Japanese Yew Tree
Ultimate Bonsai Species Guide

The Japanese Yew Tree is exquisite to grow as a bonsai. It has stunning berries that really stand out, while the leaves look spectacular. Of course, they can be challenging to maintain if you don’t know how.

Fortunately, you have Bonsai Alchemist to show you how to care for your Japanese Yew Tree.

Japanese Yew Tree

Quick Caresheet for Japanese Yew Tree

We know you might not have time to read through a detailed article. Therefore, we created this TL;DR for the Japanese Yew tree care. It provides a quick summary of all you need to know, while our guide has more details below for you to dive into.

Recommended soil

Sandy, loam soil with an acidic pH level between 5.5 and 7.0


Young trees – small amounts frequently

Old trees – large amounts seldom

Potting season

Early spring when new growth appears

Shaping and pruning season

Anytime, but preferably in spring


Full sun or partial shade are acceptable


Spring and summer when there’s plenty of growth

Propagation methods

Cuttings taken in late autumn

Pests and diseases

mealybugs, scales, black vine weevils, root rot, brown needles

Growth patterns

Vigorous growth in spring, and sometimes more in fall

Recommended styles

Flat-top, pyramid

Native Area

Japan, China, Russia, Korea

Scientific Classification

  • Clade: Pinophyta
  • Order: Pinales
  • Family: Taxaceae
  • Genus: Taxus
  • Species: Cuspidata

Japanese Yew Tree

Japanese Yew Tree Bonsai Care Guide

Welcome to our detailed Japanese Yew Tree bonsai care guide! We have several elements to take you through, and they’re all essential to ensure that you have a healthy, small tree at home or in your garden.

It’s essential to note that we provide the bare information for all aspects. If we feel that any section needs further explanation, we’ll provide you with a link to a different article. In this way, we can give you concise details without dribbling on in one massive post.

Placement and Light

We’ll begin with where you should place your Japanese Yew tree and how much light it needs. Both points are vital for your bonsai to thrive, and you don’t want to make the mistake of putting it in the wrong location. If you see it isn’t doing too well, it may have something to do with one of these elements.

Will Japanese Yew Grow In Shade?

The Japanese Yew tree does well in the shade, which is why it’s chosen as one of the top bonsais for beginners. If you have low-light conditions, it will still thrive, as it doesn’t need direct sunlight to grow. You can select any space in your garden, even if it’s under the shadow of a massive tree. Therefore, the Japanese Yew can do well inside and outside.

Can Japanese Yew Take Full Sun?

On the flip side, this Yew tree species can also handle full sunlight for several hours. The needles are resilient and won’t suffer any damage from too much light. You may want to give it some shade in the extreme heat when the sun is at its peak, though.

Can Yew Be Grown Indoors?

Since it can live with various shades of sunlight, the Japanese Yew tree is quite comfortable as a bonsai inside your home. Whether you place it by a window or somewhere a bit darker, it will happily grow there with no problems. However, there are some aspects you need to consider.

For one, the amount of direct sunlight it receives will dictate how much water it drinks. Also, the damp and darkness will encourage mold and other fungi to form. It’s also more prone to pests if you have the window open, and you need to check that the internal humidity is high enough.


Any bonsai tree needs water, just like we humans do. It’s the lifeblood that ensures their survival. In the wild, Yew trees can absorb water from the ground as long as the roots can reach them. There’s also the rain that gives them access to this natural resource.

When it comes to your Japanese Yew tree as a bonsai, they only have as much as you provide in the soil. Therefore, you need to make sure you don’t under- or overwater it. In this section, we’ll show you just how much to provide and how to tell when it’s too much.

Do Japanese Yews Need A Lot Of Water?

How much you’ll water your Japanese Yew tree depends on the age of the bonsai. If it’s still young, you’ll need to only provide a little bit of water to prevent the roots from rotting. It’s best to check the soil to feel when it’s dry enough to water again.

For older trees, you can provide more water, as the roots will be thirstier. The trunk and branches will store loads of water for when it’s needed, and it can handle slight overwatering more than young bonsais.

