Severe pruning of old yews?

I have a row of large, old (best estimate if 50 years) yews in my backyard that I would like to try and revitalize. They were not tended well for quite some time before I bought the house and they now are nothing more than a thin green crown and all wood underneath. There's almost no green on the sides.
What I'm wondering is if they would survive an almost complete cutback and break wood. Or, if it's even worth the time to try. I would still like to have a hedge there to screen my neighbor's yard.
Unfortunately, I do not know the exact variety of these shrubs. Only that they are yews. Any information or suggestions would be useful.
Thanks
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You should leave at least a little green. Very robust yews can be cut back to bare wood (the only conifer I know of where this can be done) and still pop new green growth, but if they're as thin as you say, then budding back will be negligible/nonexistent. Is the area deeply shaded, or are the yews crowded by other plantings?
Dave

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Well, you're in luck. Yews are unusual in that they will send up new growth from old wood (unlike, for example, junipers). I would not recommend, however, taking them back all at once. You will need to do the work in stages. I would plan on taking three or four years for it. Cut back half of the branches on one side the first year, the other half the next, then do the other side.
I would also top dress the soil around them with compost and mulch, and make sure they stay watered if you experience dry weather--established yews are fairly drought tolerant, but you will be asking a lot of them in terms of new growth.
I have done this successfully with twenty year old yews. It took a while for them to fill back in, but they look great now.
Cheers, Sue
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Thanks everyone for all the suggestions. A little more info:
After looking at them again, I may be able to cut them back to almost withing a foot of the ground and leave a little green on each plant. Over the last couple of years, I have been cutting back the side facing my yard pretty hard (can't get to the neighbor's side due to a chain-link fence, which is why I want a screen there) to try and get some sunlight into the bottom of the plants. This has allowed them to sprout some new growth closer to the ground.
These plants aren't overcrowded, but they are shaded by a nearby magnolia. They get morning and late-afternoon/evening sun, but almost none during midday.
I have gotten so sick of seeing them in their current state, that I'm going to try this this year. If they don't survive, I'll yank them out and replant. I've gotten good an pulling out yews with a jeep and a tow strap as there were a bunch more that weren't worth saving on the other side of the house.
Only question I have is what the timing should be for doing the cutting. Should it be dow before the first spring growing spurt? It's starting to warm up and I've got some perennials starting to come up, so the yews won't be far behind.

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Now is a great time in Zone 7.
Dave

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Guess I should have specified, I'm in Central Illinois, so that would be zone 6. We've only just started getting into above freezing temps during the day. Averages for this time of year are still below freezing at night.

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Sounds anti-Semitic to me, Melvin.

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I saw a thing on TOH that I'm going to try on a few of my overgrown foundation plantings. It takes 3 growing seasons where you open the plant by pruning off internal branches (a third every season) to let light in for interior growth. Untimately you will have pruned back to a smaller, healthier plant. Frank
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On Mon, 23 Feb 2004 12:31:49 GMT, "Frank Logullo"

That is a technique I have used on a number of plantings, yews, holly, boxwood, azelea for a few. It takes a while but you end up with the size that you want without going through a year or more of ugly.
John
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