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Help! Mature Yew Shape?

Gardening Reference » Gardening in 2005
by Gupleton on October 30, 2005 04:10 AM
Hi all. I'm new. I need help and inspiration.

At the foundation of our new house is a neglected yew tree. It was huge and shapeless and overgrown when we moved in. I've now done some basic pruning, removing crossovers and such. What I've got now is some nice graceful curving stems with a spreading habit, and some paltry tufts of foliage on top. There is no lower or center foliage at all, it all died off due to lack of light. The top is more or less flat.

The thing is, I'm not sure what a mature yew tree *should* look like, so I'm not sure what I'm aiming for. Should I be keeping the top flat? Trying to revive the center foliage? How much of it? How many of the central stems should I be keeping? I'd like it to look stemmy and weathered and interesting, like a big bonsai, but I'm not sure what shape to give the foliage. Has anyone links to photos or articles?
by peppereater on October 31, 2005 10:01 AM
Gupleton...I'm a professional tree pruner, but yews aren't as common here as in other parts of the country. I have planted a number of them, and my objective when I train them is to prune as little as possible and allow them to take on natural shapes. Sounds as though this yew is beyond going that route. If it's attractive with the flat top, that's okay, but whatever you do, don't try to do too much at once. If you can stand the way it looks now, then at least wait until spring to do anything else. You can even compromise winter hardiness with excessive pruning. Just how big is this thing? any chance of posting a picture? I tried to google "yew" and some other variations in Google images, but didn't find any really satisfactory images right away. Let me know if you come up with any ideas or need more help. [thumb]
by obywan59 on October 31, 2005 02:46 PM
Yews, (unlike junipers) will sprout new growth if bare stems are cut back. If you thought you wanted it to be shorter and denser, you could cut a third of the branches way back to stimulate new growth. Then repeat by cutting another third next year, and finish the last of the branches the 3rd year.

I think some yews if left to grow naturally can become tree sized, and since it's right next to your foundation, maybe smaller is better????
Most people keep yews trimmed with hedge shears when they are next to the house.

Another option though, might be to try to do "cloud pruning" where you have long stretches of bare stem with tufts of growth at the ends that you keep trimmed in neat "balls"

This link has a couple of pictures of cloud pruning.

These links have brief discussions of cloud pruning.

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May the force be with you
by Gupleton on November 01, 2005 05:02 AM
Thank you both... I will take your advice and leave it alone and see where it seems to be wanting to grow foliage in the spring. The cloud pruning method looks like a good bet, perhaps modified to look a little less formal. I think I will abandon the flat top--it doesn't look good, and will invite snow to pile up, and I will go for a more natural structure.

In answer to the size question (sorry, no digital camera) it is about 5 feet high and about ... I think six feet wide in one direction and four feet in another. Because it is next to the foundation I would like it to be shorter and somewhat narrower, so I will try cutting back some stems over the next few years.

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