Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

The Best Season Ever: Gold-needled Upright Plum Yew

With quill-like needles that spiral around vertical stems, upright plum yews are already distinctive. Needles of 'Korean Gold' are pale yellow, bringing another level of excitement.

 

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In climates such as of those of New England, where Summers aren't as long or torrid as farther south, the needles' yellow hue endures year-round. The pictures below were taken today, in the depths of Winter, but the bright colors that emerged last Spring are still going strong. 

 

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This conifer's most distinctive display is also its most subtle. Needles vary in length depending on when they emerge during the growing season, as well as the maturity of the plant, to form a record of year-by-year progress like the growth rings of a tree trunk. In the picture below, the longest needles are those towards the bottom of the portion of the stem shown. They were formed in Spring. As Spring turned into Summer and then Fall, the stem continued to elongate, producing shorter and shorter needles all the while.

 

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The growth from prior years is retained, needles and all. Looking farther down the stem, the growth of the two previous years is strikingly different. The previous season—2012—only brought forth a short whorl of short needles, with just an inch or so of new stem. (That modest growth is the tip of the stem shown in the top picture, which was taken a year ago, in February of 2013.) Below that, you can see much longer needles that were formed in 2011. Note that they had stopped being formed suddenly, with none of the lengthy and gradual taper of the growth of 2013.

 

 

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The growth of 2013 was strikingly long and luxurious, with twelve inches of stem displaying a full complement of needles that decrease smoothly in length as they progress upward. Why was the 2013 performance so different in style and size from that of previous years? Part of the answer might be the relative maturity of this particular bush. Cephalotaxus harringtonia 'Korean Gold' can be quite slow to establish—as well as slow to grow in youth. Plant a young one, then, and both kinds of "slow" might synergize to keep the plant nearly the same size for years. Only by 2013 was my 'Korean Gold' old enough—five years—and well-enough established, to be able to produce the candles of Spring-to-Fall growth that best display the tidy, steady diminution of needle size as the season progresses.

 

Here's how to grow a close relative, the Chinese plum yew, Cephalotaxus sinensis. It has the same versatile constitution of Cephalotaxus harringtonia, thriving in full sun or deep shade, and in any soil as long as it's not poorly drained.

 

Here's an introduction to a dramatically different form of plum yew: Cephalotaxus harringtonia 'Prostrata'.

 

Here's how to grow 'Korean Gold' itself:

 

 

Latin Name

Cephalotaxus harringtonia 'Korean Gold'

Common Name

Gold-needled plum yew

Family

Cephalotaxaceae, the Plum Yew family. 

What kind of plant is it?

Evergreen semi-dwarf conifer.

Hardiness

Zones 6 - 9, although some sources say Zone 5. See "Culture," below, for tips on maximizing hardiness.

Habit

All stems are strongly upright. They sometimes branch as they ascend; new stems emerge from the base of the shrub, too. The result is a steadily-widening profile. Unless pruned (see below, "How to handle it: Another option—or two!") shrubs mature in the shape of an inverted pyramid.

Rate of Growth

Slow to medium.

Size in ten years

'Korean Gold' is smaller than most other forms of Cephalotaxus harringtonia. In its first decade, a young cutting-grown starter might enlarge to three feet tall and one foot wide. In ten more years? Possibly to twice as high and five times as wide. Reportedly, can mature to ten feet tall. Faster in milder climates and, in any climate, when bushes have been allowed to establish for several years: One Oregon mail-order nursery says 'Korean Gold' grows six to twelve inches a year and, just this past year, my young specimen has finally started to do just that.

Texture

Dense, but with a lively and loose feel, thanks to the unusually long needles and their tapering bottle-brush array up the vertical stems.

Grown for

its foliage and growth habit: Thick needles can be nearly three inches long, which is noticeably longer than those of true yews. They spiral around the vertical stems, for a look very reminiscent of bottle brushes. The first needles of the season are the longest. The new stem continues to elongate over the growing season, producing additional needles steadily. In smooth sequence, those needles mature to shorter and shorter lengths. The following season brings a new cycle of growth, with a stem (usually just a singleton) that emerges directly from last year's tip.

Young plants are much slower and more congested, and the needles don't display this cycle of differing lengths nearly as well. Only after several years of settling-in does the shrub begin to produce new stems of sufficient length—six to twelve inches—to permit wider spacing of the needles and, hence, a smoother and more well-displayed gradation in their lengths.

Needles of 'Korean Gold' are pale yellow—nearly white in full sun—at the sides and the tip; only the base is completely green. In the relatively cool Summers of New England, the color holds well into Winter: The opening pair of pictures of this article was taken last February, and the closing trio this February. In climates of eastern United States with longer and hotter Summers—roughly, Washington, DC, and south—don't be surprised that the yellow fades to green during the Summer. Michael Dirr recalls that in North Carolina, 'Korean Gold' was green most of the year.