How Often Should You Water A Japanese Yew Tree?

Once again, this boils down to the age of your bonsai tree. Young Japanese Yew trees need frequent watering of small amounts. The roots will drink quickly, but you need to watch for overwatering at this young stage. You don’t want it to form fungal diseases.

The older bonsai trees don’t need regular watering. We recommend bathing the soil with loads of water once a week, and then going sparingly with any further application. In winter, you’ll barely need to give it water, as the tree will be dormant while it’s cold. Again, check the soil to see when it’s dry.

How Much Humidity Does A Japanese Yew Like?

Like most bonsai trees, the Japanese Yew tree loves high humidity, which could be an issue if you have extremely dry seasons. They do well in hardiness zones 4 to 7, which provide the ideal climates. If you find that the air is too dry, you’ll need to assist by providing some moisture.

While many people use misting, we don’t recommend it. Spraying doesn’t really raise the humidity level by much, and the water resting on the leaves can cause issues, such as mold, dampness, or leaf burn. It’s better to invest in a humidity tray for older bonsais or place a transparent bag over younger ones.

Japanese Yew TreeImage courtesy of ShareAlike 3.0

Feeding, Potting, and Soil

We’ve combined these three aspects together, as they usually go hand in hand. When you provide soil, it usually contains the basic macronutrients and trace elements. However, it drains away after some time, so you’ll need to feed them with some fertilizer. As the roots grow, you’ll also need to repot your bonsai every few years.

In this section, we’ll show you what you need to know about repotting, feeding, and soil for your Japanese Yew tree. You’ll also see some other aspects related to them, as they apply to your bonsai.

Can Yew Be Grown In Pots?

The Japanese Yew tree is ideal for growing in a container. The roots don’t take up too much space, and they are easy to maintain. If you’re planning on developing a forest with a few bonsais in a large pot, you need to provide enough space between them for the foliage to expand on either side.

Every two to three years, you should repot the Yew tree in early spring. As the tree matures, you can wait for longer periods before you change the soil.

Do Japanese Yews Have Deep Roots?

In the wild, the Japanese Yew tree has roots that spread wide before it goes deep. It can reach from 16 inches in the ground before extending further. As a bonsai, we recommend using a shallow, wide container to keep the roots from growing too deeply.

Of course, you’ll need to watch for signs of the roots breaking through the drainage holes. That means it’s taken up all the other space in the pot, and it’s a sign you need to repot and prune the roots.

What Kind Of Soil Do Yews Like?

Japanese Yew trees love sandy loam soil, as the water drains more easily. Steer clear of clay soil, as the water will remain for too long and damage the roots. It prefers slightly acidic soil, and the best pH level is between 5.5 and 7.0.

Do Japanese Yews Need Fertilizer?

When it comes to feeding, the Japanese Yew tree loves plenty of nutrients in the soil. New substrate or bonsai mixes usually have them, but it becomes used or drained over time. If you want your small tree to survive, we recommend providing fertilizer in spring and summer when the foliage is growing.

What Is the Best Fertilizer For Yews?

There are various fertilizers on the market that you can use for your Japanese Yew bonsai. If you prefer letting it slowly decompose into the soil, you can use solid pellets or feeding sticks. An alternative is a liquid solution that you apply more regularly since you’ll dilute it with the water you provide.

You’ll also need to test the soil to see which nutrients are missing. To see more foliage growth, you’ll need more nitrogen than potassium and phosphorous in the NPK ratio, such as 15:10:10. When you want to see more berries, you should aim for less nitrogen.

Do Yews Like Holly Tone?

While Holly Tone is designed for Holly plants, you can also use them for your Japanese Yew tree. It helps provide more acidity to the soil while also supplying the required nutrients. To apply it, we recommend using it in spring and autumn so that it has enough energy before it goes dormant in winter.

If you have the tree with other bonsais in a single container, you need to check if they all enjoy acidic levels; otherwise, you may be harming them in the long run.


