Members of the Podocarpus genus come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes, from small shrubs to towering trees, although in general, most are large trees. Typically referred to as yews, these trees and shrubs are not in the yew family, though they resemble yew trees because of their evergreen needles and berries.
There are more than 100 species of Podocarpus trees and shrubs, which are known for minimal care. 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. Some, but not all, members of the species are dioecious, which means that plants are male or female and both are required for pollination to occur. Podocarpus are toxic to pets.
|Common Name||Podocarpus yew pine, Buddhist pine, fern pine, plum pine, yew pine, Japanese yew|
|Plant Type||Evergreen conifer|
|Mature Size||3 to 80 feet (and some taller) depending on species|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to partial shade|
|Soil Type||Loamy, sandy, moist but well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral|
|Bloom Time||No blooms|
|Hardiness Zones||8 to 11, USDA|
|Native Area||South America, Asia, Africa|
|Toxicity||Toxic to pets|
Podocarpus Tree Care
Podacarpus trees are tolerant of a wide range of conditions. They can be grown outdoors in a landscape or in containers. Some gardeners train them as bonsai trees. These plants do not often struggle with diseases or pests, though mites or scale might affect them. They make wonderful windbreaks, privacy screens, and hedges. They are salt- and drought-tolerant.
This large genus of trees is not fussy about the amount of sunlight they receive. They can be grown in both sun or shade, although more sunshine will encourage better growth.
Podocarpus trees prefer moist, well-draining, sandy soils but can tolerate a wide range of any well-draining soil types. They do not tolerate heavy, soggy soils.
Podocarpus trees need consistent watering 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 at the base of the plant to avoid splashing water on the foliage, as this can lead to mold or mildew. After they are established, Podocarpus trees are drought tolerant and often do not require supplemental water except during prolonged periods of dry weather.
Temperature and Humidity
Podocarpus trees are hardy in USDA hardiness zones 8 through 11 and do not tolerate cold temperatures. Temperatures above 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit are ideal. These trees do best with moderate humidity levels. If you are gardening in a region outside of their hardiness zone, plant smaller species in containers and overwinter them in a greenhouse or indoors in a location that receives bright sunshine.
Podocarpus trees do not require very much fertilizer, but a yearly light fertilizing will encourage lush, green growth. Use a slow-release fertilizer designed for trees and shrubs. Feed plants in the spring to encourage new growth.
You might have to fertilizer throughout the growing season, depending on your soil type. Very sandy soils might need a fertilizer high in magnesium. Cease fertilizing in the fall to avoid stimulating new growth that can be damaged by frost.
Types of Podocarpus Trees
- Podocarpus macrophyllus ‘Maki': This dwarf variety is a small shrub reaching eight feet in height. These are often used as smaller, well-pruned hedges.
- Podocarpus gracilior: Also known as Afrocarpus 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 25 to 35 feet in height.
Pruning is not required but can be done any time of year to keep the shrub or tree in a particular shape or to remove dead or damaged wood. It is best not to prune in the fall to minimize the potential of new growth, which can be easily damaged in the soon-to-arrive cold temperatures.
Propagating Podocarpus Trees
Propagation can be done through stem cuttings, though it is sometimes difficult for 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 potting soil, and rooting hormone. Then, follow these instructions:
- Select a branch of new growth and snip a cutting that is about six inches long.
- Remove all leaves at the lower end of the cutting.
- Dip the cut end into rooting hormone.
- Prepare the small pot with moist, rich, well-draining soil.
- Gently push the cutting into the soil.
- Keep the soil moist until roots form.
How to Grow Podocarpus Trees From Seed
Podocarpus trees can 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.
- Soak the sphagnum moss in water for about an hour, then wring out the extra liquid.
- Wrap the seeds inside the sphagnum moss, place them inside a sealed plastic bag, and then place them in the refrigerator. Periodically check the moss to ensure it is still moist.
- Keep the seeds in the refrigerator for about two months or until roots appear.
- Once roots appear, fill a small pot with moist, well-draining potting soil. Gently plant the seed into the soil, splaying out the roots to avoid breaking them.
- Keep the soil consistently moist and place the pot in an area with bright, indirect light. Once the seedling is several inches tall, you can transplant it into a larger pot.
Potting and Repotting Podocarpus Trees
Podocarpus trees, depending on the species, can be grown in containers. This is ideal for small varieties being grown in regions with cold winters, as the pot can be moved indoors to be protected from cold temperatures and harsh winter winds.
When potting, 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 plant's root system fills the container and no longer has room to grow, it is time to repot. Gently tip the pot onto its side and tap until the plant and its roots slide out. Plant it into a larger container filled with well-draining soil and bury the plant at the same depth it was in its original pot. Do not bury it deeper than it was before. Water thoroughly until you see water draining from the drainage hole.
Podocarpus trees cannot tolerate very cold temperatures and are hardy in USDA hardiness zone 8 or higher. Therefore, when grown in areas colder than this, Podocarpus trees must be moved indoors for protection from cold temperatures.
Common Problems With Podocarpus Trees
Podocarpus trees 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.
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 make the soil too soggy, as this can cause other problems.
Gray leaves can be a sign of overwatering, which can result in root rot and fungal diseases. If you notice gray leaves, reduce watering. If the soil is not draining well enough, try adding finished compost or sand to the surrounding area to improve drainage.
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 35 feet tall. Others, such as Podocarpus macrophyllus ‘Maki’ only grow up to eight feet tall.
Are Podocarpus trees toxic to dogs?
Yes. According to the ASPCA, Podocarpus berries 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. Pruning late in the season can cause the plant to produce new growth that will be more easily damaged by cold weather.