A Yew Supplier’s Thoughts for Yew

Busting Myths about Growing Yew

Yew is quite a pricey plant, especially sizes over 80 cms tall that are delivered as rootballs.
If you were going to get a free hedge and based your choice on saving the most money, Yew would be a top contender.
As you know, we are yew hedging suppliers (amongst a few other plants!).

You might well guess that our friends and family often try to blag a few plants from us.
If they cook us a nice enough dinner, we might even give them a deal on some.

So we’ve seen a few yew hedges come up in their gardens since 1947 and we want to say a few of things about them:

1. Yew is not slow growing

Yew is a fairly fast growing plant when it is young.
It will easily grow 30cms per year, more if it is in full sun all day and well cared for.
Yew will begin to grow slowly when the growing tips of the central, leading stems are cut.

With a young yew hedge, simply leave the tops alone and give the sides just the lightest trim once each winter.
When the hedge reaches full size, trim the tips for the first time.

2. Yew Loves Heavy Clay

Yew trees need a reasonably well drained soil to grow. They do not like bogs or riversides.
However, they will grow in any soil that isn’t really wet for most of the year – some winter flooding is fine.

Yew loves heavy clay – it grows beautifully on it in most places.  You will only be unable to grow Yew if the site traps water for long periods.

When planting in clay, do not dig out a trench and fill it with topsoil.
Simply make a slit in the soil and use the spade to sweep the roots gently down into it. Firm it closed again.

3. Yew is Futureproof

Your hedge’s lifespan is ~4000 years.
Unlike the other lush evergreen conifers, an old Yew hedge can be hard pruned if necessary, and it will regrow beautifully. Note that hungry deer are partial to fresh young Yew shoots, so you will need to protect your hedge while it regenerates if they are around.

4. Yew may or may not be Yggdrasil

Our guarantee does not cover your Yew tree’s failure to become the world tree and sustain the separation between the nine planes of existence, but if it does turn out that way, please let us know in the comments below and send us a photo. Yggdrasil, perhaps the original windy tree, may also be an evergreen ash, and we don’t know where you could find those without a lot of self-sacrifice…

By Ashridge Support

Ashridge Nurseries has been in the business of delivering plants since 1949.


  1. Elisabeth Ollier says:

    This is a yew tree question. I wonder if you can help. We live in a Tudor house with a Yew tree planted a foot away from the side. It’s a gorgeous tree and it could well be 3-400 yrs old. I am being told to cut it down by surveyors as they think it’s damaging our floors as its the closest tree to the house. Am I wrong in thinking that by this amount of time the tree would have done all it’s root growing and it’s more likely to be a different tree further away? Please help as I so want to keep our Yew tree!! Many thanks Elisabeth

    1. julian says:

      Thanks for your yew tree question.

      I am not sure I can answer this clearly.

      1. All trees slow up in terms of growth as they get older, but a yew tree (taxus baccata) can live to several thousand years, so it has plenty of time to grow a bit more.
      2. To complicate things further yew has a clever ability to NOT grow when times are hard, so it could well be older than you think.
      3. You also do not mention what the other trees that might be affecting your house are and how far away they are.

      Having said all of which, 1ft is incredibly close to a house, especially an old one whose foundations are not going to be concrete…. so I have a horrible feeling it might have to go


  2. N says:

    I was wondering how long does it take to get Yew mature and use it for cancer research?

    1. Ashridge Support says:

      Yew grows at about 30 cms a year once established. I have no idea how much foliage you need for cancer research but we would not recommend cutting it back hard for at least 4-5 years after planting.

  3. Conchita says:

    Please tell me what is the minimum distance a yew tree can be planted from an old building? And also are they drought tolerant once established?

    Many thanks

    1. Mark Cadbury says:

      It depends of how it’s trained. No plant is drought tolerant, you need to water them!

  4. Ian Watts says:


    Hope you can help, I’ve noticed on my yew plants that are approx 3-4 years old and average from about 4ft to 6ft high now, that new singular leaves growing from the wooded stems and inside the plant always turn yellow or half green and yellow. I have planted a yew hedge line along a fence north facing with I’m afraid, a horrible large conifer hedge growing on the other side of the fence next door. I first dug a trench along the fence to remove all the conifers roots and added compost to break up the horrible dry compact soil. I water during dry spells to give the hedge a good start. Do I need to feed the yew or am I watering it too much, or maybe not enough. Every year it gets good new growth on the tips etc, and some are gaining height more than others, and it’s in shade all year except during the summer, where half does get some sun in the evening. Do you know what’s going wrong?