The foliage of this tree is what sets it apart from other bonsais. These aspects usually help you to identify the Japanese Yew, and they contain the components of the tree that we really enjoy. When it comes to dealing with any issues related to them, we’ll deal with that in a separate section.

Can You Eat Yew Berries?

The fleshy part around the pip in the center is called the aril, which is edible. For the Japanese Yew tree, you can eat as much of the red aril as you want, and you won’t get sick. However, the stony pip is toxic and can cause a variety of problems.

For the best experience, we recommend you remove the aril first so that you don’t accidentally bite into the pip. It has a sweet taste and is watery, which is what makes them so enjoyable. Since the berries are small, you’ll need to collect a few of them for a pleasurable fruity meal.

What Do You Do With Japanese Yew Tree Clippings?

When you take cuttings from your Japanese Yew Tree, you can propagate them into new bonsais, which we’ll show you soon. Some people simply burn them or let them decompose into the soil to make it more acidic. It’s also been said that some yew clippings help with chemotherapy when it comes to cancer.

How Do Japanese Yew Needles Look?

The Japanese Yew tree has dark-green needles that sometimes have a soft yellow tinge on the underside. They usually grow to about 1 inch long on mature trees in the wild. However, you can prune your bonsai to grow them smaller, which is ideal for shaping them towards your design.

When the winter arrives, you may see the needles turn red-brown. It’s natural, so don’t stress that something is wrong. The colder it becomes, the deeper the color will be.

Do Yews Have Cones?

While the Japanese Yew tree is a conifer and gymnosperm, it doesn’t bear any cones. Instead, it has small red berries with a fleshy pulp called an aril. The female bonsais have a single seed inside each fruit, which is the pip that’s toxic to eat.

Maintenance and Cultivation

One of the top reasons that people enjoy owning bonsais is pruning. It’s incredibly therapeutic to spend time with your small trees, training them towards the ultimate design. However, you’ll need to know when is the right time to cut stems and leaves so you don’t do any harm.

We have a few queries we’re answering with regards to pruning the Japanese Yew tree as a bonsai. There may even be some insight into how you can maintain a bush in your garden, but our main focus is on your small bonsai tree. We’ll also look at some styling techniques.

When Should I Work On Yew Bonsai?

When it comes to pruning, the Japanese Yew tree can tolerate cuttings at any time of the year. They have vibrant, strong branches and needles that can handle wiring for styling your bonsai. However, we recommend you do most of your work in early spring after it breaks dormancy and before the new leaves appear.

How Do You Prune A Japanese Yew Bush?

As most of the branches will bend upwards to simulate Japanese Yew trees in the wild, it causes a problem with the sunlight reaching higher, smaller stems. If you see overcrowding or crossing branches, you should prune the Japanese Yew lower or at the base. Besides more light, it also permits better airflow on the inside of the foliage, which will prevent diseases and pests from forming or hiding.

Another factor to consider is keeping the pyramid shape or style you’ve chosen. You don’t want the bonsai growing too tall, so you’ll need to stop the apex at some point and any other branches that stem from it. Make sure you use sterilized shears so you don’t transmit any sap or diseases from other bonsais.

How Far Back Can You Trim Yews?

When you have a healthy Japanese Yew bonsai tree, you can cut back as far as you want without causing too much damage. The usual lengths are two-thirds or a half, but you can go back even further. We recommend you only do this in spring so that it has two seasons to develop new shoots and recover.

How Do You Shape A Japanese Yew?

In public gardens, people usually shape Yew trees as topiaries or hedges. As a bonsai, you can style it with a pyramid shape, giving it more height than width. Another method you can try is just letting it grow wild and seeing which form develops. One more style you can aim for is a flat-top, which works well when you have the pot on a set of shelves with a board limiting the upper growth.

It’s essential that you start training your bonsai from a young age. It may become more challenging to do it later, as there’s more foliage to deal with. The more mature the tree, the harder it will be to style as you wish. However, it works well with thick bonsai wire, as the branches are strong and flexible.

