Japanese plum yew looks pretty year-round

It's always a challenge to find excellent plants for deep shade, especially plants that will look good year-round. Though not widely known.

Japanese plum yew fits the bill perfectly. It works well in many of the same landscape situations as regular yews (Taxus), but—unlike regular yews—it's also deer-resistant, a big bonus for gardeners!

This evergreen shrub's form may be either low and wide-spreading or more upright, depending on the cultivar. Its handsome foliage consists of long, flat, glossy, deep-green needles arranged in a V shape on its stems.

Male Japanese plum yews bear small pollen cones, while pollinated female plants develop plum-like, fleshy-coated seeds.Though one of its most valuable traits is its superb shade tolerance, it will grow well on sunny sites, too.

Common name: Japanese plum yew

Botanical name: Cephalotaxus harringtonia

Plant type: Evergreen shrub

Zones: 6 to 9

Height: 5 to 10 feet

Family: Cephalotaxaceae

Growing conditions

• Sun: Sun or shade

• Soil: Tolerates a range of soil types

• Moisture:Moist but well-drained; somewhat drought-tolerant once established


• Mulch: 2 to 3 inches of organic mulch

• Pruning: Prune only to remove broken branches or improve form.

• Fertilizer: Apply compost or soluble fertilizer annually or as needed.


• Cuttings

• Seeds

Pests and diseases

• No serious problems


• ‘Duke Gardens' has a compact, spreading form and deep-green foliage that resists sunburn.

• ‘Fastigiata' has an upright columnar form.

• ‘Korean Gold' has an upright form and greenish-gold foliage.

• ‘Prostrata' has a low, wide spreading form.

Garden notes

• Japanese plum yew looks beautiful planted in groups or masses along shady drives, on slopes or under tall shade trees.

• It makes an ideal backdrop for shade-tolerant perennials like hostas, foamflower, heart-leaf brunnera, ferns and hellebores.

• It tolerates sun better in cooler regions where nighttime temperatures drop enough to help perk up the foliage.

All in the family

• It's sometimes listed as a member of the plum yew family (Cephalotaxaceae), containing only the genus Cephalotaxus, but other botanists roll that family into the larger yew family (Taxaceae).

• Though less widely available, the closely related (and very similar looking) species C. fortuneiand C. oliveri are also handsome landscape plants for shade.

Where to buy

• Broken Arrow Nursery, brokenarrownursery.com

• Niche Gardens, nichegardens.com

• Plant Delights Nursery, plantdelights.com