Pruning Overgrown Yew

Fori is not pleasedAugust 4, 2005

I have a pair of old yews flanking my porch that have gotten too wide and my spouse is threatening them. I'm afraid if I try to make them thinner they will get bare spots. (And if I don't make them thinner their lives will be in danger!) Will yew leaf out from leafless inner areas if they're exposed or will I end up with ugly bare spots? Is there a good time to cut?

Can anyone educate me on how these things grow? I believe it's _T. cuspidata_ but I'm not sure. It grows more up than out...the desired shape of these plants is a naturalish blob, not a sheared gumdrop, but most of the green on them is on the outside. I suspect they'd be a good topiary variety.

Any tips would be appreciated. Thanks!

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saypoint(6b CT)

Taxus is one of the few conifers that can be cut back hard and will regrow from old woody branches. You will have an ugly shrub until it fills in, but it will, in time. I believe the best time is in spring. If you don't want to butcher it all at once, you can selectively remove some branches back to the interior of the shrub, and it will start sending out new growth from behind the cut.

The problem with Yews is that they are often planted too close to the house. They can get quite large if left unpruned.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2005 at 9:49AM
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Fori is not pleased

Great to hear! Thank you!!

    Bookmark   August 4, 2005 at 10:11AM
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I second all that.

At one time or another I have cut every one of mine right back to a six inch stump and they just come back fine. If you don't like the ugliness for the first year or two (I just stick a container plant in front of the stump that first year) you can do it one big limb at a time.

I don't care that much for yews but they are the very devil to remove and these were already in place when I got here, so I cut them back hard and now they are just the right size and shape.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2005 at 10:35AM
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beanie34(z6b MD)

Hi! first-timer poster-
We also have a massively overgrown front space shrub, a litteleaf? boxwood Buxus something. I have been hesitant to cut it back since it's now late summer, but I really like ReginaCW's idea of putting a container plant to screen the stump!

Are boxwoods also hard to remove? we're thinking of entirely redo-ing the front approach & may just get rid of the overgrown monster. I think it's about 40yrs old. Will drastic pruning it so late in the summer cause it to die anyway? Am i just better off getting rid of it?

We have to do something b/c it blocks the path & we're committed to laying a new walkway before winter.
Any suggestions welcome. thanks!

    Bookmark   August 9, 2005 at 11:04AM
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Well, if you might get rid of it anyway, why not cut it right down and see what happens? I think I'd wait as late as possible (if it's dormant you won't have to worry about it putting out too much tender growth right before winter) and then cut almost to the ground. My book on shrubs says that this is in fact exactly what you do with hedges that have, a half-inch at a time, gotten too high; cut 'em way, way, way down and start over. Boxwood is one that they mention by name.

I have no idea if they are hard to remove. But it seems a shame to get rid of a nice, well established boxwood just because it got too big, when that part of the problem is really easy to solve.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2005 at 12:34PM
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beanie34(z6b MD)

Regina - thanks for your message! it does seem a shame to get rid of it, but check out the photo in the link below. it's quite walled in the front walk and completely blocks any alternative approach... =) fortunately there's another row of boxwood continuing on the lawn that we'll probably just prune down - I'll wait till late fall for that (it's pretty warm here til quite compared to Mass).

Here is a link that might be useful: MonsterBoxwood

    Bookmark   August 9, 2005 at 1:02PM
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My, that is big.

I am not quite sure I understand: do you wish to get rid of it entirely? In that case, remove away! If you are wondering if you can cut it right down almost to the ground (I think I'd go with around a foot high) in order to make it a nice manageable size, then the answer is yes.

I can't say with certainty that doing this in the fall is foolproof, since I've only ever done it or seen it done in the spring. My gut feeling is that something so well established and healthy will probably do OK.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2005 at 2:15PM
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beanie34(z6b MD)

Yes, you sensed our indecisiveness. I think we'll drastic prune for now; it'll give us a sense of how the front approach might be redesigned without the dominant effect of that huge shrub. Got my husband on board with the pruning now!

    Bookmark   August 11, 2005 at 5:20PM
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Appreciate finding all the information posted last fall on overgrown yew hedges!

I am planning to attack a hedge that measures about 150' by 6' wide by 8-9' high. I want to keep the hedge but on my terms. I want to end up with sopmething with sloping sides (hedge is oriented exactly east-west and my side is the north side). I am looking for something about 5'6' high and along the lines of 4' wide at the base and about 2 foot-ish at the top.