When Should You Trim Yews?

If you only want to trim some of the foliage, we recommend doing it in late winter or early spring. Do it during the evening or early morning when it’s still cool and the Japanese Yew tree isn’t eating or drinking from the soil. Should you do it in the middle of the day when the leaves are absorbing sunlight for photosynthesis, you may be stressing it out.

Japanese Yew Tree


Winter can be cruel in several parts of the world. While some Yew trees can handle cold temperatures, bonsais aren’t always so lucky. It’s for this reason that we recommend growing them in the appropriate hardiness zones or taking precautions against frost.

In this section, we’ll discuss what temperatures the Japanese Yew tree can manage as a bonsai and when you need to bring them inside for some protection. We’ll also discuss extra measures you’ll need to take to ensure it survives the winter. Finally, you’ll see what growth patterns you should expect in this season.

Are Japanese Yews Cold Hardy?

Fortunately, the Japanese Yew tree can handle cold temperatures incredibly well. It can go down to -30° F, which is incredible compared to other trees. For this reason, it performs well in hardiness zones 4 to 7 where the climates are very cold in winter.

Can Japanese Yews Survive A Freeze?

While it can handle cold temperatures, it doesn’t deal with frost and ice very well. Some trees have died back in winter when this has happened, and we’re talking about those in public gardens. Bonsais are even more susceptible to freezing situations, so it’s better that you protect them or bring them inside.

How Do You Protect Yews In The Winter?

The most significant factor you want to protect your Japanese Yew bonsai from is winter damage. We recommend moving your small tree inside or placing a transparent bag with stakes over it. You can also craft a shield to stop frost and ice from collecting on the leaves.

Do Yew Trees Grow In The Winter?

While you may see a small amount of growth on your bonsai, the Japanese Yew tree usually goes dormant in winter. If you bring it inside and still provide some sunlight, you may see a few leaves form. However, it will usually rest until the spring arrives.

Do Yew Trees Go Brown In Winter?

When the temperatures go ice cold, the Yew’s leaves should still remain green. However, strong sunlight can burn it during the winter, and the leaves may go brown if there isn’t enough water to sustain them. If anyone in your area uses salt to deice sidewalks or roads, the content in the air may also cause your bonsai tree to turn slightly brown.


So, you enjoy giving life to new bonsai trees? Don’t worry; we’re the same. There’s no greater joy than taking a seed or cutting and growing it into a new sapling or tree. For some species, it can be incredibly challenging to perform this task.

That’s why we decided to show you how you can propagate a Japanese Yew tree. We have several aspects to cover, as we’re sure you’d like to try your hand at all of them. However, not all of them have the same level of success, so choose your method carefully.

How Do You Propagate Yews From Cuttings?

You can take Japanese Yew tree softwood cuttings at any time of the year, but we recommend doing so in late fall or early winter when they become dormant. You’ll need to apply rooting hormone powder to the tip before placing it in acidic soil rich in nitrogen and other trace elements.

If you take cuttings in spring or summer, you stand the chance of seeing roots develop. However, they usually die shortly thereafter due to stress.

How Long Do Yew Cuttings Take To Root?

It can take anywhere between two to three months for Japanese Yew tree roots to form. That’s why it’s best to cut them in late fall so the roots are ready by the time spring arrives. Of course, it depends on how well you care for it and protect it from the elements.

How Do You Grow Japanese Yew From Seed?

As soon as female Japanese Yew berries turn red, they are ripe and ready to be planted. You’ll need to remove the fleshy aril first to get the stony pip inside. You should rub the seed coatings in a mesh colander to break a bit of it off. Wash them clean and dry them before placing them in a sand-compost mixture.

Can You Air Layer A Yew Tree?

Finally, you can also propagate the Japanese Yew tree via air layering. The technique might not work as well as cuttings, but you should be able to develop some roots after a few months. It takes longer to form, so you’ll need to be a bit patient.

