How to dig up yews

Updated February 21, 2017

Yew trees grow all over the UK. Yew root systems grow deep and have a wide spread, so if you plan to transplant the yew to a different location, it needs a rather large root ball. The best time to transplant a yew is early spring. This allows the plant enough time to establish in its new location before cold weather returns.

Lift the yew's branches as high as possible, and tie a few pieces of twine around them to hold them in place.

Measure the yew tree's height. If the yew is taller than 2.1 or 2.4 m (7 or 8 feet), consider hiring a professional to remove it. Trees this tall are heavy and difficult to manoeuvre to a new location.

Divide the yew's height in centimetres by 1.66 to find out the ideal diameter for the root ball (or height in inches by 18 to get the root ball spread in feet). For example, if your yew is 150 cm (60 inches) tall, its root ball should have a 90 cm (3 foot) diameter. Use the trunk as the root ball's centre point, and measure 45 cm (1 1/2 feet) in either direction going across, then up and down. Push a shovel into the ground at each measurement.

Dig a trench around the yew with a shovel, using the marks you made as a guide. Push the shovel straight into the ground as deeply as possible. Begin a second pass around the yew tree with the shovel; this time angle the shovel's tip slightly toward the yew's trunk to begin forming the root ball's rounded bottom.

Work your way around the yew until you have freed it from the ground. Spread a large piece of sacking on the ground. Lift the yew out of the hole, and centre it on the sacking. Fold the burlap up and around the root ball. Tie the sack's edges in place with a piece of twine.

Place the yew tree in a wheelbarrow or wagon, and move it to its new location. Transplant the yew tree as soon as possible.


If the ground is dry, moisten the soil with a garden hose 24 hours before you begin to dig up the yew tree. If you do not wish to transplant the yew tree, you can make the root ball smaller and skip wrapping it in sacking.

Things You'll Need

  • Twine
  • Tape measure
  • Shovel
  • Sacking
  • Wheelbarrow or wagon
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