How to Grow a Yew From Seed
Yew foliage and seeds are very toxic to humans; wear gloves when handling them.
Yew, or Taxus baccata, occurs naturally across much of Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Growing to 60 feet in height, it is a medium-sized evergreen tree with a shrubby shape made up of dark-green, needlelike foliage and a summertime display of small red berries. Gardeners in USDA zones 5 though 8 have the best luck growing yew trees and many people choose to propagate yews at home for large landscape plantings. Propagating yew trees from seed is a simple task, but due to the low viability of the seeds and the protracted germination period, it may take several attempts to achieve success.
Put on gloves. Harvest a dozen or so ripe yew berries in late summer once they turn glossy and bright red. Gather them in a wire mesh colander.
Place the colander in a bucket. Mash the yew berries against the sides of the colander to work the seeds free. Run water over the berries and seeds using a garden hose.
Dump the contents of the colander into the bucket of water. Scoop out the floating berry flesh using your gloved hand. Pour the water through the colander to collect the seeds. Spread the yew seeds across a paper towel to dry while the planting pots are prepared.
Combine equal parts compost and coarse sand to create a good rooting mix for the yew seeds. Fill several 10-inch plastic pots with the compost and sand mixture. Make one pot for each yew seed.
Water each pot to a depth of 5 inches using a garden hose. Allow the compost and sand mixture to drain for a few minutes before planting the yew seeds.
Press the yew seeds into the surface of the soil until most of the seed is buried but the top is visible. Sprinkle a light layer of sand across the top of the seed to insulate it while still allowing sunlight to reach it. Replace the sand covering as needed, if it becomes dislodged during watering.
Place the potted yew seeds into a cold frame or along an east-facing wall where they will receive some protection from the elements. Mist the seeds to a depth of 1 inch using a garden hose with an adjustable nozzle whenever the soil feels dry just below the surface. Do not allow the seeds to dry out or sit in soggy soil.
Open the cold frame slightly during the winter to allow for evaporation, good air circulation and exposure to chilly temperatures, which are required for proper germination of yew seeds. Continue watering.
Check the seeds occasionally for signs of germination, but it may take two winters for them to sprout.
Remove the pots from the cold frame once they sprout and develop several sets of true leaves. Place the pots in a spot with light shade. Mist the soil and seedlings with the garden hose and adjustable nozzle to keep the foliage from drying out.
Plant the saplings in a permanent bed with good drainage and partial sun exposure once they reach 5 inches in height. Delay permanent planting in USDA zones 7 and 8 until the yew trees have developed a good root system and are 10 inches in height.
- "American Horticultural Society Plant Propagation: The Fully Illustrated Plant-by-Plant Manual of Practical Techniques"; Alan Toogood; 1999
Samantha McMullen began writing professionally in 2001. Her nearly 20 years of experience in horticulture informs her work, which has appeared in publications such as Mother Earth News.