Pests and Diseases

The last thing you want to see is your Japanese Yew bonsai dying, especially after caring for it for so long. Pests and diseases can be fatal to your small tree, and you need to do everything in your power to prevent them from appearing or removing them. Sometimes, there are diseases you just can’t cure.

Don’t stress! We have you covered. We’ll look at the most common issues you’ll encounter with the Japanese Yew tree the corrective action you can take. If there’s any other problem with your bonsai, please let us know. We’ll include it in this section and answer it as best we can.

Why Is My Japanese Yew Dying?

The top reason why your Japanese Yew bonsai may be dying is due to the incorrect conditions in the location. If the soil is soggy for too long, it will cause root rot and mildew to form. You may also see brown needles if there’s not enough humidity.

Why is my Japanese Yew Turning Brown?

Your Japanese Yew bonsai tree is stressed when the needles start turning brown. If your winter is incredibly wet and the water drowns the leaves, it’s best to bring it indoors to protect it. Also, you need to stop overwatering it if this is happening in the summer.

What Is The White Stuff On My Yews?

If you see white stuff on your Japanese Yew tree, it’s powdery mildew forming on your bonsai. They usually cover the upper side of branches and needles, and they can quickly spread if action isn’t taken. You’ll find younger bonsais suffer the most damage from this fungus.

In case there are only one or two spots, you can quickly remove them with your fingers. If there are too many, you can spray some baking soda diluted in water or buy a fungicide from your local store. Try not to leave the needles wet for too long.

Why Is My Yew Losing Needles?

Sometimes, the Japanese Yew tree may shed its needles when it starts forming new ones, even though it’s evergreen. Don’t be startled, as this action simply forms part of its natural development. However, if it’s losing needles and not replacing them, you should be concerned.

You’ll usually find the Yew bonsai losing needles when the conditions have gone beyond what it can manage. Some examples include overwatering, drought, or exposure to incompatible herbicides. There may also be some bugs eating away at the leaves.

What Is Eating My Yews?

If you discover there are pests eating at your Japanese Yew tree, you’ll need to take immediate action. Some of the more common culprits are mealybugs, scales, and black vine weevils. It’s best to use some pesticides as soon as possible to remove them before it’s too late.

How Do I Know If My Japanese Yew Tree Has A Fungus?

While a fungal infection may not be apparent at the start, you’ll see some signs in time to come. Watch out for wilting leaves and branches, a drying trunk, discoloration, or abnormal growth in the foliage or upper structures. You’ll also see strange formations in the soil or on any exposed roots.

Japanese Yew Treeprunt

General Guide

Do you see? We told you that the Japanese Yew tree care guide section was extensive. There were loads of topics to cover, and we wanted to give you as much information as possible. Now that we have that dealt with, we have a few more general topics we want to present to you.

These are questions many people have asked about the bonsai tree. Some of them are serious concerns, while others are mild curiosities. There are even some that we wondered about that we thought you would find interesting!

How Toxic Is Japanese Yew?

The alkaloid taxines A and B are found within the Japanese Yew tree, which is considered poisonous. You would need to take at least 50g of needles, berry pips, or bark for it to be considered a lethal dose. It’s considered poisonous to people, dogs, cats, and horses.

If you do ingest any of the mentioned parts, it may result in vomiting, tremors, or difficulty in breathing. Should your body not be able to handle the toxins, it may cause immediate heart failure. It’s best to steer clear from digesting any components of the bonsai.

How Big Do Japanese Yews Get?

In the wild, a Japanese Yew tree can grow as tall as 40 ft., while any size about 20 ft. is common. There are even some specimens that have reached 50 ft, but it’s rare. Your bonsai will only develop as high as you let it, but it’s not uncommon to see sizes between 1 to 3 ft.

Why Is The Yew Tree Called The Tree Of Death?

