Types of yew trees

Yew

Yew Shrub

If you’re looking for a shrub that stands up to most anything, yew found it! Yew shrubs have been around for ages and are extremely long-lived plants. It is even believed that the ancient (and mythical) Yggdrasil tree of Norse mythology was a yew tree. These plants are tolerant of many conditions—from drought and shade to sun and moist soil. With a little annual maintenance, you can keep these shrubs shaped into all sorts of different designs. Just be careful planting these around small children and animals, as they’re poisonous if ingested.

genus name
  • Taxus
light
  • Part Sun,
  • Shade,
  • Sun
plant type
  • Shrub
height
  • 20 feet or more
width
  • 4 to 20 feet depending on variety
foliage color
  • Blue/Green,
  • Chartreuse/Gold
season features
  • Spring Bloom,
  • Winter Interest
problem solvers
  • Groundcover,
  • Good For Privacy
special features
  • Low Maintenance,
  • Attracts Birds,
  • Fragrance,
  • Good for Containers
zones
  • 4,
  • 5,
  • 6,
  • 7
propagation
  • Seed,
  • Stem Cuttings

What Yew Should Choose

With more than 400 registered cultivars to choose from, you have plenty of options when it comes to yews. Originally, there were simply different species of yews available from varying different climates and regions. Today most yews commercially available are hybrids of several species. This allows them to have the best traits of many different parents, which makes them adaptable in more gardens.

Yew Care Must-Knows

Since yews are a conifer, they don’t have flowers like many other plants do—they produce cones instead. Yew plants are separately male and female, so one shrub may be a male and produce only pollen, while another produces only fruit. The pollen of yews can cause severe reactions to those sensitive to seasonal allergies, and the pollen grains themselves are very small. Avoid planting male varieties if you are particularly susceptible to pollen allergies.

Female yews produce small red berries that surround a single seed, which is the only part of the plant that does not contain the deadly toxin produced by yews. This is because the plant attracts birds to eat the fruit, and the seed coat of the single seed is hard enough that the digestive process of birds does not harm it. When the birds fly to a new area, they act as the dispersal method to help spread yew seeds around.

See more ways to make an impact with evergreens.

Yews are tough plants that are tolerant of many different situations. The biggest thing to avoid is standing water or soils that may stay wet for long periods of time. This will encourage root rot and overall decline of the plant.

For the best branching habit of your yew shrubs, plant them in full sun. While yews are just as happy in part sun and can even grow fine in full shade, keep in mind that the more shade, the more regularly you’ll need to prune to prevent loose and floppy growth. Part shade is beneficial for any gold-leafed varieties, and also provides some protection from winter burn on the foliage.

Pruning is best done in early spring before a yew shrub’s new flush of growth. This will ensure that new growth is bushy enough to fill in any holes in the garden. It is not entirely necessary to prune yews every year, but it helps prevent future problems with dead interiors and plants becoming too woody.

Toxicity

Yew plants create an extremely toxic compound in all parts of the plant, except for the fleshy red fruit they produce. This serves as a self-defense mechanism to help prevent animals from eating them. Except for a few animals that have adapted to the toxin and can eat them (sadly, deer are not susceptible to the toxin), this toxin will affect almost all animals. So be careful where you plant these shrubs.

More Varieties of Yew

Brown’s yew

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(Taxus media ‘Brownii’) forms a dense, rounded shrub to 10 feet tall and wide. Zones 5-7

‘Green Wave’ yew

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(Taxus cuspidata ‘Green Wave’) forms a low, arching mound to 4 feet tall and 5 feet wide. Zones 4-7

Golden English yew

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(Taxus baccata ‘Dovastonii Aurea’) is a small, female yew variety with drooping branches and gold-edged needles. It grows 15 feet tall and 6 feet wide. Zones 7-8

Hicks yew

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(Taxus media ‘Hicksii’) is a fast-growing hybrid with an open habit that’s great for hedges. It’s also a hardier substitute for Irish yew. This variety grows 25 feet tall by 10 feet wide. Zones 5-7

‘Densiformis’ yew

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(Taxus media ‘Densiformis’) is a good choice for hedges, as it grows into a thick, spreading mound 4 feet tall and 6 feet wide. Zones 5-7

