How to Grow and Care for Podocarpus Trees

Podocarpus tree

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Podocarpus trees can be found in a large variety of sizes and shapes, from small shrubs to towering trees. Typically referred to as yews, these trees and shrubs are not in the yew family, though they resemble yew trees because of their needles and berries.

There are more than 100 species of Podocarpus trees, which are known for their ease of care and hardy nature. These conifers produce a fleshy seed cone with two to five scales. The scales swell and become berry-like, serving as an attractive food source to many types of birds. However, according to the ASPCA, Podocarpus trees are toxic to pets. 

Common Name Podocarpus yew pine, Buddhist pine, Fern pine, Yew pine, Japanese yew
Botanical Name Podocarpus
Family Podocarpaceae
Plant Type Tree, Shrub
Mature Size 50 ft. tall, 15-20 ft. long, 15-20 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full, Partial, Shade
Soil Type Loamy, Sandy, Moist but Well-drained
Soil pH Acidic, Neutral
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Yellow, Tan
Hardiness Zones 8-11, USA
Native Area South America, Asia, Africa
Toxicity Toxic to pets

Podocarpus Tree Care

These trees are very hardy and tolerant of a wide range of conditions. They can be grown outdoors, in containers, and even indoors. Some keep these shrubs as bonsai trees. These plants do not often struggle with diseases or pests, though mites or scale may affect them. They make wonderful windbreaks, privacy screens, and hedges. They are salt-tolerant and drought-tolerant.

Light

This large genus of trees is not picky about light conditions. They can be grown in both sun or shade, although more sunshine will encourage healthier growth. 

Soil

Podocarpus trees prefer moist, well-draining, sandy soils, but can tolerate a wide range of soil types, including clay, as long as it is well-drained. They do not tolerate heavy, soggy soils. 

Water

Podocarpus trees enjoy consistent water during their first year of growth. These trees like moist soil, but do not fair well in soggy soil. Therefore, water deeply and infrequently, waiting until the soil begins to dry to water again. It is best to water near the soil to avoid getting the leaves wet, as this can lead to mold or mildew. After they are established, Podocarpus trees are drought tolerant and often do not require supplemental water unless they experience prolonged periods of dry weather. 

Temperature and Humidity

Podocarpus trees enjoy mild climates and do not handle very cold temperatures. Temperatures above 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit are ideal. These trees do best with moderate humidity levels. 

Fertilizer

Podocarpus trees do not require high amounts of fertilizer, but light fertilizing yearly will encourage lush, green growth. Opt for a slow-release fertilizer designed for trees and shrubs. Give this to the plant in the spring to encourage new growth.

You may wish to fertilizer throughout the growing season, depending on your soil type. Very sandy soils may need a fertilizer high in magnesium. Cease fertilizing in the fall to avoid stimulating new growth that can be damaged by the coming frost. 

Types of Podocarpus Trees

  • Podocarpus macrophyllus ‘Maki': This dwarf variety is a small shrub reaching 8 feet in height. These are often used as smaller, well-pruned hedges
  • Podocarpus gracilior: This larger tree variety can reach up to 40 feet tall, although it can be pruned and maintained at shorter heights or in unique shapes. 
  • Podocarpus henkelii: This unique variety is known for its long, drooping, flat, needle-like foliage that gives this tree both an evergreen and palm-like appearance. It can reach up to 50 feet in height.  

Pruning 

Pruning is not required but can be done any time of year to keep the shrub or tree in its desired shape or to remove dead or damaged wood. It is best not to prune in the fall to minimize the occurrence of new growth, which can be easily damaged in the soon-to-arrive cold temperatures.  

Propagating Podocarpus Trees

Propagation can be done through cuttings, though it is sometimes difficult to get the cuttings to root. If you would like to try this propagation method, you will need a pair of garden snips, a small pot, rich, well-draining soil, and rooting hormone. Then follow these instructions:

  1. Select a branch of new growth then snip a cutting that is around 6 inches long. 
  2. Remove all the leaves of the lower end of the cutting. 
  3. Dip the cut end into rooting hormone
  4. Prepare the small pot with moist, rich, well-draining soil. 
  5. Gently plant the cutting into the soil. 
  6. Keep the soil moist until roots form.  

How to Grow Podocarpus Trees From Seed

Podocarpus trees can also be grown from seed, though this method requires patience. To do this, you will need sphagnum moss, a plastic bag, potting soil, and a small pot. 

  1. Soak the sphagnum moss in water for about an hour, then wring out the extra liquid. 
  2. Wrap the seeds inside the sphagnum moss, place them inside a plastic bag, and then set them in the refrigerator. Periodically check the moss to ensure it is still moist. 
  3. Keep the seeds in the refrigerator for about two months or until roots appear. 
  4. Once roots appear, fill a small pot with moist, well-draining soil. Gently plant the seed into the soil, splaying out the roots to avoid breaking them. 
  5. Keep the soil consistently moist and place the pot in an area with bright, indirect light. Once the seedling is several inches tall, you may wish to transplant it.  

Potting and Repotting Podocarpus Trees

Podocarpus trees, depending on the variety, do well when kept in containers. This is ideal for small varieties grown in areas with cold winters, as the pot can be moved indoors and kept protected from the cold temperatures.

When potting these shrubs, be sure to choose a pot that is several inches larger than the root system to ensure it has plenty of room for growth. The container must have drainage holes to ensure proper water drainage. When the shrub fills the container and no longer has room to grow, it is time to repot it. Gently tip the pot onto its side and tap until the root system can be slide out of the pot. Set the shrub into a larger container. Fill the pot with well-draining soil and bury the plant up to the top of the root system. Do not bury it deeper than it was before. Then water thoroughly. 

Overwintering

Podocarpus trees cannot tolerate very cold temperatures and must be grown in zone 8 or higher. Therefore, when grown in areas colder than this, Podocarpus trees must be moved indoors and protected from the harsh cold.  

Common Problems With Podocarpus Trees

Podocarpus trees are very hardy and are known for needing very little attention. They do not often present the gardener with perplexing problems, though a few common issues may arise, leading to foliage discoloration.

Brown Leaves

Although these plants are drought resistant, brown leaves can be a sign that the tree is suffering from a lack of water. If this occurs, water deeply. Be sure not to leave the soil soggy, as this can cause other problems. 

Gray Leaves

Gray leaves can be a sign of overwatering, which can result in root rot and fungal diseases. If you notice gray leaves, cut back on watering. If the soil is not draining well enough, try adding sand to improve drainage. 

FAQ
  • How big do Podocarpus trees get?

    The Podocarpus genus contains a wide array of tree and shrub sizes. Some, like the Podocarpus henkelii, reach up to 50 feet tall. Others, such as Podocarpus macrophyllus ‘Maki’ only grow up to 8 feet tall.

  • Are Podocarpus trees toxic to dogs?

    Yes. According to the ASPCA, Podocarpus trees are toxic to animals when ingested. 

  • When should you prune Podocarpus trees?

    Pruning can be done year-round. However, it is best to avoid pruning in the fall when the first frost begins to approach. This may cause the plant to produce new growth that will be more easily damaged by cold weather.  

Article Sources
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  1. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “Buddhist pine." Aspca.org. N.p., n.d. Web.