There are several reasons why the Japanese Yew tree is called the tree of death. For more practical purposes, it refers to the toxicity of the leaves, bark, and berry pips, which are poisonous enough to kill you in the right amounts. However, the terminology is deeply rooted in some cultures and religions:

  • Celtic culture and druidism: symbolism of death and resurrection
  • Greek mythology: Hecate, the goddess of death, considered this tree sacred, and it’s also tied to necromancy
  • Christianity: some churches use the leaves for Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday instead of the traditional pam fronds, which are linked to Christ’s Passion and his death
  • Graveyards: Many have Japanese Yew trees instead of the traditional Italian Cypress

Can You Bonsai A Yew Tree?

The popularity of the Japanese Yew tree as a bonsai has risen over the last few years. They are easy to grow from young cuttings, and they aren’t too challenging to look after. You can even sculpt deadwood features on some branches or older parts of the trunk.

Of course, you need to practice care when handling the leaves, bark, and berries, ensuring that you have protection for your hands. Also, don’t rub your face after you’ve touched parts of the tree until you’ve sanitized your hands.

Is There A Dwarf Japanese Yew?

The Dwarf Japanese Yew, or Taxus cuspidata ‘Nana’, is a smaller version of the primary species. It only grows about 6 ft. tall in nature, and the bonsai is even smaller in size. There’s also a Taxus cuspidata ‘Minima’ version, which is the tiniest subspecies you’ll find. If you want a really small bonsai, this one is ideal.

How Long Can Yews Live?

If you look after your Japanese Yew bonsai, the tree can live for more than a hundred years. There are some in the wild that have reached beyond 500 years. Should it reach 900 years, the Yew tree is considered ancient.

Of course, these numbers are small in comparison to the specimens that reach more than 2,000 years. In most cases, they can reach 1,500 more comfortably. The older Yew tree is the Fortingall Yew in the UK, estimated at about 3,000 years old.

Why Are Yew Trees In Graveyards?

In pagan times, druids grew Yew trees as symbols of resurrection and life after death in graveyards. As Christianity took over, they kept these trees as sacred symbols of their faith and the resurrection of the soul into heaven. Some people kept Yews to stop cattle from walking over the graves, as the needles were poisonous to them.

Are Yew Trees Immortal?

Due to how long Japanese Yew trees can live, many people consider them immortal. It’s believed by some that they can remain alive for more than 5,000 years under the right conditions. It means they can outlive several generations, which is why it’s seen as such a divine and sacred tree among trees

Is The Yew Tree The Tree Of Life?

Many Yew trees have received several names relating to death and resurrection, mainly due to the Celtic significance and the toxic parts. Some titles include “The Tree of Life”, “The Tree of Death”, and the “Tree of Rebirth.”

When it comes to beliefs, Christianity mentions a tree of knowledge that had apples, while there was a tree of life that sustained Adam and Eve. It’s in Norse mythology where they believed the tree of life was an Ash or Yew tree, while the Celtic druids believed it provided life after death.

Japanese Yew Tree

Various Japanese Yew Varieties

We’ve already mentioned the Dwarf Japanese Yew tree and Taxus cuspidata ‘Minima’, but there are other cultivars you can obtain. The Aurescens variety contains yellow needles that brighten before they become mature green. You’ll also find the Expansa version, which expands wider than most Yews in its class.

Final Thoughts

You’ve finally reached the end of our detailed article on the Japanese Yew tree. We love this species, as it presents a rare bonsai that anyone can enjoy. There are so many colors featured on it, but we love when the berries appear on the green foliage. We also enjoy the shapes we’ve experimented with.

Of course, we know you may have some questions we may not have answered in our guide. We would like to be as thorough as possible, but only you can help us with that. Please feel free to contact us about anything, even if you just want to chat about this species.

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Shaun has two passions in life that combine into an extravagant show on Bonsai Alchemist. The one is for writing and the second bonsais. He’s been writing fantasy and horror novels since 2000, while also creating online content since 2015. He’s involved with writing for films and games. Finally, he’s also the owner of a book publishing company.

He received his first bonsai as a gift in 2009 and has been growing several species in his quiet home in South Africa. He prefers propagating new life instead of buying bonsais at the store. His son and daughter share his love for nature, while his wife stares on at her introverted hermit husband.


Shaun M Jooste


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