‘Capitata’ yew

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(Taxus cuspidata ‘Capitata’) forms a broad dense pyramid, slow growing to 40 feet tall. Zones 4-7

Irish yew

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(Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’) is the the tall, rounded evergreen often seen in English gardens. It becomes a broad, upright column of greenish-black needles. Its upright branches adapt well to shearing. Grows 30 feet tall and 20 feet wide. Zones 7-8

Taunton yew

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(Taxus media ‘Tauntonii’) becomes a low-spreading mound to 3 feet across. It tolerates weather extremes of wind, heat and cold, and is a great plant for dry, shaded spots. Zones 5-7

Garden Plans For Yew

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Taxus Genus (Yew)

The seed cones are highly modified with each cone containing a single seed measuring 0.16 to 0.28 inch (4 – 7 mm) long, partly surrounded by a modified scale which develops into a soft, bright red berry-like structure called an aril. Arils are 0.32 to 0.6 inch (8 – 15 mm) long and wide and open at the end. They mature 6 to 9 months after pollination, and with the seed contained, are eaten by thrushes, waxwings and other birds, which disperse the hard seeds undamaged in their droppings. Maturation of the arils is spread over 2 to 3 months, increasing the chances of successful seed dispersal. The pollen cones are globose, measuring 0.12 to 0.24 inch (3 – 6 mm) in diameter, and shed their pollen in early spring. Yews are mostly dioecious, but occasional individuals can be variably monoecious, or change sex with time.

The most distinct yew species are the Sumatran yew (T. sumatrana), native to Sumatra and Celebes north to southernmost China, distinguished by its sparse, sickle-shaped yellow-green leaves. The Mexican yew (T. globosa), native to eastern Mexico south to Honduras is also relatively distinct with foliage intermediate between Sumatran yew and the other species. The Florida yew, Mexican yew and Pacific yew are all rare species listed as threatened or endangered.

All species of yew contain highly poisonous alkaloids known as taxanes, with some variation in the exact formula of the alkaloid between the species. All parts of the tree except the arils contain the alkaloid. The arils are edible and sweet, but the seed is dangerously poisonous; unlike birds, the human stomach can break down the seed coat and release the taxanes into the body. This can have fatal results if yew ‘berries’ are eaten without removing the seeds first. Grazing animals, particularly cattle and horses, are also sometimes found dead near yew trees after eating the leaves, though deer are able to break down the poisons and will eat yew foliage freely. In the wild, deer browsing of yews is often so extensive that wild yew trees are commonly restricted to cliffs and other steep slopes inaccessible to deer.

Yew wood is reddish brown (with whiter sapwood), and is very springy. It was traditionally used to make bows, especially the longbow. Most longbow wood used in northern Europe was imported from Iberia, where climatic conditions are better for growing the knot-free yew wood required. The yew longbow was the critical weapon used by the English in the defeat of the French cavalry at the Battle of Agincourt, 1415. It is suggested that English parishes were required to grow yews and, because of the trees’ toxic properties, they were grown in the only commonly enclosed area of a village – the churchyard. The yew tree can often be found in church graveyards and is symbolic of sadness.

In the Garden

Yew trees and shrubs (Taxus) are among the most versatile of conifers. These slow-growing, long-lived evergreens are drought-tolerant, pest-free and amazingly easy to prune. Most have dark green foliage, but there are some highly attractive varieties with golden needles.

They’re one of the only conifers that will thrive in sun or shade, although the ones with golden needles color up best if planted in morning sunshine. The one requirement for all yews is good drainage.

Yews come in a variety of forms. Female varieties form aesthetically pleasing red berries that are attractive to birds, but the seeds within are highly poisonous to humans.

Gardening Events

Northwest Horticultural Society Lecture Series, “How Plants Work”:

northwesthort.org

28th annual Best of the Northwest Art & Fine Craft Show Fall 2016:

nwartalliance.org

PlantAmnesty’s Master Pruner Series: “Garden Art or Atrocity? (AKA Pruning Horrors):

10 a.m. to noon Sunday, Nov. 13. Cass Turnbull will cover the three main forms of malpruning: tree topping, inappropriate shearing of trees and shrubs and over-thinning. Cost: $20, $15 for PlantAmnesty members, $5 for horticulture students and native Spanish speakers. Address: Sand Point Magnuson Park, 6344 N.E. 74th St., Seattle.

plantamnesty.org

If you’re looking for a colorful privacy screen or tall-growing hedge, a good choice is the English yew (Taxus baccata ‘Elegantissima’). This densely clad, upright grower can exceed 10 feet tall and wide, but can be pruned at any size. The new leaves emerge gold before turning bronzy green in summer.

