How to Prune a Yew Hedge

Updated February 21, 2017

Yews are popular shrubs for partial to full sun locations. Yews are versatile plants that may have erect or spreading growth habits. The evergreen plants are suitable for ornamental specimens, foundation plantings or training as a hedge. They provide seasonal interest with bright red berries in fall and soft glossy needles. Yews have a naturally graceful shape that trimming enhances. The plants are steady growing and require maintenance annually in spring to keep the growth in check. Yews can tolerate severe pruning and even removal of old and thick wood. Yews used as hedges require frequent although minimal trimming to keep the shape.

Use a pair of well-sharpened hand pruners for the majority of the cuts. Yews grow thick older wood at the base, but the majority of the wood you will be removing is less than 1/2 inch thick and is easily cut with hand pruners. Loppers are useful for anything more than 1/2 inch, and in rare instances, you can use a saw for very old, thick wood.

Cut out old, dead and diseased wood to open up the frame and help you see where your next cuts should be. Very little needs to be removed from the interior unless there are main framework branches that have grown across each other or are rubbing. Take any branches back to 1/4 inch before the originating wood.

Prune off errant growth that spoils the appearance of the hedge at any time of the year. The same rules apply where you cut back to an initiating piece of wood or to a growth node. If cutting back to a growth node, you also cut into the wood 1/4 inch before the budding point.

Take off up to one-third of the height and sides if the hedge needs rejuvenation. The one-third rule applies to almost all woody plants and provides for heavy pruning when the plants have been neglected. You can remove up to one-third of the oldest, thickest wood to promote softer, new growth and start over with a retraining program. Take this old wood down to the ground.

Cut the yew with electric or gas shears once a year for a smooth appearance. Cut the top slightly domed and allow the sides to graduate out at a minimal angle. This allows sunlight to hit the lowest leaves and branches. Use smooth, even strokes as you pass over the plant.

Things You'll Need

  • Hand pruners
  • Loppers
  • Saw
  • Electric or gas hedge trimmers
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About the Author

Bonnie Grant began writing professionally in 1990. She has been published on various websites, specializing in garden-related instructional articles. Grant recently earned a Bachelor of Arts in business management with a hospitality focus from South Seattle Community College.