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.
(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!"
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
Below, right: One side of the pyramid is cut, one
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
line drawings are enlarged in Restriction
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
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."
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.
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
Below, center: After our first cut
Below, right: After one season's growing.
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.
Below, left: We cut to our desired size and
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
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
So we cut back to a good form, and will wait for the plant to grow
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
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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