Most conifers are not shade tolerant, but yews are a major exception. Their dark green needles add a bit of color to the otherwise barren shade garden from fall through early spring.
Description of Japanese yew: In its original form, the Japanese yew is a single-trunked tree reaching 50 feet in height. The species is rarely grown in cultivation, having been replaced by the numerous dense, slow-growing varieties that may be globular, vase-shaped, pyramidal, or spreading, depending on the selection. Although they are labeled dwarf plants, most eventually become quite high: 20 feet or more. The dark green needles have rounded tips and are not "scratchy" like most other conifers. Female plants bear bright red berries. Ease of care of Japanese Yew: Easy.
Growing Japanese yew: Yews are perfectly tolerant of moderate shade, and even deep shade, as long as they get some spring sunlight. In dense shade, the shrubs need harsher pruning to help fill in the gaps formed by a more open growth pattern. Yews need fertile soil and ample moisture. They will not tolerate root competition from shallow-rooted trees. Protect them from strong, drying winds.
Propagating Japanese yew: By cuttings, usually carried out by professionals, or seed.
Uses of Japanese yew: The Japanese yew is widely used as a foundation plant, especially on the north or east sides of the home. It makes an excellent formal or natural hedge, and dwarf varieties -- of which there are many in different sizes, shapes, and colors -- are popularly used in rock gardens.
Related species of Japanese Yew: English yew (Taxus baccata) and the hybrid yew (T. x media) are similar to the Japanese yew, although the English yew is less hardy (USDA zone 6).
Scientific name of Japanese yew: Taxus cuspidata
If you love the Japanese yew's berries but don't have an outdoor garden, consider growing it as a house plant. We'll show you how in the next section.