Overgrown shrub

I've got a hugely overgrown yew shrub/tree by my front steps. It's at least 10 or 11 feet tall, and quite too big around. Can I prune it back to 6 or seven feet and maybe take some off the diameter, without killing it? Will any deformed areas caused by pruning eventually get covered up by new growth?
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Nil said:

Yew's don't take to hard pruning, dood. All their leaves are on the outside, unlike a boxwood. I'm in the process of removing almost all of the yews around my house for that reason. Lose a branch and it may be 20 years before it's completely filled back in. When they become that size, in an inappropriate area, and you either have to live with as they are, or remove them.
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alt.home.lawn.garden:

That was eggzactly the answer I was afraid of. I did notice that the needles grow only on the ends of the branches, forming a shell. I guess I'll need to tear it out. Too bad - it's well-shaped and healthy, just twice as big as it should be.
What would you consider replacing it with? I'm in eastern Massachusetts?
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Look for things with the word "dwarf", "miniature", or "small" in the name. The biggest problem I run into is having to tear out plants for people who didn't read the label to see how big it eventually gets. They're usually looking for immediate gratification with a plant that's close to the size they want long-term, but aren't willing to pay for one that's already mature.
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Nil said:

As was stated, look for dwarf varieties. It also depends on what you're looking for; conifer, deciduous, flowering, berries, etc. Depends a bit on the light in the area, as well as the acidity of the soil. Bottom line, there's a lot of factors.
What size shrub are you looking for, when it's fully mature?
How about a nice boxwood that you could prune to the shape of a guitar? =D
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You can try opening it up by pruning some branches from within to let in light. Then growth can start within and you keep doing this and gradually prune back. This can take 2-3 years to complete but should work. Frank
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It does work I have done it but it does take time. Bob
wrote:

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Frank said:

A LOT will depend on the variety of Yew. If it's an upright Yew, it's going to want to be 10'-12' tall and 10'-15' in diameter. There's no way around that, as that's how big that plant grows. It's growth to that size can be slowed by removing 1/2 to 3/4 of the *new* growth each year. Eventually, it will get to the size it's supposed to be, though. Trying to force it to any other size will not bring about desired results. If it's a Hick's Yew (5'-10'H x 4'-6'D), it *may* work, but will still most likely look horrible.
It definately sounds like yet another case of an inappropriate plant for it's location, an all too common mistake. Best thing would be to remove the overgrown shrub, and find a plant that won't exceed the dimensions specified by the location.
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alt.home.lawn.garden:

This sounds like my tree. I keep it shaped, but it doesn't seem to be trying to get much taller.

The plant came with the house when I bought it 18 years ago. It was big then and I guess I let it take its course through neglect. There's actually another one on the other side of the walkway, but it's not as much in the way as much as the other one, but it could still stand to be replaced.
I think I'm going to just lop off the too for now. It will probably look ugly, but that will solve the functional problem (blocking the light on my front steps) for now, until I find a suitable replacement. Much as I like the idea of a guitar topiary, I don't think I could decide between a Gibson and an Epiphone.
I wonder if, when the time comes, if the root system is shallow enough for me to dig it out myself? Do you have any feel for that?
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Nil said:

From your earlier description, it was my first guess. They're beautiful shrubs, but they're one of the most common "misplaced", that I've seen (trees aside). Yews are just pains in the ass (IMO) because of their growth habit. They're VERY slow to recover due to the fact that all of the foilage is on the perimeter of the plant. Lose any to insects, storms, disease, etc, and they're ugly for a long time. =(

If it "took it's course", it wasn't due to neglect. That's just how they grow. =)

Ugly is in the eye of the beer holder. =) Ya, dood, it's gonna look kinda weird. My guess is you'll be looking for it's replacement soon. ;)

Damn, LOL. I just spewed all over my monitor. Never saw that one coming. =)

