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.
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.
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.
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.
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.