Yew Tree Care

The yew is very popular evergreen used in a number of landscaping situations. Yews are shade tolerant, making them a great choice for sun-challenged landscapes. The yew is also one of a small number of conifers that respond well to heavy pruning, making it a great hedge plant or a medium for decorative topiary.

Most yews in the landscape are English Yews or hybrids of English and Japanese yews. Although yew bushes are poisonous, the Pacific Yew is used in the creation of the cancer-fighting drug, Taxol. Archery bows have long been made from the strong, flexible wood of the yew.

Yews are generally slow growing. This makes them great a great choice for foundation plants, as they will need little maintenance once they're established. If you intend to use yews as a hedge or privacy screen, look for mature plants. Otherwise, you'll be waiting a long time to block that view of your neighbor's automobile graveyard.

The Dirt on Yews
In general, yew plants prefer soil that drains well. This means that most backyard soils should be amended with sand until the mixture won't hold a ball shape unless it's wet.

While a yew will benefit from light fertilization after planting, an established plant should only need occasional feeding at best.

Yews Are not Afraid of the Dark
Yew shrubs are not fussy about the amount of light they get, growing well in everything from shade to full sun. This makes them perfect for the edges of wooded areas, north-facing exposures and other shady areas of the garden.

In a sunny site, yews make the perfect backdrop for flowering perennial plants. Their versatility means they also make great anchor plants to give mass to large planting beds.

Yew Go Here, Yew Go There
When selecting yews, look for plants that are 18" to 24" high. Plant yews so that the top of the roots are covered but not the bottom of the stem, as this can lead to stem rot. It's best to plant in early autumn or late spring when there is little danger of frost, although yews are hardy enough that they'll tolerate cold as long as their roots aren't frost-heaved out of the ground.

If you're planting a hedge, spacing depends on the growth habit of the yew. Most hedge varieties have a width of 24" to 36", but it can take many years for them to reach their mature width. Yews also vary in their growth patterns, with some forming a globe shape and some a cone. When selecting yews, ask about their annual growth and growth patterns to determine the best spacing, keeping in mind that you want some overlap in spacing, but not so much that internal branches can't get enough sunlight.

Wouldn't Yew Like a Drink?
After planting, yews will need regular watering. Until the plants are established, water them just after the dirt starts to dry. You should also reduce watering during winter months. Be careful not to overwater, as constant exposure to soaking soil will lead to root rot.

Once established, the yew is extremely hardy and drought tolerant. Some yews found in Northern Ireland are estimated to be around 2,000 years old.

A Close Shave
Yews generally respond well to all types of pruning. An overgrown plant may be cut back heavily and new growth will begin on the exposed older wood. This feature of the yew makes it perfect for creating hedges. Hedge plants may be sheared back into regular or artistic shapes with little fear of damaging the plant.

Prune yews to thin unwanted growth in late autumn. For shaping, you'll need to prune twice a year after each round of new growth, in late spring and mid autumn.

Four Classic Yew Shrubs

Spreading English Yew (Taxus baccata "Repandens") Zones 5 to 8
This low-growing medium shrub will reach a maximum size of 2 to 4 feet high and 10 feet wide. It can be kept smaller with regular pruning. For groundcover use, space plants 3 feet on center.
Irish Yew (Taxus baccata "Fastigiata") Zones 6 to 8
A slow-growing, upright shrub that will reach an ultimate height of 15 to 30 feet. It can take 10 years for these plants to add 8 feet of growth. Commonly used for hedges, responds well to shearing. Allow 30 to 40 feet of spacing for individual plants, 2 to 3 feet for hedging.

Hicks Yew (Taxus × media "Hicksii") Zones 4 to 7
Narrowly columnar, this medium-large shrub grows wider with age. Can grow up to a foot a year. The Hicks Yew is pollution and salt tolerant, making it great for use in urban or seashore environments. Allow 2 to 4 feet of spacing.

Taunton Yew (Taxus × media "Tauntonii") Zones 4 to 7
This spreading, medium shrub grows to 4 feet high and 8 feet wide. Hardy and able to withstand windburn, the Taunton Yew thrives in sandier soil than other yews. Space them 4 to 6 feet apart.

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