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?
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
Experience is the thing you have left when everything else is gone.
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
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.
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
Crime doesn't pay... does that mean my job is a crime?
You can try opening it up by pruning some branches from within to let
Then growth can start within and you keep doing this and gradually
This can take 2-3 years to complete but should work.
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
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.
The cost of living hasn't affected its popularity.
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
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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!
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