The yew trees suitable as landscaping tools in North America are not native species. Canadian yew is a member of the same family (Taxus), but does not grow beyond shrub form. Yew trees from Europe and Asia, as well as a hybrid yew tree, are available for many applications. These yew species also come in shrub forms. Some of these yew trees have more tolerance to cold weather than others possess, extending the range across the continent in which you can use them.
Types and Geography
The English yew (Taxus baccata) is a native of southwestern Asia, northern portions of Africa and much of Europe. Also called common yew, English yew has limited cold hardiness, growing in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 and 7, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden. Japanese yew (Taxus cuspidata), found in the wild in Korea, Manchuria and Japan, has better tolerance to chilly winters, growing from USDA plant hardiness zones 4 through 7. The hybrid yew known as Anglojap yew (Taxus x media) is a cross between English and Japanese yew trees. It grows from zones 4 through 7, taking its hardiness from its Asian parent.
The tree form of the English yew grows to between 30 and 60 feet. Hatfieldii and Hicksii are the largest types of Anglojap yew, each growing to 20 feet, with the former sometimes capable of attaining almost 30 feet in height. Normally though, landscapers prune these two down before they reach such size, using them for hedges. The Japanese yew grows from 30 to 50 feet high. Its biggest tree cultivars are Columnaris at up to 30 feet high and Capitata, growing to 25 feet.
The English yew and its cultivar forms grow in full or part shade. Japanese yew and Anglojap yew does as well, but they handle shady spots with ease for a needled evergreen, making them candidates for areas that receive medium to small amounts of sunshine during the day. Well-draining soil is necessary for the yew trees. Sites that are constantly wet or experience seasonal flooding are poor choices for planting a yew tree in. Keep yew trees out of exposed, high areas where winter winds punish the tree.
Features and Uses
The evergreen nature of the flat needles of the yew, combined with the reddish fruits they produce which harbour their seeds, give the trees ornamental value. Pruning them into hedges or topiaries is among the different uses landscapers find for yews. The yew trees work as foundation plants in tree or shrub form, and also serve as privacy screens, background plants in a shrub border or alone as a specimen plant. The smaller shrub forms make good hedges and often wind up used for mass plantings.