- Yew Tree, Taxus baccata: “Life and Death”
- Cheat Sheet
- Keep It Alive
- It has to be yew
Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’ is an extremely useful evergreen conifer for sun or shade. Most commonly used for hedging purposes, it has a naturally upright form and takes shearing well. It was discovered in Ireland in 1780 and has been a favorite for formal hedges ever since. A hedge of Irish yew, with its dense form and dark green color, makes a dramatic backdrop for a perennial or mixed shrub border. Irish yews are often used individually, as a vertical exclamation point in a border or paired to set off an entryway. Plants are more expensive and slower growing than the more common cedar hedging, but the wait is worthwhile. As yews are among the few conifers that thrive in dry shade, they can be used to provide a textural contrast to other plants in a shady garden.
Plant Type: conifer
Foliage Type: evergreen
Plant Height: 8 ft. 0 in. (2.44 meters)
Plant Width/Spread: 3 ft. 0 in. (0.91 meters)
Plant Height-Mature: 20 ft. 0 in. (6.10 meters)
Plant Width-Mature: 5 ft. 0 in. (1.52 meters)
Hardiness: USDA Zones 6 to 9
Sun/Light Exposure: full sun to light or open shade
Water Requirements: drought tolerant once established
Colors & Combos
Great Color Contrasts: silver, burgundy, gold
Great Color Partners: dark green, chartreuse, blue
What: Taxus baccata “Fastigiata,” with the common name Irish yew, is an extremely useful evergreen conifer for sun or shade. Most commonly used for hedging purposes, it has a naturally upright form and takes shearing well. It was discovered in Ireland in 1780 and has been a favorite for formal hedges ever since. A hedge of Irish yew, with its dense form and dark-green color, makes a dramatic backdrop for a perennial or mixed shrub border. Irish yews are often used individually, as a vertical exclamation point in a border, or paired to set off an entryway. The plants are more expensive and slower growing than the more common cedar hedging, but the wait is worthwhile. As yews are among the few conifers that thrive in dry shade, they can be used to provide a textural contrast to other plants in a shady garden.
Where: “Fastigiata” prefers well-drained soil and is drought tolerant once established. Plant it in full sun or light to open shade.
Size: This evergreen grows to be 20 feet tall and 5 feet wide when mature.
Care: “Fastigiata” is a female clone, so it bears fruit. Yew bark, foliage and fruit can be toxic, so site plants with care. Irish yew is generally pest and disease free, but it can get scale (and the resulting sooty mold) and black vine weevil. For a hedge, set plants 2 feet apart and shear as required. Like all yews (but unlike most conifers), it can be pruned back to old wood and will re-sprout readily.
— Richie Steffen, Great Plant Picks
Yew Tree, Taxus baccata: “Life and Death”
It is the tree of life, spanning millennia, with hard wood that lasts for hundreds of thousands of years. It is the tree of death, every part of it toxic, except the red flesh that encases the poisonous seeds. For gardeners, yew is a magical tree, unbeatable for topiary, providing a garden with a sense of dignity and intrigue. Clipped razor straight or grown in amorphous lumps and bumps, yew is contemporary as well as retro: it is a tree of opposites.
Photography by Britt Willoughby Dyer, for Gardenista.
Above: People who claim to loathe yew—because it sucks up light and moisture—plant it quite happily as a smooth green hedge or cut into a cone. An early detractor, William Robinson (godfather of “wild” gardening and colleague of Gertrude Jekyll), railed against yew as a design element, complaining that many English and Scottish gardens were “disfigured” when this fine native tree was “carved into ugly shapes.” Yet 100 years later we are still disfiguring, with relish.
As a building block, yew is beyond compare. Although William Robinson complained that artificial clipping looked uncomfortable with a looser style of planting, yew is increasingly appreciated in its role as a backbone to prairie or meadow planting.
Above: The yews of Painswick churchyard, in Gloucestershire. Historically, there is a connection between yew, churchyards, long bows, and cattle. Yew was the ideal wood for making a springy bow. Churchyards were the only part of a settlement that was enclosed, before the 18th century. This made them ideal locations for growing yew, which would otherwise be munched happily by livestock, before the animals dropped dead.
There is also a connection between yew, pagan burial sites, and churches. With their contrasting symbolism of death as well as life, yews were sacred to Druids. Since these sites were later appropriated by Christians, several ancient yews in England (well over 1,000 years old) predate the churches that they stand close to.
Above: The Latin name for yew is particularly descriptive, with Taxus descending from the same word that gives us “toxic” and baccata meaning “laden with berries.” Unlike the nettle and its sting, branches of yew retain toxicity even after being cut from the source.
