How to Plant and Grow Yew Shrub

Tolerant of most growing conditions, yew shrubs make excellent hedges.

If you're looking for a shrub that stands up to most anything, yew found it! 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.

With more than 400 registered cultivars to choose from, you have plenty of options when it comes to yews. Initially, there were only different species available from varying climates and regions, but most commercially available modern-day yews are 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.

Be careful planting yew shrubs around children and animals because most parts of the plant are toxic if ingested, even when dried. Yew plants create an extremely toxic compound in all their parts, with the exception of the fleshy red fruit the females produce. The seeds inside the fruit, however, are highly toxic.

Yew Shrub Overview

Genus Name Taxus
Common Name Yew Shrub
Plant Type Shrub
Light Part Sun, Shade, Sun
Height 4 to 40 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, 8
Propagation Seed, Stem Cuttings
Problem Solvers Good For Privacy, Groundcover

Where to Plant Yew Shrub

Yew is primarily useful in hedges, but this shrub can be pruned into eye-catching shapes. Yews also form good windbreaks, borders and foundation plants. Plant these shrubs in any region other than the hot southern states.

How and When to Plant Yew Shrub

Plant yew shrubs in early spring after the last frost or in early fall. Dig a hole in well-drained soil at least 6 inches deeper than the container holding the shrub. If the soil doesn't drain well, amend it with compost, leaf mold, or coarse sand, and use a shovel to loosen the soil. Yews grow best in soil with a pH of 5.5 to 7.5. Use a home test kit to confirm the soil pH and amend as needed. If possible, add all amendments several months before planting the shrub.

Plant the shrub in a hole twice as wide and at the same depth as its container. Fill around the root ball using the amended soil. Water and add an organic mulch over the root zone but not touching the stem of the shrub.

Yew Shrub Care Tips


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 provides some protection from winter burn on the foliage.

Soil and Water

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.

Temperature and Humidity

Yew shrubs love warmth and humidity—up to a point. They don't grow well in extremely hot weather and require a lot of extra care when grown in areas hotter than Zone 8.


Once a month during the first year, dissolve a water-soluble 10-10-10 ratio fertilizer in water and apply it around the shrub to promote growth. After that, a once-yearly application of a balanced granular or liquid fertilizer around the dripline is sufficient. For the amount to use, follow product label instructions.


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.

Pests and Problems

Yew shrubs are sometimes infested by mealybugs and spider mites. In the case of mealybugs, an application of insecticidal soap sprayed directly on the mealybugs should kill them. For spider mites, spray the pests with a blast of water to dislodge them from the plant, and then in the fall, apply a horticultural or neem oil following the product directions.

How to Propagate Yew Shrubs

It's best to be patient when propagating yew shrubs. The process can take up to 10 weeks or much longer if you start from seed.

In autumn, select 9 to 10-inch cuttings that are no thicker than 1/4 inch from the tip of a stem. Remove any leaves from the bottom half and dip the cutting in rooting powder. Make a hole in the planting medium, insert the cutting, and press the planting medium to enclose the cutting. Water the cuttings and keep them in an area that maintains a temperature of 75°F, such as a sunny indoor window or a cold frame. If the location cannot keep the temperature at least 60°F at all times, place the pots on a heat mat designed for propagation purposes. Use a grow light unless the location has bright sun most of the day.

Yew seeds are available for sale or can be harvested from existing plants (remember, they are toxic). Combine compost and sand for a growing medium. Lightly press the seeds into the surface, not covering them completely. Sprinkle lightly with sand, water the pots, and place them in a cold frame or a protected area in the garden. Check on them occasionally, and water when the soil is dry to 1 inch, but don't expect quick results. It might take two years before you see a seedling!

Types of Yew

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 male and produce only pollen, while another produces only fruit. The pollen of yews can cause severe reactions in 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 (toxic) seed, The plant attracts birds to eat the fruit, the flesh of which is the only part of the plant that is not toxic. 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.

'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 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. It 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

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long do yew shrubs live in the garden or landscape?

    Yews are astonishingly long-lived. Even conservative estimates indicate they can live 1,000 years, and some reports are that they live much longer! It is even believed that the ancient (and mythical) Yggdrasil tree of Norse mythology was a yew tree.

  • Why are yew shrubs known to "bleed."

    The sap of yew shrubs is blood-red. When the bark of the shrub is injured, it appears to be bleeding as the red sap leaks out. This phenomenon isn't harmful to the yew and doesn't last long. The sap doesn't have a noticeable smell. Like most of the rest of the shrub, the sap is toxic.

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  1. Taxus x media, North Carolina State University Extension

  2. Yew. ASPCA

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