All suggestions welcomed as to when and how to do this!!! Thanx!!!

    Bookmark   February 20, 2006 at 4:12PM
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laceyvail(6A, WV)

Yew can be rejuvenated by cutting back to a stump. Boxwood will die.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2006 at 7:52AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

A friend of mine did remove her boxwood and the pieces that were left lying around the front yard for a while promptly began putting out new growth. I'm not so sure these are easy to kill!

Joe, your planned hedge shape is exactly what DG Hessayon recommends in his Expert Series. Spring is probably best.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2006 at 1:02PM
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harryshoe zone6 eastern Pennsylvania

The Electric Co. cut my 10' yew down to 1'. I was so mad I threatened to sue them. About 2 months later it looked like a Chia Pet. I have never seen anything grow back from old wood like a yew.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2006 at 4:01PM
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We have just moved into an old Vancouver home with an unkempt 40' by 16 to 18' yew hedge running on a north/south axis. We are on the west side.

Last December a heavy snow bent the yew onto the house and it is now shading camelias, etc. Should I just prop the hedge up for now then go at it in a month? And you all make it sounds so easy -- should I take on the pruning or bring in help?

Any advice is welcome.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2007 at 1:16PM
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Just been reading Christopher Lloyd on subject of overgrown yew hedges. He recommends halving them - cutting one side back drastically, feeding and then waiting until following year to cut back the other side.
Was glad to see it because the yew at the corner of my house was halved by the contractor who put new siding on last fall. They literally cut it in half. I'll probably wait until next year before trimming back the other half but am going to give it a lot of Osmocote (it has snowdrops,winter aconite and double bloodroot as well as hoop petticoat daffs under it so don't want to use anything that will burn).

    Bookmark   February 24, 2007 at 7:27AM
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Hi everyone,

We have 4 yew bushes at each corner of our lawn that are about 12 foot high and 5 foot wide that are roughly stepped in a kind of topiary, but are nw starting to get too big and i feel like a change
What would happen if i cut the trees right back to their trunks and lopped off the top 3 foot or so? eventually i would like some kind of narrow pyramid shape

    Bookmark   June 19, 2008 at 5:22AM
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Recently I bought a small 1941-built house. It has two landscaped areas fronting the foundation on either side of the front entrance. One side is attractively planted with two Purpleleaf Sand Cherry shrubs, Spirea Goldmound and Little Princess Spirea.

The other side has two overgrown 10-foot-tall upright yews, which have a dead-as-vaudeville juniper in between them. These shrubs are fronted by various spirea that grow no taller than 2 1/2 ft. The real estate listing with PHOTOS is at

I'd like to replace the three offending shrubs with something to make this side of the front entrance more in balance with the other side, but I cannot. Besides being next to the foundation, they are directly over the gas line, the water main, and the sewer pipe leading to the street.
I'm considering cutting them down as close to the ground as possible, tucking a couple of Nine Bark Summer Wine shrubs into the area behind the spirea, and hoping the new shrubs will live. Fortunately, there's unplanted space at the corner of the house, so I should be able to get at least one Summer Wine to survive.

Will a yew that's more than 60 years old really grow back and look like a Chia Pet in a matter of months, as happened with Harry Shoe's yew? If so, is it unrealistic to think I can just keep sawing it down? I've read that yew wood is extremely dense, so trying to kill the stump with glyphosate or tryclopyr is likely to get me nowhere, right? (A chipper is not possible because of the underlying pipes.)

Any suggestions, solutions, ideas for replacement shrubs, etc. are most welcome. If preferred, a personal response can be send to Thanks.

Here is a link that might be useful: House&Yard/Photos of my yews.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2008 at 10:54PM
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I'm in pretty much the same boat with an about 50' long hedge of 20 or so yew plants. I'd like to cut them back to stumps and get them under control. Am I going to end up just killing them?

When would be the best time? Before the spring growth starts? During?

Link below has some pics:

Here is a link that might be useful: Overgrown Yews

    Bookmark   April 4, 2009 at 12:51PM
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I have 3 over grown Yew trees in my garden, around 10 feet long and 4 feet wide. I was told that I can not prune them anymore otherwise they will die. They are bare from the inside and turning yellow. What can I do to save them?

    Bookmark   June 16, 2011 at 1:45PM
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Who told you they would die? That sounds strange. Can you post a picture of your yews so we can see what you're dealing with?

    Bookmark   June 16, 2011 at 7:34PM
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