If you prefer a narrower growing hedge or want to add a vertical element to your landscape, consider the golden Irish yew (Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata Aurea’), which will eventually grow to 25 feet tall by 8 feet wide. This variety sports ferny-looking leaves that emerge a rich shade of gold, turn green with gold edging in summer and become chartreuse in fall.

To create a more natural look, the Japanese yew (Taxus cuspidata ‘Dwarf Bright Gold’) has a spreading habit, eventually forming a 6-foot-tall and 6-foot-wide shrub. In spring, new growth emerges brilliant gold, then mellows to a golden green by late summer. The foliage often turns an appealing shade of reddish-brown or yellow in winter.

Finally, a great centerpiece for a container is Taxus baccata ‘Standishii’. This slow-growing narrow upright yew is a sun lover. It can eventually reach 8 feet, but can be easily pruned to keep it in proportion to the size of a pot or a small garden space. This attractive yew creates a striking contrast with new growth that emerges bright golden yellow, backed with rich forest-green needles in the interior. As long as it receives adequate sunshine, the color remains steadfast year-round, making it an especially good choice for a winter pot where its golden glow is guaranteed to cheer up even the darkest winter day.

Sweep pollution away

According to the Department of Seattle Public Utilities, just 16 percent of Seattle’s surface area is streets, but they contribute more than 40 percent of the pollution that ends up in Puget Sound waterways.

Pollutants from vehicles end up in the streets and get whooshed down the storm drains in heavy fall rains. Some of the worst pollutants include metals from vehicles, such as copper from brake pads, zinc from tires and nickel and chromium from engines. There are cancer-causing organic compounds from vehicle exhaust, as well.

Excess fertilizer and other lawn-care products that end up on sidewalks are washed into the street by rain, and even tree leaves and needles cause problems because they stimulate algae growth and deplete oxygen, which harms fish and other creatures living in creeks, lakes, the Duwamish River and Puget Sound.

Therefore, one of the best things each of us can do to help reduce pollution in our waterways is to make a regular practice of sweeping up leaves and debris that accumulate along the curbs and streets in front of our homes. Your landscape will look more attractive, and it makes life better for pedestrians and bicyclists. Best yet, all that exercise will work off so many calories, you’ll be able to enjoy that second helping of Brussels sprouts casserole guilt free!

Hedges with Berries

Hedging with Berries

Here you will find our full range of hedges with berries, all ideal for providing seasonal colour and wildlife value to your planting area. Many of our hedging plants with berries act as a food source to an array of birds, making them a great wildlife-friendly feature in your garden or planting scheme. This is why they feature in our RSPB Approved Bird Friendly Hedging packs, which you can read more about in our blog here. We have a great choice of hedges with berries, from native to deciduous or evergreen, you’re sure to find the perfect hedge right here.

Benefits of planting a hedge with berries

Berries come in all different colours and sizes, from small yellow fruits to large red hips. You can even make delicious jams, jellies and juices from some of our hedging plants with berries. From elderberry cordial to crab apple jelly, there’s nothing more satisfying than a home-cooked recipe using ingredients fresh from your garden!

To narrow down our selection of hedging with berries, you can use the filters on the left-hand side of this page. You can find berrying hedges for coastal sites or hedges with berries and red foliage for a warm seasonal colour display. If you need any further guidance finding the right hedge for your planting site, why not contact our experienced Sales and Service team to discuss our choices.

For more information on Hedging with Berries, check out our blog post where we talk about how the dramatic changes in berry colour for species like Pyracantha, Holly, or the health food favourite Sea Buckthorn, can create a visual interest between seasons in your garden.

Welcome To The Blog That Gives You The Plant Grower’s Perspective!

For decades the Yew (Taxus x media ‘Densiformis’) was considered one of the staple plants used in the landscape. It served as a good, solid evergreen shrub, providing color all year long and it was basically maintenance free. As long as the plant had good drainage there really wasn’t much that affected it. No bugs, no diseases…..no brainer.