The foliage of Taxus baccata is used in cancer treatment; taxol has anti-cancer properties, decelerating the growth of affected cells.
Above: Standing in a tunnel of yew and looking up is instructive. Its strange beauty is revealed beneath the smooth velvety veneer, twisting into prehistoric shapes. Left entirely alone, yew trees are hauntingly beautiful, in their natural shaggy state.
- With its dense foliage, yew is the most versatile evergreen for clipping into any shape.
- Its advantages in gardening outweigh its disadvantages to such an extent that in the domestic sphere its toxicity is almost forgotten. It does need to be kept away from animals and children, though the latter will be mainly interested in the succulent red berries, which don’t have the chance to develop on tightly clipped specimens.
- Unlike “quick-growing” Leyland cypress, yew grows back beautifully after being given a hard prune.
Above: The “architectural” shapes of yew sit well with real architecture.
Keep It Alive
- One of the myths about yew is that it is very slow growing. In fact it grows about a foot a year until maturity, if it is established well, with feeding and watering. Planting small is more successful than transplanting larger specimens.
- Yew is a good shelter belt tree, tolerating exposure, poor light, pollution, and any aspect. It will not thrive if water-logged however.
- Plant in winter or spring, when the ground is reasonably warm.
- Even when clipped into a complicated shape, yew is relatively low-maintenance, requiring an annual trim, either in summer or early autumn.
It has to be yew
According to legend, in the late 18th century a farmer discovered two plants of this remarkable aberration growing on rocky terrain above his land. He dug them up and planted one himself, giving the other to his employer. His yew died after 70 or so years, but the other survives at the National Trust property of Florence Court, in Co Fermanagh. All Irish yew trees growing today derive from these two ancestors.
In recent years, it has become the fashion to trim Irish yew into a cigar shape. This seems to me to ignore its true form. It is better to cut away any surplus branches that develop at the base, and to shorten the six or seven topmost branches to varying heights. The tree will then make a natural pillar, and is in my opinion the first choice for any kind of architectural planting scheme.
- To prevent a yew hedge becoming thin at the bottom, cut it “to a batter” – in the technical jargon – right from the start. This involves tapering the sides from bottom to top. The result is that more light will reach the lowest parts, allowing for stronger growth.
- When hedge-clipping, keep a pair of strong secateurs handy in a holster on a belt. Use them to cut out the ends of strong wood that may foul the shears or trimmers.
- If evergreen hedges of yew, cypress and laurel are clipped this month, they will put on a little more growth before the winter. This new growth will soften the closely shorn appearance of a newly cut hedge by concealing the ends of the cut twigs.
- Yew has the rare capacity of regrowing from mature wood. This means an elderly hedge that has got too fat can be slimmed down by hard pruning in early spring, right to the bare trunks of the plants. By midsummer they will be covered with a fuzz of new green shoots. Treat one side like this but wait for another two or three seasons before pruning the other side.
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- Yews should be planted at intervals of 4ft or even more, leaving each plant with at least 2ft each side for growth.
- Yew plants are readily available. Try Buckingham Nurseries, 14 Tingewick Road, Buckingham MK18 4AE (01280 813556; fax 01280 815491). Catalogue free.
- When plants are young, make certain the base of the hedge is not overshadowed by other plants.
- To make a hedge thicken from the start, tie in the side and forward growth sideways, using the plants’ stronger wood as the support.
- Hedges benefit from occasional doses of fertiliser, especially in their early years. Pour liquid feed over the rooting area of a young hedge once a month to encourage growth.
- Pull up all weeds from the rooting area of a hedge in its first three seasons.
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Yew is an ornamental evergreen hedge plant widely grown in Europe and Asia.
One of the main characteristics of this plant is that it is resistant to frost and easy to cut back.
All parts of the plant, including branches and berries, contain alkaloids which are poisonous to both humans and animals. It is strong and impenetrable, and in combination with its long life span, it makes a beautiful hedge that will last for many. Yew is available with berries and without berries.
You can buy different species of Yew for growing your hedge at Hedge Plants Heijnen. We have a wide variety that we grow in our garden and deliver directly to customers. When you make an order through our website, we get the plants fresh from the ground and ship them to you.
