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Common Yew, Taxus baccata, is a large native tree that makes a classic evergreen hedging plant. Yew hedging has a rich, deep green colour and clips beautifully into formal lines, billowing curves and sturdy topiary. It is an ideal backdrop to any colourful flowerbed and it is tough enough to be a roadside hedge.
Yew is extremely tough, shade tolerant and will grow anywhere with decent drainage.
Yew will reach about 20 metres if it grows freely as a tree.
The plants on this page are young saplings, ideal for planting as hedging or in woodland projects. You can also buy larger Yew trees with rootballs, which are suitable for both hedges and specimen planting.
Yew hedge plants are delivered bareroot during winter (Nov-March) and pot-grown year round. Bareroot Yew shrubs are cheaper than pot grown plants.
Choosing a size: When you are ordering Yew plants for a hedge, we generally recommend that you use plants that are graded at 40/60cms or 60/80cms. They are cheaper than larger plants, easier to handle and they will establish well in poor conditions. Use larger plants for instant impact, to get a tall hedge quickly or if you intent to clip them as topiary.
All our hedge plants are measured by their height in centimetres above the ground (the roots aren't measured).
Spacing a Yew hedge:
Plant Yew hedging at 3 plants per metre, 33cms apart.
General description of Yew plants:
Yew is dense evergreen with a conifer's lush, needle-type leaves, which make for smooth, even looking surfaces when they are clipped. Unlike other conifers, Yew will regrow from old wood and can be hard pruned, so a yew hedge can be clipped roughly and old, neglected yew hedges can be renovated.
Yew has a reputation for being slow growing: this true of mature hedges, which only need clipping once a year. Young yew plants are quite vigorous; they can grow by a metre in under 3 years. The important thing is to leave the central, leading stem of each plant intact: do not trim the main stem until the hedge has reached the desired height. Only trim the side branches of a new hedge very lightly, to encourage bushy growth.
Grown as a
tree, Yew likes to become wide and stout. Some specimens will grow to about 20 metres, but it is normal for trees in exposed places to be less than that. Yew casts dense shade and effectively prevents the growth of other plants underneath it. It is an extremely tough tree; the only thing it won't tolerate is constantly wet soil.
Yew is an unusual conifer because it produces a fruit with a red, berry-like coating around each single seed, instead of a pine-cone that carries a large number of seeds. The red, juicy part of the fruit is called the aril: it is a uniquely adapted reproductive part of a pine cone found in all other conifers, called an ovuliferous scale. The seeds are eaten and dispersed by birds. It is special in another way too: yew trees begin life as males or females, but old trees will produce the occasional stem of the opposite sex. This allows isolated trees to continue making fertile seeds.
All parts of the Yew tree are poisonous to humans apart from the red coating of the seeds, but even these should not be eaten: if the seed itself is chewed, it releases paralyzing, potentially lethal chemicals.
History & uses of Taxus baccata
Yew is probably the only truly native British tree: no other tree is sure to have been growing here through the last Ice Age. Yew trees live for ages; there are several yews in Britain that are older than 2000 years, which means that they were centuries old when the Romans invaded in the year 43. The yew trees commonly found in churchyards are often much older than the church itself. Yew's long life is partly due to the strength of the wood and the high toxicity of its living tissues, which seem to be almost immune to disease. One of the noxious poisons derived from the green parts of Yew trees, Taxol, is used in modern medicine to kill cancer cells. Yew's ability to regrow from old wood and its shade tolerant leaves mean that old trees can regenerate if they are damaged by storms or harvested for wood, even if they are over shadowed by faster growing broadleaf trees.
Yew has been an extremely important resource to humans since before modern Homo sapiens emerged on the scene about 200,000 years ago. The oldest surviving wooden relic from our proto-human ancestors is over 400,000 years old: a spear head made of Yew. The Yew Longbow was the cornerstone of the medieval English army. Boys, often Welsh conscripts, would be trained from a young age to use the heavy bow, permanently warping the shape of their bodies in the process.