Along comes the boxwood, the new “hottie” on the market that has been gaining in popularity over the past 10 years or so. Homeowners became tired of the old look and began searching for something new and Boxwood sure fit the bill. Having a lot of the same attributes as the Yew in regards to low maintenance and year round color, Boxwoods have become the new staple evergreen for the landscape.

So which plant is better……Yew or Boxwood? Here’s the plant information you need to know.

Let’s start with the Yew. Taxus ‘Densiformis’, or spreading yew, is a needled evergreen that grows 3-4’ tall and 4-6’ wide. It grows best in full sun to part shade and is hardy in zones 4-7. It blooms March –April, but its flowers are relatively insignificant. Female plants produce bright red fruit that can be toxic to humans and animals if ingested. Yews tolerate a wide range of soil conditions as long as there is good drainage. It is considered a low maintenance plant that prefers a slightly acidic to near neutral pH, but is somewhat intolerant of winter temperature extremes. Occasionally Black Vine Weevils and scale insects will feed on Yews and they can be susceptible to sooty mold, root rot, needle blight, twig blight and phytophthora canker. Pruning on Yews should be done in early spring before the new growth appears. Yews can tolerate dense shade, drought and they are resistant to rabbits.

Now, let’s move on to Boxwood. Buxus sinica var. insularis ‘Winter Gem’ is a Korean boxwood which is a broadleaf evergreen growing 2-3’ tall and 2-3’ wide. This plant is best grown in soil with medium moisture and good drainage. Boxwood ‘Winter Gem’ grows well in full sun to partial shade and prefers a slightly acidic pH in more sun and slightly alkaline pH in partial shade. It blooms in April with yellow-green flowers that are of little significance aesthetically. Boxwood ‘Winter Gem’ has a shallow root system so a 1-2” layer of mulch will be beneficial. Stem and branch damage can occur from heavy snow accumulation if not removed in a timely manner. There is some susceptibility to leaf spot and blight, but in particular Boxwood blight. Insects that may present a problem include psyllids, boxwood mites and boxwood leafminer. Boxwood ‘Winter Gem’ is tolerant of rabbits and deer.

Both of these plants serve an important purpose in the landscape. They both provide nice green color year round and overall are considered very low maintenance plants. Personal preference may be the deciding factor here.

Yew Shrub Care: Tips For Growing Yews

Yew is a great shrub for borders, entranceways, paths, specimen gardening, or mass plantings. In addition, Taxus yew shrubs tend to be drought resistant and tolerant of repeated shearing and pruning, making yew shrub care a relatively easy endeavor. Keep reading for more information on growing yews in the landscape.

Taxus Yew Shrubs

The Taxus yew shrub, belonging to the Taxaceae family, is a medium sized evergreen shrub native to the areas of Japan, Korea and Manchuria. The yew has green foliage with bright red berries. All portions of the Taxus yew are toxic to animals and humans, with the exception of the fleshy portion of the arils (the name for the Taxus fruit). The fruit lays hidden amongst the foliage of the female plant until September, wherein the short lived arils turn a striking red shade.

Taxine is the name of the toxin found in the Taxus yew shrubs and shouldn’t be confused with taxol, which is a chemical extraction of the bark of the western yew (Taxus brevifolia) used in cancer treatment.

Taxus x media is notable for its dark green, one inch long evergreen needles. Although an evergreen, the yew’s foliage may winter burn or turn brown in its northern range (USDA plant hardiness zone 4) and melt

out in its southern range (USDA zone 8). However, it will again return to its green hue in the early spring, at which time the male yew will shed dense pollen from its small white flowers.

Types of Yew Shrubs

Many cultivars and types of yew shrubs are available to the gardener, so those interested in growing yews will find a variety to choose from.

If looking for a Taxus x media that is rounded when young and spreads with age, ‘Brownii’, ‘Densiformis’, ‘Fairview’, ‘Kobelli’, ‘L.C’, ‘Bobbink’, ‘Natorp’, ‘Nigra’ and ‘Runyanii’ are all suggested varieties of yew shrub.

If desirous of a yew shrub that spreads more rapidly from the get go, ‘Berryhillii’, ‘Chadwickii’, ‘Everlow’, ‘Sebian’, ‘Tauntonii’ and ‘Wardii’ are cultivars of this type. Another spreader, ‘Sunburst’, has golden yellow spring growth which fades to chartreuse green with a hint of gold in summer.