There are many different species of Yew, but they all have one thing in common-they make beautiful hedges. We have these species in our collection:
Taxus baccata-Also known as English Yew, common Yew or European Yew, Taxus baccata is the most popular species of Yew. This species is widely grown in Europe, but also extends to Africa and Asia. The evergreen plant has a classic and luxe appearance and can survive cold winters. Although Taxus baccata hedge grows slowly, it is known to make beautiful hedges and it can grow as a loner. Taxus baccata can also tolerate radical pruning; therefore, it is easy to care for the plant. Even if you cut too much, the plant will still grow.
Taxus baccata David- The slow-growing yew has tightly packed branches which grow upright, forming a neat column. This is the perfect species to use as a loner. It is also known as columnar. Its toughness, tolerance to shearing and adaptability make it a popular option for hedges, screening or foundation plantings. Most of its characteristics are similar to those of Taxus baccata
Taxus Media Hicksii and Media Hillii-The difference between these two slow-growing plants is that Hicksii is the female and Hilii is the male. This means that the latter doesn’t produce berries. Otherwise, the two plants have similar characteristics. They look like the European Yew but with only a few differences. They also grow more compact than other Yew species, and they are always evergreen and easy to maintain.
Yew hedges are very popular around the world. Planted for so many years in Europe, Yew has many features and benefits that make it a great garden hedge and have contributed to its longstanding popularity.
Why you should grow a Yew Hedge
- It has dense and evergreen foliage that creates a lasting canvas for other garden plants and provides noise reduction and privacy screening
- It also requires low maintenance and you can maintain the shape of your hedge by pruning twice a year. If you, however, find yourself with an unkempt ewe tree hedge, it can withstand hard pruning.
- Being a native green, the plant can create a positive impact on your environment
- Yew hedges look amazing at any height, which means that you can use the plant in any sized garden
- Very popular with wildlife, Yew hedges offer shelter to a number of birds. Jays, Robins, and Waxwings enjoy the delicacy of the bright red arils and Wrens usually create nests in the dense foliage
- Unlike most root ball species, Yew root balls at any time, with the exception of the hottest months of the year
- Yew is a long lasting plant. As a matter of fact, Yew plants that were planted hundreds of years ago are still standing in some parts of UK. You can find one of the most popular groups of Yew trees in Painswick, England. These trees were planted in the 1700s and are still standing.
- Yew plants are also flexible when it comes to shaping. You can create formal, neat displays and can be manipulated into extraordinary curves and shapes, including cloud pruning
- Although Yew has a slow growth rate, it will often achieve a growth rate of 20-40cm per year
When is the right time to grow a Yew hedge?
The best time to plant a Yew hedge is when the weather is cool-either in early spring or fall. This is important in ensuring that the plant doesn’t have to content with the extreme drought or heat as it tries to establish itself in the soil.
How to plant a Yew Hedge
- Loosen soil about 6 inches deeper than the height of the Yew clod. Doing so allows roots to spreader easily. Plant the Yew in an area with partial shade to provide the plant with medium sunlight
- Test the soil pH level with your home testing kit. Yews grow well in slightly alkaline, neutral or slightly acidic soil.
- Add 4 inches of organic compost, manure, coarse sand and leaf mold over the planting site and use a shovel to mix the ingredients with the soil. Avoiding using sphagnum peat as it holds water and causes the plant to suffer
- Make planting trenches about two times the size or width of the Yew clod and a bit deeper as the clod height. It is important to loosen the soil with a shovel for example.
- Remove the plant from the container and try to loosen the roots on edges of the clod so that they can spread easily in the soil
- Set the plant in the trench so that the clod rests evenly with the soil in the area. Fill the trench with soil and gently pack it to remove air pockets.
- Water the soil around the plant until the roots are evenly moist. Repeat this once every week or when the top three inches become dry. Once the plant has fully established, watering is rarely required until summer
- Apply a thin layer of mulch around the root area, but pull the mulch away from the stem
Keep the young Yew plants well watered. Once they are established, they will be able to withstand drought and harsh weather conditions. Yew plants grow well in humus-rich soil with good drainage. Fertilize the plants in spring with compost in spring
Yew hedge plants can be very beautiful if spacing is done correctly. Depending on size, plant 2 to 3 Yew plants per meter in a single row. Stretch a string between canes to ensure that you are planting in a straight line.
Ensure that the roots are spread out well and check the spacing between the plants one more time before returning the soil around the roots.
Advice & care
- It is important that you select the right Yew plant for your location to avoid the hassle of hacking it back when it’s overgrown. This is common in many yards.
