How to Plant Japanese Plum Yew


The deep green, feathery, needled branches of the Japanese plum yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia), also called the cow's tail pine, sprawl horizontally to make an attractive groundcover. There are dozens of varieties with different mature heights and forms, but all are deer-resistant and tolerate the summer heat common in the southern United States. Place this shrub in a fertile, moist but well-draining soil in partial shade. In cool summer regions much more direct sunlight can reach the needles without harm.

Step 1

Measure the height and depth of the container or root ball of the Japanese plum yew you wish to plant with a tape measure. Alternatively, approximate the root ball size with the shovel handle, noting the mark on the handle to use as a reference.

Step 2

Dig a hole with the garden shovel to the same depth as measured in Step 1, but make the hole twice as wide as the root ball. Ensure that the bottom of the hole is flat and even, not V-shaped.

Step 3

Remove the plum yew from its container and position it in the center of the planting hole. Note how the plant rests: does the root ball top match the top of the hole, and is the plant level? Add or remove soil as needed so the plant is even and straight in the hole.

Step 4

Replace the soil around the root ball, tamping it down gently with your hands until the hole is full and even with the top of the root ball. Use excess soil to create a small berm and moat around the yew to contain water irrigated during the first three to six months.

Step 5

Water the plant so the soil becomes naturally compacted and moist. This watering removes any air pockets in the soil around the roots. Add soil if after watering the soil level drops and the root ball top is no longer even with the surface soil.

Step 6

Scatter a two- to three-inch layer of organic mulch around the base of the plant, extending out two to three times the diameter of the root ball. Keep the mulch three to four inches away from the trunk of the yew, however. This mulch helps retain moisture and impede weed competition, and makes the planting site look neat and complete.

Tips and Warnings

  • Young Japanese yew plants should not be in full sun exposures, as it will scald the tender needles. Avoid planting in soggy or flood-prone soils.

Things You'll Need

  • Japanese plum yew
  • Measuring tape
  • Shovel
  • Organic mulch


  • A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants; Christopher Brickell; 2004
  • Dirr's Trees and Shrubs for Warm Climates; Michael A. Dirr; 2002

Who Can Help

  • Cephalotaxus harringtonia
Keywords: Japanese plum yew, plant plum yew, cow's tail pine

About this Author

James Burghardt has written for The Public Garden, Docent Educator, numerous non-profit newsletters and for's comprehensive plant database. He holds a Master's degree in Public Horticulture from the University of Delaware and studied horticulture and biology in Australia at Murdoch University and the University of Melbourne's Burnley College.