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Can Japanese Yews Survive a Freeze? 

Can Japanese Yews Survive a Freeze? 

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Willie Moore
Latest posts by Willie Moore (see all)

Japanese Yews are some of the Eastern world’s most beautiful plants. Stunning in their simplicity, these shrubs make the perfect addition to your house or garden. However, if you plant them outside, you’ll have to think about how extreme temperatures might affect them. 

Japanese Yews can survive a freeze without any issues. These plants are extremely cold tolerant down to -30°F (-34.44°C). For this reason, they are recommended for USDA hardiness zones 4 through 7.

Today, we’ll take an in-depth look at what makes these plants so cold-hardy and discuss some things you can do to give them the best chance at survival. Let’s get started.

How Cold-Hardy Are Japanese Yews?

Japanese Yews are extremely cold-tolerant. Their tolerance goes far beyond many plants in the USA. This, in addition to the simple beauty that they provide, makes them one of the easiest plants to maintain. 

Japanese Yews are significantly more cold-hardy than even many evergreen trees and shrubs that grow in North America. This is one of the reasons that they’ve become so popular in North America, even though they are only native to Asia. 

These shrubs are often seen in Northeastern states such as Connecticut and Massachusetts because while they are extremely tolerant of cold temperatures, the same can’t be said of their tolerance to heat. 

While these plants are cold-hardy, that doesn’t mean they can’t occasionally be damaged by cold temperatures. The primary concern for Japanese Yews, however, is that they need some protection from the wind. A very cold breeze can cause significant damage to the tips of the needles when they are exposed to high winds for long periods.

Since winters are often known for high winds, it’s always better to offer your Yew some protection ahead of time. You can do this by building a barrier for them during the winter or placing plastic or frost cloth on top of them. 

In general, Japanese Yews are extremely easy to care for. While other evergreens can sustain fairly cold temperatures, there’s little comparison between them and the Yew. 

When it comes to multiple freezes, there’s no set limit on how many Japanese Yew can survive, but you should expect it to withstand multiple freezes throughout the winter. Usually, the harsh temperatures increase the strength of the plant rather than damaging it (source). 

In fact, the Japanese Yew has quite a few Yew cousins, and all types of Yew are very cold-hardy. Let’s look at some others you may want to look at if you love how well this plant does in cold temperatures.

Other Types of Yew That Are Cold Hardy

Let’s look at some of the other types of Yews that are equally if not more cold-hardy than the Japanese Yew. All of the ones we will discuss today fall in USDA hardiness zone 5, the most common hardiness zone for Yew plants.

One of the best things about incorporating various Yew plants into your garden, in addition to their resistance to the cold, is that they all grow to varying heights. This can add enormous variety to your garden while still allowing you to do minimal work. Who doesn’t like a garden they don’t have to put much work into? 

  • Aurescens: This type of Yew grows about 3 feet (1 meter) tall. It also maintains about the same width. This beautiful addition also adds more color than your typical evergreen. When new growth comes about, the Aurescens take on a gorgeous golden tint.
  • Winning Gold: This type of Yew is known for a different color that causes it to stand stark against its green counterparts. As you may have figured out from its name, it produces bright yellow foliage. It’s also one of the smaller Yews, growing about as tall and wide as the Aurescens.
  • Repandens: This type of Yew gets a little bit taller, averaging about 4 feet (1 meter) tall. However, unlike the Aurescens and Watnong Gold, the Repandens is known as a ground spreader because it grows quite wide. 
  • Denisa: This type of Yew is another Japanese variety and grows about 4 feet (1 meter) tall. It expands to about 8 feet (2 meters) wide. This Yew is the perfect size to be planted in front of a home or to act as a small shrub fence.
  • Emerald Spreader: This type of Yew acts as a fantastic ground cover. It’s only a little over 2 feet (76 cm) tall but sprawls out over the ground as it grows.

The ones we’ve just discussed are all smaller Yews, but there are quite a few larger Yews out there as well. We won’t go into a lot of depth here, but here’s what you need to know.

  • The North American Yews are the largest. The Pacific Yew is part of the North American Yews and usually grows up to about 50 feet (15 meters) tall, which is massive when you compare it to the smaller Yews we discussed. 
  • The Chinese Yew, part of a different group, grows up to 40 feet (12 meters) tall. 

While all of these Yews are cold-hardy, giving them protection in the first year or two of life is best. While the Yews are babies, they can be a bit more sensitive to the cold. However, after the first couple of years, you can expect these evergreen shrubs to take off and hardly ever need protection.

While not mentioned in the list above, the same standards of protection in the initial years apply to the Japanese Yew. This will give it the best chance of survival.

Final Thoughts

The Japanese Yew is one of the most cold-hardy plants in North America. It is more cold-tolerant than even most evergreens. 

The best places in North America to grow the Japanese Yew are in Northeastern or Northwestern states, but the plants tend to favor the summers of the Northeastern states a bit more than they do the West. 

There are wide varieties of Yew plants, and they are all equally cold-hardy, if not more so than the Japanese Yew. 

You can’t go wrong with a Yew if you’re looking for a plant that can survive harsh winter freezes.

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