On Gardening: Plum yew is perfect for the landscape or containers

January 25, 2016

The spreading plum yew makes an excellent thriller plant in mixed containers.

Your first thought of shrubs for your home is probably the staples like hollies or viburnums and showy bloomers like azaleas or camellias. Those are great choices, but I want you to consider using some conifers like the spreading plum yew.

While many conifers are tall trees like pines or bald cypresses, shorter conifers like the spreading plum yew offer a lot for the landscape and containers too.

Botanically speaking the spreading plum yew is known as Cephalotaxus harringtonii ‘Prostrata’  and is native to Japan.  It is cold hardy in zones 6-9 and offers us as gardeners a conifer with a staggering difference in shrub texture because of their needle-like leaves. They reach around three feet tall with an equal spread thanks to their dark green pendulous branches.

Place a cluster of these next to a holly like the winterberry and you’ll have the ultimate in cool season landscape partnerships.  Combine them with shrubs known for fall leaf color like the oakleaf hydrangea, and Henry’s Garnet Virginia willow and you’ll be bringing out the camera. For the long warm growing season you could not pick a better partner than the Purple Diamond loropetalum with its stunning burgundy leaves and rose-purple flowers.

We combined them outside my office with fatsias, which are large tropical-looking shrubs are offer a stark contrast. In another area we have them partnered with hollies loaded with berries and the companioship with fall’s rusty red colors in the oakleaf hydrangeas was everything we had dreamed. If you have the opportunity to plant some adjacent to or in close proximity to rocks consider yourself most fortunate as your look will be amazing.

The spreading plum yew provides tremendous landscape options, from that of a-low-growing, creeping groundcover to foundation planting. This shrub is most definitely one that deserves to be planted in a cluster or massed to achieve its best potential.

The spreading plum yew offers a couple other traits many gardeners will celebrate. First they are resistant to browsing by deer and secondly they are drought tolerant, meaning you won’t be out babysitting them through the summer.

Your shrub junipers will perform best if planted in a fertile, well-drained shrub bed prepared with the addition of organic matter. This is best accomplished by spreading a 3 to 4 inch layer of compost in the garden and tilling it in. Dig your planting-hole at least twice the size of the root ball but no deeper. Plant so that the top of the root ball is even with the soil surface, and then apply a good layer of mulch. The large planting hole will allow for the quickest root-expansion and acclimation into your landscape.

Try using the plum yew as the thriller plant in large decorative urns with cool season color like pansies, violas, creeping jenny or the trailing Wojo’s Gem vinca. They are so picturesque they really have the ability to stand alone in containers. While they are drought tolerant in the landscape they will have to be treated like any other plant in a container as they will be prone to drying out.

Conifers may indeed be tall trees, but their shorter cousins offer a lot for the landscape with interesting needle-like texture. With spring just around the corner, if your landscape needs some evergreen plant material, talk to your nursery professional about the spreading plum yew.



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