How to Care for a Japanese Yew

Written by marie roper
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How to Care for a Japanese Yew
Japanese yews have bright red fruit. (Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Japanese yews, or Taxus cuspidata, are useful shrubs for shade because they keep their dense, handsome growth habit even in low light. They're hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant zones 4 through 7, where they're used for hedges, foundation plants and screens. There are many different-sized cultivars available, allowing homeowners to find a Japanese yew to fit nearly any location.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • Shovel
  • Mulch
  • Fertiliser
  • Pruners
  • Alcohol or household bleach
  • Insecticide or fungicide (optional)

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  1. 1

    Plant Japanese yews in a moist, well-drained area in full sun to deep shade. Japanese yews are tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions and even air pollution, but must have excellent drainage. Avoid planting them in low, boggy areas or near downspouts.

  2. 2

    Dig a planting hole slightly shallower than the height of the root ball, so that when planted, the yew sits slightly higher, aiding drainage. Firm the soil around the root ball, forming a gentle slope from the crown of the plant to the soil level.

  3. 3

    Mulch the roots with an organic mulch to conserve moisture and discourage weeds. The mulch layer should be 1 to 2 inches deep. Keep the mulch 2 to 3 inches away from the shrub's crown to discourage insect and rodent damage and to avoid rot.

  4. 4

    Feed Japanese yews with a fertiliser formulated for acid-loving evergreens. Follow package directions for the amount of product to use, since too much fertiliser burns roots. The number of yearly fertiliser applications depends on the product's formulation.

  5. 5

    Water Japanese yews to keep the soil around the roots slightly moist. Supplemental watering is necessary during hot weather or drought.

  6. 6

    Prune Japanese yews with hand pruners rather than hedge clippers, for a natural appearance. Prune anytime during the growing season. Make the pruning cut slightly inside the body of the plant to hide the pruned stem. Remove broken or diseased branches. Sterilise the pruner blades between cuts by dipping them in alcohol or a solution of one part household bleach to nine parts water.

  7. 7

    Inspect yews for signs of disease or insects. Japanese yews are rarely bothered by either, but if insects or disease is found, take prompt action to prevent damage. Consult with your garden centre or local extension service for an appropriate product.

  8. 8

    Put up burlap or plastic wind barriers in the winter if Japanese yews are planted where they will be subject to harsh winter winds. Yellowing foliage during the winter indicates wind damage.

Tips and warnings

  • Japanese yews are dioecious, meaning the plants are male or female. Only the female shrubs produce the ornamental, bright red berries. You can tell the plants apart by the shape of the flower buds -- male shrubs have rounded flower buds, while female shrubs have conical or pointed flower buds. Plant a few males in among the female shrubs to ensure good fruiting.
  • Both the foliage and the seed inside the red fruit on Japanese yews are poisonous. Use these shrubs with caution in gardens accessible to small children and pets.

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