Yew Shrub

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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 because most parts of yews are poisonous if ingested.

Yew Shrub Overview

Genus Name Taxus
Common Name Yew Shrub
Plant Type Shrub
Light Part Sun, Shade, Sun
Height 20 to 20 feet
Width 4 to 20 feet
Foliage Color Blue/Green, Chartreuse/Gold
Season Features Spring Bloom, Winter Interest
Special Features Attracts Birds, Fragrance, Good for Containers, Low Maintenance
Zones 4, 5, 6, 7
Propagation Seed, Stem Cuttings
Problem Solvers Good For Privacy, Groundcover

Colorful Combinations

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 available from varying climates and regions. But most commercially available yews are actually hybrids of several species. This allows them to display the best traits of their many different parents, as well as making them adaptable to more gardens.

Yew Care Must-Knows

Because they're conifers, yews don't have flowers. 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 that yews produce. While the plant attracts birds to eat the fruit, the seed coat is hard enough to withstand the birds' digestive process, and when the birds fly to a new area, they act as the dispersal method to spread yew seeds around.

Yews are tough plants that tolerate many different situations. The biggest issues to avoid are standing water and soils that stay wet for long periods, as both encourage root rot and an 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 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 new flush of growth. This will ensure that new growth is bushy enough to fill in holes in the garden design. It's 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 of their parts, with the exception of the fleshy red fruit the females produce. This is a self-defense mechanism to prevent animals from eating them, and the toxin will affect almost all animals. So be careful where you plant these shrubs.

More Varieties of Yew

'Green Wave' Yew

'Green Wave' yew
Jerry Pavia

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

Golden English Yew

Golden English yew
Jerry Pavia

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

Close up of Hicks yew
Jason Wilde

Taxus media 'Hicksii' is a fast-growing hybrid with an open habit, which makes it 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

curved border with yew, Hosta, Impatiens, Hydrangea quercifolia
Andy Lyons

Taxus media 'Densiformis' is a good choice for hedges, as it grows into thick, spreading mounds 4 feet tall and 6 feet wide. Zones 5-7

'Capitata' Yew

taxus cuspidata 'capitata', Japanese yew
Jerry Pavia

Taxus cuspidata 'Capitata' forms a broad dense pyramid. It's slow growing to 40 feet tall. Zones 4-7

Irish Yew

taxus baccata 'fastigiata'
Jerry Pavia

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

Taunton Yew

Taxus Media Dark Green Spreader
Scott Little

Taxus media 'Tauntonii' becomes a low-spreading mound to 3 feet across. It tolerates weather extremes of wind, heat, and cold, and even does well in dry, shaded spots. Zones 5-7

Garden Plans for Yew

Summer-Blooming Front Yard Cottage Garden Plan

Illustration of garden plan
Illustration by Helen Smythe

Create charm and curb appeal in your front yard with this lush, beautiful cottage garden plan.

Download this garden plan!

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