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How To Germinate Japanese Yew Seeds (DIY Guide)

How To Germinate Japanese Yew Seeds (DIY Guide)

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Willie Moore
Latest posts by Willie Moore (see all)

Japanese Yew trees are a popular choice of bonsai and with good reason. They have beautiful, dense growth with colored berries and are easy to care for in your outdoor or indoor garden. However, growing them from seed can be a bit tricky because of the seed toxicity and long germination process. 

To germinate Japanese Yew seeds, you need to cold-stratify them to break their dormancy by putting them in the refrigerator for 90 days. Then soak them for 24 hours and let them dry. Sow them on a well-draining potting mix surface, place them in bright, indirect sunlight, and be patient.

Growing Japanese Yews from seeds can be therapeutic and rewarding. This article will explain how to germinate Japanese Yew seeds so you can get started on your own beautiful bonsai collection. 

1. Soak the Seeds

Please be aware that the seeds are a toxic part of the plant, so be safe and use gloves while handling them (source). You will need to start the process about 18 months before transplanting the seedlings into your garden. 

Soaking the seeds before you induce dormancy by cold stratification will cut the stratification time. The moisture will allow the chemical reaction to occur during the stratification period. Soak the seeds for 12-24 hours before chilling. 

This is crucial for germinating seeds with a hard outer shell if you want them to be successful and grow into happy little seedlings.

To properly soak the Yew seeds for germinating, you’ll need to follow these steps: 

  1. Fill a glass or bowl with warm water and submerge the seeds.
  2. Keep the water slightly warmer than room temperature, somewhere between 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit (21-27 degrees Celsius). 
  3. After the soaking period, drain any excess water from the container with a strainer or colander and let them air dry overnight. 
  4. Once you have allowed them to dry, place them in the refrigerator for the cold stratification process.

2. Chill Your Japanese Yew Seeds

Japanese Yew seeds need a cold stratification period to germinate. This process mimics the natural dormancy process seeds typically go through during cold winter months (source).

Soaking the seeds before stratification helps soften the outer shell, which will crack open to allow growth. 

The seeds can be chilled in a plastic bag with some moist sand and sphagnum peat moss or vermiculite and placed in the refrigerator for 2-3 months

To make remembering easier, write it on your calendar so you know when to take them out for sowing!

After the cold stratification period has finished, the seeds can be planted in the proper soil mixture. 

3. Set Up the Soil Mixture

Many gardeners start their seeds indoors because it’s easier to care for and control their growing environment. 

As your seeds are drying, it’s best to set up the tray and potting mix to prepare for planting the seeds. Be sure to use a new potting mix instead of dirt from the outdoors, as Japanese Yew seeds are susceptible to rot, brown scale, and other fungal diseases (source).

You’ll fill each pocket ¾ of the way with the soil mixture.

Use the Proper Soil Mixture

It’s recommended to use a soil mixture that’s rich in organic matter. The soil should also be well-draining and loose to allow oxygen to get to the seeds.

You should not use a soil mixture containing moisture crystals because it will retain too much water and can create anaerobic soil conditions.

Use equal parts of compost-rich soil and coarse sand to create a healthy and nutrient-rich growing environment.

4. Sow the Seeds

Follow these steps to sow your seeds:

  1. Drop one seed on the top of the soil in each soil-filled pocket of your seed-starting tray.
  2. Fill the rest of the tray pocket with soil. 
  3. The soil should be loose, so don’t pack it down
  4. The seeds should be planted about ¼ inch (6 cm) deep once you have filled each tray pocket.  
  5. Water the soil with room temperature water.
  6. Place the tray in a warm location that will provide bright, indirect sunlight, and check the soil often.

5. Keep Moist and Warm

To encourage growth, you’ll need to keep them moist and warm with plenty of indirect sunlight.

It’s best to keep the soil moist but not soggy, and do not allow the seedlings to dry out. Anaerobic soil conditions will cause the seeds to rot and die before germinating (source).

If you notice the soil is too soggy, immediately switch out as much of the soil as possible with dry soil, or you’ll drown them by leaving them in waterlogged soil for too long. Soggy soil will drown your seeds due to lack of oxygen. It also causes bacteria and fungal growth, quickly killing seedlings.

Check the Soil Frequently

You can check whether your growing medium needs watering by pressing your finger into it.

If it feels moist about 2 inches (5 cm) down from the surface, you don’t need to water it again because surface moisture evaporates quickly in dry air conditions. However, if it feels dry, then you need to moisten the soil.

Too much direct sunlight will cause the soil to dry quickly and may scorch the seeds, preventing successful germination.

6. Provide Essential Care and Watch Them Grow (Slowly)

Keep a routine of checking the seeds often to ensure they’re getting adequate light, and the soil stays moist. Water when needed or move the seeds to a new location as the sun changes location throughout the seasons.

It can take up to 18 months for Japanese Yew seeds to germinate, so be patient and enjoy watching them grow! 

When the seedlings have germinated and begun to sprout, you can transplant them into 4-inch (10 cm) pots filled with a well-draining potting mix. Once they grow to around 5 inches (about 13 cm), they’re ready to be acclimated to the outdoors or your desired planter.

Preparing the Seedlings for Outdoors

Be sure to harden off the seedlings and let them grow for about a year before transplanting them into your garden. Hardening the seedlings means gradually acclimating them to outdoor conditions over 7-10 days. 

Japanese yews are slow growers, so don’t be discouraged if they don’t seem to be growing much at first because, with proper care, they will eventually reach their full size and potential! 

Final Thoughts

The Japanese Yew is an evergreen tree or shrub with a decent hardiness.

However, growing from seed can take two to three years and might be tricky if you don’t provide the proper care and growing conditions. The Japanese Yew seeds prefer an area that’s bright with indirect sunlight to prevent drying and scorching. 

To successfully germinate a Japanese Yew seed, you must be patient and ensure the soil stays moist but not soggy due to this plant being susceptible to fungal rot.

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