specifically how to handle the hedge shears.
These shears’s blades aren’t straight, but curved. It seems likely that the curved downwards site will touch the shrub. However, the opposite is the case! You will cut the shrub with the curve looking upwards to always have the full control of how much is cut and to prevent accidently cutting holes into the shrub.

When cutting, hold one of the handles firm and only move the other one. Else you will get exhausted too fast!

How to Karikomi

I know that this sounds very easy while reading, but what really is necessary here is practice. If you are just starting with pruning, please always remember: plants grow! If the shape is not perfect after your first try, you will soon get a second, and third chance to improve your skills!

I had a lot of fun when I started with karikomi practice in my first years in Japan. Here you can see one result:
Suumo


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Useful tools and resources:

Japanese tree shapes

 

 

Okatsune Precision Hedge Shears, 7 5/8″ blade, 22″ overall length

Price: $67.23
5-star rating.
Most common hedge shears used in Tokyo.
Click to see more details

Okatsune 103 Bypass Pruners General Purpose Medium

Price: $33.33
4-star + rating.
Most common pruning shears used in Tokyo.
Click to see more details

Okatsune Garden Scissors/Hand Pruner Type A, No.201-SN w/BP

Price: $34.65
5-star rating.
Most common garden shears used in Tokyo.
Click to see more details

Okatsune Professional Snips, No.207

Price: $32.94
5-star rating.
This type is used for Megiri.
Click to see more details

Felco F-2 Classic Manual Hand Pruner

Price: $48.99
4-star + rating.
Most common professional pruning shears used in Europe.
Click to see more details

Niwaki: Pruning, Training and Shaping Trees the Japanese Way

Price: $24.48
4-star + rating.
Click to see more details

Cutting Back: My Apprenticeship in the Gardens of Kyoto

Price: $16.96
4-star + rating.
Click to see more details

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7 responses to “Pruning shrubs in Japanese gardens (karikomi)

  1. Very interesting article – thank you. Interested that you use curved shears, I’ve always used English/Western shears which are normally straight and level. Would you mind if I asked if you have a preferred model of shears for this work?

    • Hi Adrian,
      thank you for your comment!

      When I worked in Germany I really liked the one from ARS. Here in Japan I worked with all kinds of shears, mainly the Okatsune ones. But usually I get used to all very fast. So here in Japan I can say that I like to work with all when they have wooden handles and are sharp ;)
      Don’t like plastic handles…

  2. Thanks for the interesting article. What species of Rhododendron (Azalea?) are most suited for Karikomi?

    • Thank you! I am happy you liked it!
      The most popular Rhododendron for karikomi is Satsuki Azalea (R. indicum). Another one often used is R. x pulchrum, Hirado Tsutsuji in Japanese. You need to check if these varieties can survive your climate. If you plan to buy azaleas for your garden, I would ask a specialist for Rhododendron in your area :)
      Anika

      • Dear Anika. Thanks a lot for your good answer – straight to the point! Two more things: 1. What time of year is best for trimming / cutting? 2. Are you, or other members of this group interested in meeting up in japan some time in November? My collegue and I (holehagesenter.no) are travelling 1 month for professional and inspirational reasons, and would love to meet up.

      • Usually the trimming is done after the flowering time ends. Some say it should be done before the rainy season starts in Japan. Others say it’s ok until early autumn.

        Sure! If I don’t have to be on construction sites while you are in Tokyo, let’s meet :)

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