Whatever the color of the needles of Cephalotaxus, it is rare for deer even to sample them, let alone browse them diligently. I regularly include Cephaloxatus in client projects where deer pressure is heavy. I have never lost so much as a tip of foliage to them. 

its tolerance: Although 'Korean Gold' loses its gold during a southern Summer, Cephalotaxus thrives throughout the Deep South, where prolonged and high day- and night-time heat is too much for yews. Cephalotaxus will grow in almost pure sand and full sun near open ocean, as well as in deep rich soil in shady moist woods.  

Flowering season

Spring into early Summer, but the inflorescences are only modestly showy. Cephalotaxus harringtonia is a dioecious species, but I can't locate a source that identifies the sex of 'Korean Gold', and my plant is still too young to flower. My hunch is that this cultivar is male: The fruits of the females are reported as being messy, so there will have been a consistent look-out for ornamental male clones.

Color combinations

The gold and pale yellow of 'Korean Gold' combine with any other colors, because the foliage retains a bit of green—the universal neutral—at its base. The most lively pairings would be with blue, purple, burgundy, and ebony. See "Plant partners," below.  

Plant partners

The soft and feathery foliage is heightened by association with large leaves, while the shrub's vertical habits welcome companions that are shorter overall, as well as mounding. When growing Cephalotaxus with a bit of shade, an underplanting of dwarf hostas, or Canadian ginger, Asarum canadensis, would be very satisfying. If growing this shrub in full sun, consider Heuchera villosa; its unusually large and fuzzy green leaves, plus late-Summer sprays of tiny off-white flowers, would provide plenty of textural contrast.

If your 'Korean Gold' is large enough to host a companion vine, consider a blue-, purple- or red-flowered clematis, particularly if its flowers have prominent yellow stamens or pistils. 'Alita', 'General Sikorski', 'H.F. Young', 'Niobe', 'Rebecca', 'Romantika', 'Rouge Cardinal', 'Sunset', 'Victor Hugo', and 'Warsaw Nike' are only some of the possibilities.

Where to use it in your garden

If given formative pruning, 'Korean Gold' would be an astounding hedge, dwarf for many years but, eventually, needing a yearly trim to control size and maintain shape. See the second "How to handle it" box, below.

Most often, 'Korean Gold' is planted as a specimen and, usually, given its odd inverted-pyramid shape at maturity, a solo one. Because growth is relatively slow, and the bush accepts pruning readily, 'Korean Gold' is a natural for compact gardens.

Culture

Any soil whose depth and moisture-retentiveness are sufficient to protect the shrub from drought stress, and almost any exposure, from full sun to deep shade. Growth is faster, denser, and more colorful in full sun; as long as moisture is sufficient, that exposure would be preferred. Only in Zones 8 and 9, or where the soil is thinner or moisture is less reliable, would afternoon shade be best.

In Zone 5 and even the colder portions of Zone 6, subtle choices in siting and soil can mean the difference between success and failure. As is so often the case, site where drainage in Winter is impeccable: on a slope or in a bed supported by a well-draining retaining wall or, simply, atop a broad low mound created specifically for the shrub. The difference in elevation from the surroundings need only be inches but, if you have the option, an even greater difference is welcome. The goal is not that the soil is dry; this evergreen needs access to soil moisture year-round. Rather, the goal is that the soil not become waterlogged by surface water that remains in place long enough to saturate the soil more and more deeply. The goal is also not that precipitation doesn't reach the soil surface. Rain, snow, ice, slush? Bring 'em on—but then allow water slide away from the shrub. As long as the moisture is moving onward and outward—thanks to the slope—not downward, its quantity and even intensity isn't usually a problem.

The other tactic for maximal hardiness is to site the plant where nearby shrubbery and structures are between it and prevailing winds. Can a building be at the north? Can a colony of, say, compact inkberry, Ilex glabra 'Nordic', be at the east? A well-branched deciduous shrub, such as Spirea thunbergii 'Ogon' to the west? Clumps of a medium-height ornamental grass to the south? All of these can trap insulating snow as well as feather-out otherwise full-blast wind.    

How to handle it: The Basics

Plant in Spring, ensuring enough water for establishment. In normally moisture-retentive soil in part shade, established plants need little supplemental water. Considering that growth is slow even in generous circumstances, it's wiser to water deeply once or twice a month during droughts. 

Where unimpeded growth and maximum size are the goals, plants need no formative pruning. (See "Quirks," below, for pruning that might be needed by only some individuals.) Establish, water occasionally if the Summer's a brute but, otherwise, leave alone.

How to handle it: Another option—or two?

Individual needles are retained for many years. As above, when the climate is hot, the intense Spring color can fade to green that first Summer. If, however, your climate and siting foster long-term retention of the yellow, needles two and three years old will still show it.  

New foliage is always the brightest and, because the yellow needles of 'Korean Gold' are its calling card, whatever you do to increase the production of new foliage would, at first, seem to be all to the good. Beyond keeping the shrub in good health, and providing all the soil nutrients, sun, and moisture it could make use of, pruning is the next intervention that would encourage new growth.

As is typical of yews and plum yews, pruning is tolerated well, resulting in growth of more and more side branches. Prune only in late Winter or early Spring, so that new stems have the entire growing season to mature and harden-up before Winter.

