“Anything but yews!” “ I hate yews!” are phrases we landscape designers hear over and over from clients.
And we understand. We really do.
We have all seen overgrown yews that crowd an entrance, shrinking the walkway so much you have to approach it sideways. We have seen well-intentioned homeowners prune their yews into something that can only be described as big and green. And we have seen homes all but swallowed up by huge yew hedge that covers the front façade and block any natural light from reaching the windows.
But I can only say that you can’t blame the yew.
The very qualities that cause these monstrosities also make the yew hedge a valuable landscape plant.
- They last! Yews are slow-growing and long-lived, and often grow more wide than tall. Some of the oldest trees of Taxus baccata in the British Isles exceed 1,000 years old. The Fortingall Yew, outside a churchyard in Perthshire, Scotland, is estimated to be around 5,000 years old, and is thought to be the oldest living tree not only in Britain, but probably in all of Europe.
- Yews (Taxus) are versatile evergreens perfect for many landscape uses. They show great variation in height, growth habit, and other important characteristics. This makes it possible for the designer to select those that suit the specific use and site best.
- Yews, allowed to grow without clipping or shearing, develop into magnificent specimen plants, but they are most often used as formal hedges and for topiary work.
- The prostrate and spreading kinds are effective ground covers.
- Yew is a great shrub for borders, entrance-ways, paths, specimen gardening, or mass plantings.
- Yew thrive in most soils. While this evergreen shrub flourishes in sun to partial sun and well-drained soil, it is tolerant of most any exposure and soil make-up with the exception of overly wet soil.
- In addition, Taxus yew shrubs tend to be *deer-resistant, drought resistant and tolerant of repeated shearing and pruning, making yew shrub care relatively easy.
Here’s an Update, March 2018
I am updating this blog now that we are having a much different experience. Thanks to Rik Haugen of Garden Design Network in Chelsea Michigan. Rik recently contacted us with a comment: “Interesting article on yews on your website, unfortunately here in southeast Michigan, yews appear to be a universal favorite food of choice for the deer population. You might want to edit the article to reflect that.” Rik went on to say, “You have a great website, but thought I should pass on what we are observing in Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills and all of southeast Michigan. I spend a lot of time outdoors and have never seen such deer concentrations as up there; they are tame and fat! No doubt some of the folks up there love to feed Bambi.”
In our past experience here in a suburban landscape the deer population has had a wide variety of plant material on which to munch before they get to the yews. But the more desperate they become the more likely they are to eat just anything. In recent years we have noticed they have extended their territory, even into densely populated neighborhoods. We are experiencing sightings as never before. They are being noticed in busy intersections and neighborhoods just blocks off of 6-lane Woodward Avenue.
As the local deer population increases and competition for the buffet grows, we have even known them to eat mature rose bushes. Seems nothing is off limits.
Some of our favorites, for different reasons, are:
Everlow yew (Taxus x media ‘Everlow”) is a low-growing spreader with dark green needles. It grows 1-2 feet tall with a 3-4 foot spread and is drought, sun, and shade tolerant.
Brown’s yew (Taxus media ‘Brownii’) forms a dense, rounded shrub to 10 feet tall and wide.
Capitata yew (Taxus cuspidata ‘Capitata’) forms a broad dense pyramid, slow growing to 40 feet tall.
Densiformis yew (Taxus media ‘Densiformis’) is a good choice for hedges, grows about 4 feet tall and 6 feet wide.
Green Wave yew (Taxus cuspidata ‘Green Wave’) forms a low, arching mound to 4 feet tall and 5 feet wide.
Hicks yew (Taxus media ‘Hicksii’) is a fast-growing hybrid with an open habit that is great for hedges. This variety grows 25 feet tall by 10 feet wide.
Taunton yew (Taxus media ‘Tauntonii’) becomes a low-spreading mound to 3 feet across. It tolerates weather extremes of wind, heat and cold well, and is a great plant for dry, shaded spots.
Generally speaking, the yew is an easy-care, slow-growing, shade tolerant, drought tolerant, and highly adaptable shrub, that thrives in all kind of soils. It is valued for its versatility as a specimen, a foundation plant, a hedge plant, and as topiary. And there are spreading and upright varieties available.
So the next time one of our clever designers suggests a yew for your landscape, don’t dismiss it out of hand. It may not have big showy flowers or multi-colored foliage, but its soft green needles and low maintenance will win you over.
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