How to Prune an Overgrown Yew Shrub

Overview

If you're a homeowner with shrubs, chances are, one or more of them are yews. These soft, flat-needled shrubs are easy to maintain and attractive all year round. If you've chosen the right variety, you should seldom have to prune it. If yours is overgrown due to years of undisciplined "bolting," though, you may be thinking about renovating it. Yews stand heavy pruning better than many conifers but follow these simple steps to increase the probability of success with yours.

Step 1

Shear twigs back with a hedge trimmer or hand shears to old wood in late winter while the overgrown shrub is dormant. Reduce branches by one-third to one-half their heights to reshape it.

Step 2

Round the edges around the tops of overgrown shrubs. Many shrub yews, given their heads, will grow "flat tops" that catch snow and leaves, pulling outer branches down and often breaking them.

Step 3

Trim branch tips that suddenly shoot up (called bolting) after winter pruning so the yew makes no overall growth but only fills in bare spots. An additional trim in mid-June or early July will keep it from setting out new branches from which to bolt next spring.

Step 4

Prune back gradually if possible, taking half the branch back each winter while the yew is dormant. After 3 years, you will have reduced the size of the shrub substantially.

Tips and Warnings

  • Wear gloves and long sleeves when trimming yews; their sap can be irritating in cuts or scrapes. Spread a tarp or sheet under them to catch and contain trimmings because their foliage contains toxins.

Things You'll Need

  • Hedge trimmer or hand shears
  • Pruning shears
  • Pruning lopper
  • Pruning saw
  • Garden gloves
  • Tarp or sheet
  • Broom
  • Rake

References

  • "Fine Gardening: How to Prune Conifers"
  • "Ccenassau.org: Pruning Trees and Shrubs"

Who Can Help

  • "Local.garden.org: Pruning a Hedge Bluefield WV"
  • "University of Illinois Extension: Anglojap Yew Data Sheet"
  • "AgriLife Extension: Follow Proper Pruning Techniques"
Keywords: yews, overgrown shrubs, pruning shrubs

About this Author

Chicago native Laura Reynolds has been writing for 40 years. She attended American University (D.C.), Northern Illinois University and University of Illinois Chicago and has a B.S. in communications (theater). Originally a secondary school communications and history teacher, she's written one book and edited several others. She has 30 years of experience as a local official, including service as a municipal judge.