How to Prune Yew Shrubs

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Prune yews to keep them looking attractive.
Prune yews to keep them looking attractive. (Image: yew needles image by Fyle from Fotolia.com)

Yews have needles that are dark green, short and flat. They grow relatively slowly; however, they do have a big growth spurt in late spring and sometimes a smaller one in midsummer. These shrubs have been around for over 3,000 years, making them one of the world’s oldest trees. Yews have separate female and male plants, so this makes them dioecious. If you have a male and female yew, the female plant will bear small red berries. Prune the yew bush to keep it dense and attractive. Although some people shape their yews into birds and other objects, another way to shape yew plants is to keep them natural.

Prune your yew early in the summer, and again in late summer if it's had another growth spurt, but do not shear. Shearing can ruin the natural growth and will cause the tree to have a dense growth. According to Michigan State University Extension, the dense growth keeps the sun‘s light from shining into the center of the plant, and if you need to spray for insects, the insecticide won’t be able to penetrate to the plant’s center. Prune when the leaves turn from bright green to a dark green. You can also prune during the winter months when the yew is dormant. Use the trimmings for Christmas decorating.

Look at the lower branches. Sometimes the needles fall off the lower branches because they don’t receive the necessary amount of sunshine. In order to fix this problem, cut back the longer branches growing toward the top part of the yew. This will help open the yew up so light can reach the lower branches. Trim back any leggy shoots.

Cut back the previous year’s growth by about 1/4 to 1/2. This will encourage new growth.

Prune the yew during the summer months with small cuts. This will help the yew to maintain its shape.

Tips & Warnings

  • Do not remove more than 20 percent of the yew’s height or width when you prune.
  • Keep the top part of the yew narrower than the bottom part.
  • All parts of the yew, except for the flesh of the fruit, are poisonous to people and animals.

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