‘Repandens’ is a slow growing dwarf spreader of about 3 feet tall by 12 feet wide and has sickle shaped, dark green needles at the ends of its branches (hardy in zone 5).

‘Citation’, ‘Hicksii’, ‘Stoveken’ and ‘Viridis’ are excellent choices for upright column-like specimens of the Taxus yew plant. ‘Capitata’ is an upright pyramidal form, which can attain a 20 feet to 40 feet height by 5 feet to 10 feet width. It is often limbed up to reveal striking purple, reddish brown bark, making a stunning plant at entranceways, large foundations and in specimen gardens.

How to Grow Yew Bushes and Yew Shrub Care

Growing yews can be achieved in zones 4 through 8. While this evergreen shrubs flourishes in sun to partial sun and well drained soil, it is tolerant of most any exposure and soil make up with the exception of overly wet soil, which may cause root rot.

Yews mature to a height of 5 feet tall by 10 feet wide and are almost exclusively pruned into the size desired for a particular location. Slow growing, they can be heavily sheared into a variety of shapes and are oftentimes used as a hedge.

As mentioned above, the Taxus yew can be susceptible to root rot and other fungal disease brought on by overly wet soil conditions. In addition, pests like black vine weevil and mites are also issues which may afflict the shrub.

Generally speaking, however, the yew is an easy-care, drought tolerant and highly adaptable shrub available in many areas of the United States.

A great shrub for entranceways, garden borders, paths, mass planting, and specimen gardening, Taxus yews are highly popular for their drought resistance. In addition, their tolerance to repeated trimming makes them easy to care for.

The Taxus yew shrub belongs to the Taxaceae family and is a medium-sized evergreen bush. It has green foliage with bright red berries. Taxus yew shrubs come in a variety of types and interested gardeners find them to be a great choice.

These bushes mature to a height of about 5 feet in height and a width of about 10 feet. They can be pruned into the desired size depending on the location. Yews are slow growing and can be easily sheared into different shapes and are often used as hedges. Ease of care and high adaptability makes this shrub popular in different areas in the United States.

There are various types of yew shrubs available to interested gardeners to choose from for growing in different locations. Whether grown as an evergreen shrub, flowering plant or landscape bush, Taxus yew shrubs add a touch of beauty and grace to any area.

A variety of yew shrubs are native to the areas of Japan, Manchuria, Korea and other parts of Europe. Each shrub has its own name, identity, and features.

Here are some of the more popular varieties of yew shrubs:

Taxus Everlow

Photo courtesy of Spring Meadow Nursery Everlow Yew
Zones: 4-7
Height: 1-5 feet.
Spreads: 4-5 feet.

A versatile evergreen shrub with a striking green dense foliage, Taxus Everlow is a low growing spreader with windburn resistance. It has dark green foliage that emerges in spring as light green.

It is an easy care, low-maintenance yew variety that tolerates pruning throughout the year.

Typically suitable for specimen, foundation and small hedge applications, Everlow is also used in perennial borders or rock gardens for its dwarf size.

This spreading cultivar grows to a height of about 1 to 5 feet and spreads to about 4 to 5 feet. It performs well in any weather condition and grows best in well-drained, alkaline soil.

Taxus Media Hicksii

Media Hicksii
Zones: 4-7
Height: 18-20 feet.
Spreads: 6-10 feet.

Offering an excellent combination of ornamental excellence and winter hardiness, Taxus Media Hicksii grows easily in medium moisture, well-drained soils in part to full shade. It is a dense and narrow columnar shrub with ascending branching.

It matures to a height of 18 to 20 feet and spreads to 6 to 10 feet width in 20 years.

Hicksii is an evergreen shrub to display dark green foliage and heightened hedges. It is an easy care and low maintenance shrub which can be pruned any time.

This yew variety is recommended for mass planting, foundation, hedges, landscape, and general garden applications.

Taxus Densiformis

Photo by David J. Stang ,via Wikimedia CommonsDensiformis
Zones: 4-7
Height: 3-4 feet.
Spreads: 5-7 feet.

Considered to be the perfect evergreen for shady locations, Densiformis grows easily in average moisture and well-drained soils in full to part shades.

