Rejuvenating Overgrown Yew


If your yew is out of control, if it encroaches on walking paths or blocks out the sun that other plants need, it's a prime subject for rejuvenation pruning. The yew (Taxus x media) is an evergreen that responds well to severe pruning and bounces back within a year or two if cut down to within inches of the ground. Getting its shape under control as it regrows helps it take its rightful place in your landscape, where it is often used as a privacy screen, windbreak or formal hedge. Yew is suited for U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 4 to 7.

Rejuvenation Techniques

  • The yew is an ideal candidate for rejuvenation pruning because it tolerates heavy pruning of both its old and new wood. Cut the yew down to 3 to 12 inches from the ground. Species of yews that grow to 20 feet in height can be left a bit taller, while the smaller yews should be cut down to only a few inches. As new shoots emerge from the stump during the spring, keep those cut back as well. Let only two or three shoots continue to grow from the base of the yew so that it develops a strong central core for the new shrub.

Timing It Right

  • The yew is a narrowleaf evergreen, and like others in this category, grows in spurts throughout the spring to late summer. Plan a rejuvenation pruning for early spring, from February to March, while the yew is still dormant. You can continue to prune the shoots as they appear throughout the growing period. Pruning in late fall and winter can leave the yew open to winter injury.

Tools of the Trade

  • Sharp tools that make clean cuts are important when pruning your yew. If you leave ragged edges where you prune branches, the yew is slower to heal and susceptible to disease. Use hand shears and long-handled loppers on most branches. An 8- to 10-inch hand saw is a good choice for larger branches of an inch or more in diameter.

Follow-Up Care

  • After several years, when your yew has grown back from its rejuvenation pruning and is the size you'd like to maintain, prune yearly before it begins to grow in the spring to remove damaged branches or new stems competing with the main leaders. Yews are a good choice for formal hedges; if you want to maintain a stricter, more formal shape, shear yews twice a year in early spring and in the summer. Watch for spring and summer growth spurts that may require some trimming to make sure yews maintain their shape.

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