Yew pruning

Yews (Taxus species) are beautiful trees. Along with beeches, hollies and some other trees, they happen to tolerate repeated cutting and grow dense when sheared. For those reasons they are commonly used as hedge plants. Most that are planted can never become trees because they are hedged, or placed along foundations where they must be kept lower than windowsills.

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So most yews must be cut every year. Standard restriction pruning technique applies; in short:

• Cut the whole plant to a size that is shorter and narrower than the goal by one year's growth.

• Also cut some of the branches back by an additional year or two. Try with these deeper cuts to remove the thickest branches, those that are older and have been cut at the same level for so long that they are basically bare wood with a twiggy top-knot.

(Below: We removed both of these branches because they had been killed back by cold. Ordinarily we would have made this harder cut only the left hand branch. It's been at the outer edge for longer than the other, has been sheared more and so is further on its way to becoming a top knot.)


Make this cut each year before budbreak in spring or in August after the year's growth is set. Then you can prune just once each year and also enjoy the bright spring green of the yew rather than cutting it off in its glory.

Standard but for winter-killed wood...


This year we had dead wood to consider as we cut yews. This was cold weather dieback, the worst we've ever seen. Not only are the needles dead where you see brown on this branch, the wood from the tip to 12 inches back or further has been killed or badly damaged, so that more needles will turn brown in time.

We cut the plants as we normally do but also cut every damaged branch back to where it scratched green all 'round its circumference. Since the damage was concentrated and worst on exposed sides of the yew, our cuts are also more extensive on those side. For now, there appear to be "holes" in the plant. But the sound wood in the depths of those openings will quickly bud out as spring progresses.

More yew pruning

Improving foundation yews by reducing the size and increasing density
Pyramidal yews
cut back
Standard foundation yews kept small but natural in outline
Yews cut back and made into topiary 






















Judith Ann Storrs

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