That said, you may well hesitate to prune any plant that doesn't grow very fast in the first place, let alone one whose habit is upright: The pruning will diminish overall height while creating additional side branches that widen the shrub's inverted-pyramid profile. This would be quite a perverse fate for a shrub that is notable (at least when young) for extreme columnarity. If your priorities for this shrub are height as well as narrowness, you'll probably want to forgo pruning any of the top tips, and accept whatever gold foliage is produced naturally. (Even if it's not the maximum amount, the gold-needled tops to otherwise green-needled stems are still striking.) You'll still need to prune, but to counter the shrub's pyramidal tendency, not to increase production of gold needles. Each Spring, cut any out-of-bounds side branches away entirely to slim the shrub to the columnar shape you desire.

You'll need special circumstances, then, to grow 'Korean Gold' to maximize production of the very gold needles that give the cultivar its name. The key is to think in the plural: If you plant a number of 'Korean Gold' in a line or even a block, and prune that line for uniformity of width as well as height, then possible excess of width or lack of height per se wouldn't be problematic because the shape of any individual 'Korean Gold' would be subsumed by the shape of the group. With a bit of pruning, your troop of 'Korean Gold' will produce the maximum number of new stems that flaunt—as only they can do—bright yellow needles in vertical, conical bottle-brush configurations.

Beginning in Spring, space as many starter plants as you can find (and, 'Korean Gold' being pricey, afford) closely. Every foot wouldn't be too intimate for planting in a line; eighteen inches apart for planting in a block. Allow the young shrubs to establish freely for a year or even two, while the stubby congested growth of their "still figuring out which end is up" period is the norm. The following Spring, help this columnar cultivar keep the low center of gravity of its diminutive youth by cutting off any stems that are notably taller than the rest to just below what seems to be that center of gravity. This hides that the stem was, in fact, cut, while also encouraging emergence of new stems from the base of the shrub.

After a year or two of such modest intervention, more and more of the shrubs will have become old enough to begin producing the lengthier shoots that have the sheer height as well as looser spacing of needles that combine to effectively display the needles' coloring and tidy diminution in length, one to the next. These shoots are the goal, the Holy Grail of your mass planting of 'Korean Gold'. Allow such shoots their full year of glory, from early Spring their first year, to early Spring their next, when you cut them off just below where the longest needles emerge from the stem. Meanwhile, prune back other stems that are still producing the more congested juvenile shoots only if, finally, their tips have projected into the top layer that is now being restricted just to the loose and lovely bottle-brush shoots.

Unless your chosen planting area has constraints side-to-side, allow the overall width of the group to increase. The height of the more-green lower portion, from which each Spring's crop of gold-needled extensions emerge, might increase slowly, as well. As long as you're happy with the production and effective display of these gold bottle-brushes, let it.

If you've chosen to plant 'Korean Gold' in a line, calling it a hedge is to look through the wrong end of the telescope: Hedges bring the expectation that the top growth that is pruned off is the detritus, and the resultant clean-lined shorn mass below the triumph. With 'Korean Gold', the priorities are the reverse. The bottom mass is just the "back office" that supports production of each year's new crop of gold bottle-brushes. Whatever the layout of your troop of 'Korean Gold', if you keep it pruned for display of its mature first-year stems, a new term might be needed. Not a hedge nor topiary; not a coppice, either. A "brushery?" A gold "feathery?"  

Quirks or special cases

The plant's extreme deer resistance rivals that of boxwood.

Cephalotaxus is propagated from rooting cuttings directly, not grafting them onto rootstock. Both 'Fastigiata' and 'Korean Gold' can sometimes produce broad spreading branches from the base of the cutting. Those growing from the base of 'Korean Gold' lack its distinctive coloring. Although they won't overgrow the upward-growing stems, they do distract. Cut them off whenever the moment seizes you. 

Downsides

None.

Variants

There are eleven species in this Asian genus but, so far, only a few have been embraced by Western horticulture. Cephalotaxus sinensis is still very much the oddity, but Cephalotaxus harringtonia, by virtue of several stunning cultivars, is becoming justly popular.

These are the most distinctive of nearly a dozen cultivars currently identified: C. harringtonia 'Duke Gardens' is full to the ground, dense, and mounding, and makes a terrific groundcover to about five feet tall and seven feet wide. If possible, plant where it will never need pruning; the feathery foliage texture is worth the extra space. The branches of 'Fastigiata' are vertical; this cultivar is the all-green form from which 'Korean Gold' mutated. The plant eventually widens out like a pyramidal horticultural pipe organ; over many years, to eight feet tall and six wide, maybe larger. 'Prostrata' is loose, low and variable, but often very wide-spreading: two to three feet tall, maybe, but easily twelve to fifteen feet wide. It would be very exciting planted on a large bank or even at the top of a wall, so that its bet can be called in on just how prostrate it's interested in being. 'Gnome' is a sport of 'Fastigiata', and is described as mounding to three feet tall and wide: a smaller version of 'Duke Gardens,' then. 

Availability

On-line and at specialty retailers.

Propagation

By cuttings.

Native habitat

Cephalotaxus harringtonia is native to eastern Asia. 'Korean Gold' is from Shibamichi Hontew Nurseries in Japan.

 

 

 
 
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