This Taxus yew shrub variety is ideal for landscape, specimen, foundation, small hedge, and mixed border applications. It provides a year-round interest as it tolerates shearing.

It grows at a slow rate and tolerates almost all weather conditions. It has pointed, needle-like, dark green to olive leaves with red, berry-like fruits.

It is a semi-dwarf, dense, spreading female cultivar growing to about 3 to 4 feet height and spreading 5 to 7 feet wide.

Taxus Stonehenge

Photo courtesy of Spring Meadow Nursery Stonehenge
Zones: 5-7
Height: 8-10 feet.
Spreads: 6 feet.

A highly versatile evergreen yew shrub that tolerates heavy pruning, Taxus Stonehenge is an ideal choice for screens, hedges, topiary landscapes, and foundation plantings. It is especially suitable for hedging as it grows tall and narrow and requires very little maintenance.

It is also extremely resistant to winter burn so if you’re in the more extreme northern areas of the country you will definitely want to give this variety some serious consideration.

Taxus Cuspidata Capitata Yew

Everlow Yew
Zoness: 4-7
Height: 10-25 feet.
Spreads: 5-10 feet.

Considered to be one of the best-needled evergreens for shady locations, Taxus Cuspidata Capitata is commonly known as Japanese Yew and is a broad columnar needled shrub native to Russia, Japan, China, and Korea.

It grows as much as 30 to 50 feet high in its native habitat and it thrives in medium moisture, well-drained soils in full to part shade.

This yew features spiny-tipped, linear, dark green needles with dense foliage. Female plants produce red, attractive, berry-like fruits.

The pyramidal conical cultivar tolerates heavy pruning and is suitable for screens, hedges, foundation plantings, and landscapes. It also works for group plantations

Taxus Media Wardii

Media Wardii
Zones: 4-7
Height: 3-6 feet.
Spreads: 8-20 feet.

The dense, dark green foliage evergreen yew is known for its ornamental appeal and winter hardiness. It is a low growing, wide-spreading shrub with a flattened top which features linear, pointed, needle-like leaves that remain attractive all the year round.

The plant grows slowly to a height of 4 feet and spreads to about 8 feet over ten years.

It can eventually reach a height of 6 feet and width 20 feet. Excellent for foundation and group plantations, Wardii yew suits hedges and embankments too. Female plants have red, attractive, berry-like fruits.

The low-maintenance shrub thrives in sandier, well-drained soil and tolerates drought and windy conditions. It accepts pruning and can be sheared at any time to suit the location.

Summary

Taxus yew shrubs are really easy to grow and maintain and can tolerate shady and sunny places. However, the growth rate decreases if the location is too dark.

The shrub can be planted as seeds or cuttings. However, the most popular method is purchasing the plant from a nursery or garden store.

Though yews do not have any specific soil requirements they grow best in well-drained, sandy soil. The best time to plant this shrub is a day without sun.

As young plants require a lot of water, it is essential to make sure that the soil never dries out.

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Emerald Spreader Yew

A low growing and very wide spreading evergreen shrub, features beautiful deep green needles which emerge emerald green; makes an ideal groundcover, great for the shrub border, takes pruning extremely well; one of the few evergreens that loves shade.

Add to Wishlist Add to Wishlist SKU: 04f6c6a55312 Category: Shrubs

Please contact your local store for product availability. Find a garden center.

Characteristics

Species: cuspidata

Plant Height: 36 in.

Spread: 120 in.

Evergreen: Yes

Plant Form: spreading

Emergent Foliage Color: light green

Summer Foliage Color: dark green

Minimum Sunlight: shade

Maximum Sunlight: full sun

Ornamental Features

Emerald Spreader 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.

Landscape Attributes

Emerald Spreader Yew is a dense multi-stemmed evergreen shrub with a ground-hugging habit of growth. Its relatively fine texture sets it apart from other landscape plants with less refined foliage. This is a relatively low maintenance shrub, and can be pruned at anytime. It has no significant negative characteristics. Emerald Spreader Yew is recommended for the following landscape applications; Mass Planting Hedges/Screening General Garden Use Groundcover

Planting & Growing

Emerald Spreader Yew will grow to be about 3 feet tall at maturity, with a spread of 10 feet. It tends to fill out right to the ground and therefore doesn’t necessarily require facer plants in front. It grows at a slow rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for 50 years or more. This shrub 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.

