Chances are there’s a hedge in your neighborhood. Our home came with a hedge of Yew (Taxus) bushes so I’m unsure of the exact variety. These evergreen shrubs provide a great barrier between the sunken patio and the sidewalk without being too tall to block the view of our door.
Most years I haven’t noticed any flowers, so I recently paid more attention. Flowers are small and short-lived, but numerous. They seem to line-up along the underside of branches on the top of the plant. The flowers are an orange bulb-shape with a lighter colored spray at the end.
Needles cover stiff branches heading in every direction, overlapping each other to reach the outer edges of the plant. The closer to the edge, the more numerous the needles lining the branch. In general, needles are a darker pine green color. New growth, however, is soft and bright lime-green in stark contrast with the rest of the plant.
As the winter ends and spring begins, new growth indicated by lime-green stems and needles sprouts all around the outer edges of the plant. Concealed flowers seem to produce a high pollen count.
The new growth from spring has already darkened to match the rest of the plant. The soft and bright lime-green new growth of summer is isolated to the end of stems.
Growth seems to slow to a snail’s pace in fall. The shrub takes on a grayer tone. Leaves falling from neighboring trees rest on top and are caught throughout the plant.
When we moved in, the yew was damaged on one side. To even it out, someone cut it way down, to about 1.5 feet tall. It then took 5 more years to reach the top of a 3-foot fence. It took 9 years if you don’t count the stray branches that were trimmed to match the overall height of the plant.
Trim your yew to be any shape you desire. You can find plenty of examples of Yew topiary on the internet. Yews are more commonly planted in a row and trimmed as a rectangular hedge. New growth reaches beyond these boundaries, often at 45 degree angles. If you don’t want to maintain a manicured look, you can let the branches jut out freely in every direction.
The Yew is a workhorse. It’s bulky, tough, rough, and slow-going. If you have the space, a yew provides a density of foliage that’s hard to match. Our Yew has held up well, especially considering its proximity to a city sidewalk where it sometimes takes a bit of a beating. It can recover from some trauma with scars. The slow growth does not enable the plant to fill in damaged areas very quickly. On the other hand, slow growth serves to keep the plant under control.
When planting Buttercup alongside a Yew, the Yew offers the Buttercup support; and the Buttercup brings color to the Yew. Pair a Yew with Ivy as long as you have space for the Ivy to expand in another direction. It is tedious to pull ivy vines out of the yew. And use a Yew as a backdrop for flowering plants such as Crimson Scabiosa. Avoid pairing Yews with plants that clash with the brighter green of its new growth.
To keep them well-manicured, Yews need to be trimmed on a regular basis, perhaps several times a year. I have heard it’s best to trim Yews on cloudy days so the sun doesn’t hurt newly trimmed edges. The whole shrub should be cleaned out occasionally as trimmings, fallen leaves, and litter tend to get caught and accumulate among branches. The Yew has lasted through many winters and droughts. Keep this plant out-of-reach of unsupervised children and hungry pets as most parts are toxic if ingested. Cats and other creatures sometimes enjoy hiding under this dense foliage.