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
More yew pruning
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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