From magic to mythology, the Yew tree has impacted the world well beyond its roots in horticulture. In ancient times the small specimen was revered for its ability to remain green year-round. These days the evergreen is still prized, though more for its landscaping value than its supposed secret powers. Homeowners looking to grow a natural border around their property often select the Yew tree to create a dense green boundary.

Appearance of the Tree

Yews have a dense, shrubby appearance and a uniform growth habit with one-inch needles year round and attractive red berries in fall. Only female plants produce the berries, but only if they are pollinated by a male nearby. In the nursery, they are often labeled as to whether they are male or female, so check the label before making a purchase.

It can be found in Perthshire, Scotland, where it maintains the same identifying features as its younger cousins:

  • Leaves: Flat, needle-shaped leaves which stay green throughout the year.

  • Fruit: Bright red berry-like fruits called “arils” contain a highly poisonous seed which can harm humans and livestock. The sweet flesh surrounding the seed is safe to consume and is often eaten by birds.

  • Bark: The tree’s reddish bark is highly malleable, yet incredibly durable. Its flexibility makes it a prime material for bows and fence poles. In addition, the tree’s thin, scaly bark flakes off quite easily, especially if it is exposed to excessive sunlight.

The slow-growing tree ranges in height from one to 50 feet tall, with some rare specimens exceeding 80 feet.

One of the most noteworthy characteristics of the Yew tree is its longevity. Some trees have survived for more than 2,000 years; however, the oldest Yew on record is estimated to be about 5,000 years old.

The Many Looks of a Yew Tree

Where the Yew Grows

Yews grow in sun or shade though they will appear a bit sparse in full shade. Their primary requirement is well-drained soil — if this is provided, yews tend to be robust, long-lived plants; if not, they will quickly decline and are likely to perish. Yews are quite cold hardy but are difficult to grow in places with extremely hot summers.

The Yew tree thrives in full shade, though it can withstand small amounts of sunshine. In order for the Yew to survive, it should not be exposed to excess water or high winds which can punish the small tree.

Yew trees are often found lining cemeteries and churchyards throughout Great Britain and Ireland. It also prospers in most of Europe, Asia, North Africa, and Iran, as well as parts of North America.

In the United States and Canada, the Yew tree is typically used as a hedge. There are very few tall Yews in North America. Rather, the tree resembles a shrub and is more tolerant of cold weather than its taller counterparts. Regardless of their size, Yews should not be planted in areas where kids or pets play due to the toxicity of its fruit. If you own grazing livestock, you might consider fencing off Yew trees in order to avoid having the animals ingest the poisonous red arils.

Garden Uses

Larger yew trees are excellent specimens to use as a focal point in the landscape while some of the smaller prostrate yews are suitable as a large scale groundcover.

The majority of yews, however, are used for hedges; there is a yew for almost any desired hedge height. They are often sheared into a formal shape and are one of the few evergreen needle-bearing plants that are suitable for hedges in shady conditions.

Other Yew Tree Uses

During the Middle Ages, Yew wood was used to craft spears, bows, and darts until the advent of firearms. Since then, the wood has been reserved to make ornate weapons, bowls and tool handles.

Today, the Yew tree’s wood remains a hot commodity, especially with bow makers.

The tree also has medicinal value. Prior to advances in modern medicine, flesh from the tree’s berries was used to treat heart ailments and problems with the cardiovascular system. More recently, the tree’s bark and leaves have been found to contain taxol, which is used to treat cancer patients in an effort to stop cell mutation.

Interesting Facts

The Yew’s mystical symbolism is well documented over the ages. In ancient Europe, the trees were planted to guard cemeteries, as it was widely believed that the Yew had powers to ward off evil spirits and help souls find the afterlife.

Other interesting facts about the Yew tree include:

  • Yew sprigs were once used as diving rods to help locate lost items.
  • The Celts placed the Yew on a short list of sacred woods.
  • Swiss mountaineers call the Yew “William’s tree,” in memory of William Tell.
  • In Austria, the Yew tree is planted near main squares to bring luck to village affairs.
  • Yew hedges are also used to create mazes to decorate public green spaces.