- Avoid pruning below the green needles
- Remove broken, diseased and dead branches anytime
- Trim the plant in early summer to keep the shrub in bounds and shape it
- While Yew plants are disease and insect free, the needles may become yellow in windswept locations
Treatment of common Yew problems
Wet soils-Yews are known to yellow and die quickly in wet soils. Even a small period of wet soil can result in plant death
Armillaria root rot-This disease can attack stressed and even healthy plants. The fruiting bodies of the fungus that cause the disease are honey-colored mushrooms that grow at the base of the plant. You may want to uproot the mushroom and remove the dead trees and their roots
Dying lower branches -Lower branches may die if you don’t prune the plant in the right way. This can result in death or sparsely needled branches. To allow ample light to reach the base, it important that you keep the top of the Yew tree narrower
- Dense evergreen foliage makes a beautiful hedge and provides the much-needed privacy
- It’s a low maintenance plant as it only requires you to prune only twice a year. An overgrown Yew hedge can also withstand hard pruning
- Thrives in most soils as long as there is good drainage
- They can be grown to any height and still look great
- They provide shelter and food for some birds such as Jays, Waxwings, and Robins
- A yew tree hedge can live for so many years. This is the ideal plant for people who are looking to create a long-lasting hedge
- They are flexible when it comes to shaping. You can trim them into any shape you want as long as you have the skill
- They can survive cold winters
- Highly poisonous to humans and animals
- More susceptible to damage by snow at 8 to 10 ft in height
- Not the ideal option for already shady spaces
- Takes time to grow
Yew is one of the best plants you can use to grow a hedge. They can last for many years; grow so well as long as there is good drainage, and require low maintenance. Although most of their parts are poisonous to humans and animals, their bright red arils are feasted on by birds. If you are looking for high quality and affordable Yew plants, including Irish Yew tree, feel free to contact us anytime.
The yew is native and may be found in old woods although it is often seen in the artificial surroundings of estates or churchyards. An evergreen conifer (although an unusual one), yew is a dramatic tree with its dark foliage and red berries encasing a single seed. Reenadina wood on the Muckross Peninsula, Co. Kerry is Ireland’s only native yew wood. A sport (unique form) of the Irish yew (Taxus baccata ‘fastigata’) with very upright growth was originally found growing on rocky limestone hills in Co. Fermanagh. This was cultivated at Florencecourt, and subsequently in many gardens and churchyards. Many yews are single sex, but most Irish yews are female and so bear fruit. Even if the flesh is removed, these may be slow to germinate. The best seeds are those that have been eaten by birds and have passed through them; such bare seeds may be collected from under yew trees. There are ornamental garden varieties, some with yellow fruit or even golden foliage – these have to be propagated by cuttings. Yew trees do not need rich soil but they do need a well drained site, preferably not too exposed to wind or frost. The leaves are poisonous to most livestock, and the seeds are also toxic, so care must be taken in planting it where animals and children are not at risk. The fruit can be eaten safely by birds, and yew is in fact a good tree for wildlife as birds roost and nest in it.
Upright Irish Yew
Upright Irish Yew
(Photo courtesy of NetPS Plant Finder)
Height: 40 feet
Spread: 15 feet
Hardiness Zone: 6a
Other Names: Common Yew
A narrowly upright and very tall evergreen tree with almost vertical branching, deep green needles and interesting red berries; ideal for articulation, makes a great tall hedge or screen, takes pruning exceptionally well
Upright Irish Yew has dark green foliage which emerges light green in spring. The ferny leaves remain dark green throughout the winter. The flowers are not ornamentally significant. The fruits are showy red drupes displayed from early to late fall.
Upright Irish Yew is a dense evergreen tree with a narrowly upright and columnar growth habit. Its relatively fine texture sets it apart from other landscape plants with less refined foliage.
This is a relatively low maintenance tree, and can be pruned at anytime. It has no significant negative characteristics.
Upright Irish Yew is recommended for the following landscape applications;
- Vertical Accent
Planting & Growing
Upright Irish Yew will grow to be about 40 feet tall at maturity, with a spread of 15 feet. It has a low canopy with a typical clearance of 3 feet from the ground, and should not be planted underneath power lines. It grows at a slow rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live to a ripe old age of 150 years or more; think of this as a heritage tree for future generations!
This tree performs well in both full sun and full shade. It does best in average to evenly moist conditions, but will not tolerate standing water. It is not particular as to soil type or pH. It is highly tolerant of urban pollution and will even thrive in inner city environments, and will benefit from being planted in a relatively sheltered location. Consider applying a thick mulch around the root zone in winter to protect it in exposed locations or colder microclimates. This is a selected variety of a species not originally from North America, and parts of it are known to be toxic to humans and animals, so care should be exercised in planting it around children and pets.