This summer I took a couple of photos of yew hedging plants, because “yews,” in my opinion, should be used much more frequently as hedges and screens than they are. From the small genus, Taxus, there are about 7 species of yews; but, from those species, or crosses of those species, come a whole lot of cultivars!
In this post, you’ll find some good hedge screen recommendations, and I’ve included some examples.
To get started, here are several yews to acquaint you with (botanical /common name listed):
- Taxus baccata ——- English Yew
- Taxus baccata ‘Stricta’ – Irish Yew
- Taxus cuspidata ——— Japanese Yew
- Taxus x media – This is a hybrid of English yew (Taxus baccata) and Japanese yew (Taxus cuspidata) which combines the ornamental value of English yew with the winter hardiness of Japanese yew. Several excellent hedge and screen varieties are listed below.
Examples of Yew Hedges
In lower Manhattan’s Battery Park, a yew is used as a powerful background and foil for a colorful meadow of flowers like the yellow, black-eyed Susan in the foreground. This dense hedge – with its’ glossy green needle-like foliage is the perfect backdrop to the airy and wispy texture of the flowering plants in front of it. And while the perennials in front go through yearly stages of dying back, and then returning next spring, the evergreen yew screen will remain attractive, and in leaf, year round. I want to note that this area, right along the Hudson River, can get very windy in the winter– something that yews don’t like. However, this yew hedge is located in what appears to be a more protected and sheltered position, so that’s good.
On the opposite coast, (photo on right) yew is used as a privacy hedge, growing to about 15 feet tall, and spanning the width of the front of this northern California, Mill Valley home. The hedge color is a very attractive blackish green. Sheering is so tight and crisp, it looks like a topiary.
These yew hedges look great, right?… So why aren’t they more popular?
It may have to do with the stigma of many overgrown columnar hedges that grow mythically large over time, and fewer locations have the appropriate scale for this giant. Or the fact that they are very slow growing. Or the fact that this evergreen is off the list in a child friendly garden (plant parts are toxic if ingested).
What do you think?
For hedging and screening options, yews with dense, upright, ascending branches tend to be the best choice. However, to take the guess work out of it, stick with what is tried and true, and you will be off to a green screen in no time!
As mentioned above, Taxus x media is a hybrid of English yew (Taxus baccata) and Japanese yew (Taxus cuspidata). They are slow growers.
Here are several varieties that make excellent hedges:
Taxus × media ‘Hatfieldii’ — This yew is a broad pyramidal form that can grow to 8′ tall over the first 10 years, but eventually matures to 12-15′ tall by 8-10′ wide, unless pruned shorter. It is a male clone that produces no red fruit.
Taxus x media ‘Brownii – This yew is an excellent choice for a low, dense hedge. It’s form is broad and densely-rounded and it typically grows to 8-10′ tall and spreads to 6-12′ wide, however plants can be kept smaller through regular pruning. This is a male clone that will not produce fleshy, berry-like fruits.
Taxus x media ‘Hicksii’ – Hicks Yew. Full to part sun. Available to buy on Amazon
This is an excellent choice for tall hedges, and is a traditional hedge plant.. Slow grower to 10 to 12 ft. tall, 3 to 4 ft. wide.
What they Like and Don’t Like
They like and tolerate: Full sun to part shade. Average to medium moisture, well-drained soils. Tolerate shade: excellent evergreen for shady conditions. Accept pruning and shearing well. Like moist, sandy loams. Tolerate urban conditions.
They don’t like or won’t tolerate: Poor drainage. (No tolerance for wet conditions – root rot can occur in soils with poor drainage.) Need to be protected from cold winter winds (susceptible to winter burn in exposed sites). No serious insect or disease problems.
Pest and Disease: Twig and needle blight can be a problem. Also as mentioned, root rot can occur in poorly-drained soils. Weevils, mealybugs, spider mites and scale can be problems in drier summer climates.
Best time to prune? Early spring before new growth appears.
What tools to use? Electric or hand held hedge clippers. (See Below for specific tool recommendations for pruning, sheering and restoring an old yew).
About Yews for Hedging
Why do these varieties make excellent hedges, screens and background shrubs?
- They take pruning extremely well! To both top and sides.
- They are evergreen with glossy medium or dark green needle-like foliage.
- New growth can sprout from old and leafless wood, which means that you can cut back into old wood – excellent for being able to restore an overgrown hedge, or one that is misshapen.
- Hardy to USDA zone 4 or 5. (Check for specifics.)
- Because of their great ability to produce new shoots almost anywhere on their trunk and branches, they are able to quickly heal after damage.
- Tolerate shade and are considered to be an excellent evergreen for shady conditions.
- They are slow growing. (Once established, this makes maintaining much easier!)
- Tolerate urban conditions.
- Caution: all plant parts are poisonous if eaten.
NOTE:Having trouble growing your yew? Have you considered an artificial yew?
ps: When it comes to maintaining the shape of a hedge, we love our Japanese hedge shears. After using several other brands over the years, and then getting introduced to a pair of high quality Japanese hedge clippers, there was no turning back, (nor was there any comparison.) Though the exact brand and model of our clippers is not available, the Okatsune Precision Hedge Shears are very similar and similar in cost. Truth be told, we’re very hard on our tools, so they need to be tough. The blades are made of forged steel (the kind they use for Samurai swords, if that gives you an idea of how sharp these are) with Japanese white oak handles. And sharp they do stay, for months. That sharpness and their precision really help speed up any pruning job. If you read through the reviews on Amazon you’ll see that everyone gave these shears 5 stars. They all say things like ‘best shears ever’ or ‘wish I bought a pair of these years ago’ – our thoughts exactly!! 🙂
pps: Is your hedge newly planted and in need of regular watering? Setting up drip irrigation with battery operated timer is quite simple (see this post), as long as your hose bib is not too far away…