Porky pyramidal yews

Cut back in two steps on two overweight yews:

Here's  a look at handling two pyramidal yews that had beefed up to a chubbiness unbecoming their station.

Please be advised: Images may be shocking and the last chapter is yet to come in this two year reclamation. To avoid such drastic steps, keep your yews in line with our simple directions for keeping a plant small. or reclaim your plants more gradually as we show in Cut n expectations.

Yew number one

Below, left: April, year one. This pyramidal yew is overfilling its space and in terms of form, has been allowed to get so chubby toward its top that it can't even live up to its name. We chose to reduce it over two years to our desired size and shape, because its lower and inner wood was so woefully bare of greenery. So we pruned it right away to reduce its size and thin the dense outer shell. Below, right: The plant's looking good after one summer's growth at its phase one smaller size.

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(We apologize for grainy images here. Sometimes we must use images gleaned from backgrounds of other photos because we do the work you see here as gardeners. Sometimes we are not able to capture images as we work. Other times, the notion for a how-to sequence doesn't come until later.)


Below, left: What's great about the end of this yew's first season was we could see that the light we let into the plant's center accomplished its purpose.
Below, right: Look in among the branches to see what's happening on the main trunks. There are "breaks" -- new growth from previously leafless wood. It's what we expect after a cut, but still rates a "Woo hoo!"

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Below, left: 18 months after that first cut, we come into our prime pruning season. (Our goal is to prune a plant just once a year or even less, and high summer's the time to prune yews per that schedule.) The plant's much denser. That's good. But it's still too big.
Below, center: Blue lines mark the shape and size we want.
Below, right: One side of the pyramid is cut, one to go.

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Below, left: See all the leafless wood that's built up in the plant's interior? Scary to reveal it! But we don't let a plant push us around. A yew can break from bare wood. So we'll cut it to the outline we want and then unclutter the interior of that form.
Below, right: Some of the leafless, unproductive branches. With this useless clutter removed, every fresh green break that comes has plenty of light and space.

Afterward, we will be able to do simple restriction pruning once a year. (Steps for simple restriction pruning are in our presentation outline, Clipping Conifers, and that outline's explanatory line drawings are enlarged in Restriction pruning.)

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Below: There's our pyramid. Sure, it's see-through but every branch it has is within our desired outline and loaded with vigorous breaks that have room to grow for at least a year.
We advised the owners before we made this phase two cut: "You can always buy new and start over, but a plant this size would cost about $100. So let's prune it, you look, and decide then." We cut, they looked, and said, "We can live with that."

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Below: THAT's more like it. 25 months after the first thinning cuts, 10 months after the really hard cut, the yew is breaking out in force. It'll fill that shell this year.

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Yew number two...

Did not have such good bones as yew one. When we cut into it we found a tangle of inner branches where some long-ago damage had been grown over from all directions. We chose to go back to the spine, making more drastic cuts.

Below, left: April of the first year. The yew bellies out over the driveway and laps over the adjacent yew hedge/foundation planting. Blue lines mark the size and shape we plan.
Below, center: After our first cut
Below, right: After one season's growing.

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Below, left: Like its partner, yew #1, this yew made plenty of breaks in its first year, after we thinned its shell to let light reach its trunks.
Below, right: 15 months later, ready for phase two pruning to reduce and reshape.

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Below, left: We cut to our desired size and shape...
Below, right: ...but the line of our desired shape falls cuts through a great deal of upright, unproductive wood. Even after we cut some away, what's left will not be well positioned to form the bones of a graceful pyramid. Rats! What to do?

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Below: The answer is simple, if tough for a gardener with a deadline and where we really, really want identical bookends. (That's an immortal Stumper: Two "matched" plants will always refuse to grow alike or allow themselves to be tended alike!) 
So we cut back to a good form, and will wait for the plant to grow back.
At the arrow: Not sure you can do this? We know! Even though we've done it many times, it's not easy to cut so hard. For instance, in this case we continue to debate one more cut where there are still too many woody branches vying for space. Not one of them is much help in forming a graceful pyramid. We'll probably remove one more -- cut at the arrow -- to allow more room for new growth.


Above, right: 25 months after the first thinning cut, 10 months after the hard cut, the shrub's pushing out vigorously from its interior and will fill this year.

As these shrubs grow we'll post updates.

You can email us any time to check up on these or any other plants in our articles.


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