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.
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?
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
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.
Zone 6, South-central PA
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.
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.
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,
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.
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