It sounds fully mature. You're going to have fun. =D Seriously, if it's that big, it's going to have a pretty massive root system. I've been removing much smaller (different variety) yews, and they've had pretty good root systems. You don't need to get it all, but you're probably going to have a pretty hefty hole, when you're through.
If you know anyone with a small trac-hoe, or can rent one cheaply, it would be the way to go. Just cut it down, as you would a tree, and then dig what you can out, with the bucket. Buy some good garden-mix soil from a reputable, local compost company, to fill the hole. You'll have a much easier time replanting, and the nutrients in the garden-mix will help the new planting establish itself easier/faster. Just make sure you plant it a bit "high" in the hole. 2"-4" would be ideal. Most people make the mistake of planting the top of the rootball even with the soil. Bad idea. It's a good way to "drown" a new planting. This is especially true with Yews, which prefer a much drier surrounding. It holds true for all but bog plants. I even plant my annuals a bit high, just to be safe.
HTH
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Assuming there's not a lot of rocks and such, not more than a couple of hours. It can help if you cut some of the outer branches to give you room to work, but leave enough of the main trunk/branches to push and pull with, at least chest-high. Dig near the dripline (two or three feet out from the trunk) where the roots are smaller rather right next to the base. Anything too big to cut by standing on your shovel blade, either chop with an axe or clip with a pair of pruners (whatever you have that you don't mind getting in the dirt, it may be worth getting a cheap pair of pruners just for this). Some stuff will come out with only one shovel depth, some take two or three.
If you don't mind driving on your lawn and have a suitable vehicle, a towchain makes things a lot quicker, as long as you take the right precautions, though it is still best to start with at least one shovel depth around the shrub first. (A jacket or blanket on the middle of the chain to keep it from flying if the bush breaks or the chain comes unhooked, attaching to a tow hitch or frame rather than the bumper, going 1-1/2 times around the base of the shrub to form a loop that self-tightens, not "popping" the chain but bringing up the tension slowly until the tires just start to spin, going back for more digging and chopping for anything that doesn't come out on that first pull rather than trying to force it,...)
A friend with a backhoe usually just asks "you wanted it where...?" as they dig it out of the ground. If you can afford it, renting or hiring one is by far the easiest way.
Caveat: my soil is pretty sandy and easy to dig, YMMV.
--Glenn Lyford
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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com said:
[...]

Sound advice, and has been my method when removing large shrubs at my house. The only thing I'd change would be using a tow strap in lieu of a chain.
[rest snipped]
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alt.home.lawn.garden:

Good stuff, thanks! The yew in question is planted in a walled-in terrace-like area along my front steps, and there's no way to get a vehicle or any large equipment. I don't think there's room for a backhoe, either. But you make it sound like it could be done by hand with some muscle and sweat, both of which I can spare. I'll save these suggestions for later. Thanks again.
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If you cut the Yew back to the main trunk, it will eventually re- shoot. What they do not like is -as has been stated - just cutting the branches back to 'dead' wood. You can cut it (the main trunk) off near to ground level to re- juvenate it. But, be prepared for a bit of a wait for it to start to sprout. When is does, it will re-grow quite quickly, as it will have the root system in place to sustain quite rapid growth. And thereafter you can control it annually with a light trim. Hope this helps Regards Data www.gardenseeker.com
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Just a little bit of an add-on to your actual first question, for it seems that 'dragging' the thing out with chains etc - when you stated that it was near some steps - is really not an option. Yews 'can' be pruned back hard, but I do mean hard. If you just snip away into the brown woody twigs a few inches back into the growth, it is unlikely to 'regenerate' from these light prunings. However, if you cut it back hard - back to say wrist-sized limbs, early in the growing season, or even just prior to the growing season, - then it WILL re- shoot fresh new growth which you can then keep under better control by annual pruning. I have many images of this type of pruning - on Yews etc - if you wish to be re-assured then simply contact me through the site. By the way, several of the UK's great gardens have yew topiary, which once they have been neglected, have been rejuvenated, re-shaped, by cutting back hard. Go for it! Regards Data www.gardenseeker.com
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