Growing Yew Trees

Yews are commonly available in nurseries in the regions where they are well-adapted. They are typically grown from nursery transplants. Some varieties are pyramidal, some are columnar, and some are low and spreading, but they all have the same growing requirements. They are hardy in USDA zones 4 to 7.

Yew Overview

Yews (Taxus spp.) are an evergreen species that can grow to either shrub or tree-like proportions, depending on the variety. They are one of the slowest growing (and longest-lived) ornamental plants, offering a very formal appearance to gardens with their uniform shape and deep green needles. The foliage, seeds, and bark of yews are extremely toxic, so these plants should not be planted where children or pets may be tempted to sample them.

Preparing the Soil

If the growing site does not already have excellent drainage it is important to plant yews on a mound at least six inches above the surrounding grade. They appreciate high quantities of organic matter in the soil, so mixing compost into the growing area helps to ensure a successful planting. Gently loosen the roots before planting and make sure the root crown is planted at or slightly above the soil line.

Care and Maintenance

Yews generally take on an attractive shape with no pruning, yet they respond well to pruning so it is often used to limit their size or to create a hedge with a particular shape. Once the evergreens are placed in the ground as a hedge or shrub border, you can enhance their ornamental value by following these simple tips:

  • They have low to average water needs, but because of their sensitivity to poor drainage, it’s best to err on the side of under-watering a yew than to risk over-watering. Keeping a deep layer of mulch over the root zone is beneficial for cooling the soil and reducing water loss.
  • Add compost to the base of young Yew Trees.
  • Water the tree generously immediately after you plant it. However, once you notice that the tree is acclimating to its new home, reduce the amount of water you give it.
  • Yew trees need full to partial shade to thrive. Do not plant a Yew in a spot where it receives excessive sunlight all day.
  • Remove other plants that may interfere with the Yew tree’s spread. Some species can grow as wide as 20 feet.

Finally, while Yews respond well to trimming, don’t overprune the tree while it is in its infancy as you may interfere with its growth.

Yew Diseases

If yews are given the proper growing conditions, pests and disease are rarely a problem. However, it is susceptible to a number of diseases if it’s not properly cared for, including:

  • Root Rot: This disease attacks the tree when it is made to sit in excessively wet soil. Symptoms include wilting leaves and black, rotting roots. In severe cases, the disease can kill the tree.
  • Needle Blight: This fungal disease preys on the tree’s tissue and causes spotting or wilting foliage. If left untreated, the blight will spread from the needles to the twigs, and eventually infect the entire tree.
  • Sooty Mold: This black fungus is caused by the presence of mealybugs and scale which emit a sweet substance that is left on the tree’s leaves. The mold is a direct result of untreated insect infestation.

In addition to these diseases, Yew trees can also sustain damage from cold winds. Excessive exposure to dry, cold winter winds and direct sunlight can cause major damage to the tree. To avoid winter drying, avoid planting Yews on the south or southwest sides of buildings.

Yew Tree Varieties

Roughly eight different species of Yew trees exist throughout the world. Among the most prevalent are:

  • Japanese Yew: This type of Yew is often used as a bonsai tree. While it can grow upwards of 45 feet tall, it is typically pruned into shorter, decorative topiaries. Its leaves remain dark green throughout the year while its fruit ripens in the summer months. The Japanese Yew does not tolerate drought conditions and cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -25 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • European Yew: A typical European Yew will reach heights of 40 feet, though it is often pruned to form tall dense borders or privacy screens on properties. The European Yew has dark green leaves, red berries, a long life span and a slow growth rate.
  • Capitata Yew: This tree has a conical shape and grows to about 50 feet tall.
  • Fastigiata Yew: This tree grows in an extremely narrow columnar shape to about 10 feet tall.
  • Green Wave Yew: This yew is a spreading form that grows about four feet tall and eight feet wide.

Three other Yew tree types – Florida, Mexican, and Pacific – are so rare they often appear on the list of threatened or endangered trees. In fact, in the early 1970s, the Pacific Yew was removed from the commercial tree market after scientists found the tree’s bark contained taxol. Taxol, the compound used to create a powerful cancer-fighting drug, led to the tree to being overharvested in parts of North America. Consequently, a ban was put in place to keep it from becoming extinct.

A Plant for the Future

Planting a yew correctly is an endowment to future generations as they are capable of living for several thousand years! Such longevity adds a special dimension to the hobby of horticulture.

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