    Ian Watts

    1. Ashridge Support says:

      I cannot find your email address on our database, so I presume the plant(s) came from someone else. Our first advice in that instance is always to talk to the supplier. If nothing else, they need to know so they can replace under their guarantee. If they have one.

      I would suspect the conifer hedge.

      1. Its roots will have regrown into the trench and will be competing for food and water
      2. It may be casting shade which is never the best thing.

      Impossible to tell from the information you give if you are over/underwatering but in normal circumstances a hedge that is a few years old should not need watering at all.

  5. Linda Saunders says:

    Hello, not sure if you can help, I have inherited my parents house, there is a beautiful golden yew I would say fairly mature, it is around 6.5 ft tall, my father used to trim the height so I don’t know how old it is. What I want to know is it possible to move it to another position, we are extending the house and I would love to save it. Thank you

    1. Ashridge Support says:

      Thanks for your post. Not knowing the age is a handicap. But in general, I would guess it is too large to move without 2-3 years of preparatory work. Without that even if it survives it would take several years to recover. At the same time, if it is going to be dug up any way you lose very little by trying. If you are going to have something useful on-site like a JCB, then it should be able to dig your yew out with a good-sized rootball which will give it a better chance.

      Good luck

  6. John says:

    I have a row of over grown leylandii along the front of my house along the roadside. We live in the countryside but the privacy it gives us is great. I’d like to remove all (approx 40 / 50m) of them to expose an low dry stone wall and plant our native Irish yew as our new hedge. Would it be possible to plant / grow the yew to a decent height before removing the Leylandii. I’d have no issue cutting back in garden side of the leylandii to give the yew some light.
    Thank you,

    1. Ashridge Support says:

      I think it unlikely that relatively young yew will be able to outcompete very large leylandii. You will need to remove the trees (and the poisonous rotted down needles under them), grub out the roots, take out a trench filled with improved soil and plant the yew in that for them to have a chance of doing well. But get advice locally if you can as I may have missed something.

  7. Christian says:

    I have a Yew in my garden. Unfortunately it is so big that it is going to get in the way of future plans for the garden. I’d like to keep the yew but want to know if I can cut off the lower branches to make it look like a tree instead of a bush

    1. Ashridge Nurseries says:

      Yes, absolutely. Yew is happy to be hard pruned (one of the reasons why it such a popular hedge). This will encourage regrowth from the trunk: rub this off as it appears if you want to keep the trunk looking tidy. If the branches are big, cut them off in sections to make it easier.

  8. Jad says:

    I planted new bare root yew hedges last October. Some central top stems started to turn brown, so I had to cut them to save the hedge. Now they are still green, but my question is will these be still growing in height? I’ve read that a yew hedge when tips are cut will only grow 10cm in height per year. Is this only for first year then pick up to 30cm? Or stay forever slow growing in height?

    1. Ashridge Nurseries says:

      Hi Jad,

      It may not have been necessary to cut the tops, it’s quite possible that they were only dropping their leaves, unless the whole stem was clearly dead, with no healthy green tissue visible inside the bark when you made the cut. It is not uncommon for evergreens to lose some leaves in their first year due to transplant shock. Even if the stems had died, cutting them off would only tidy up the appearance, it would make no real difference to regrowth.

      Based on our experience, your hedge will grow upward slowly, now that the apical bud has been cut, certainly for the near future. On the plus side, it will be nice and bushy, because all the auxiliary buds will be a bit more vigorous.

  9. Shane says:


    Im wondering how close to the house you can plant a yew? I would like to plant it next to our front entrance to increase privacy, this would put it next to the bin cupboard brick extension (about half a meter away), and about 2.5 meters away from the house. The goal would be to only grow it to about 2.2 meters high, and then allow it to flesh out on the sides. Does this sound feasible?


    1. Ashridge Nurseries says:

      Hi Shane,

      Could you give me a bit more info, please: what sort of foundation does the bin cupboard brick extension have? How old is the brick extension and the house? How wide an area do you want to hide? What is the soil there like in terms of fertility and drainage? And are you sure that a deep dark Yew is the best visual fit for the front of your house, and not something brighter, perhaps with variegated leaves?

      1. Shane says:


        The house is fairly new, about 10 years old, the bin cupboard is sitting on concrete foundation. I was looking to create a green wall of about 2m by about a 1m or so wide. The soil is a clay type soil, I think the drainage is OK. I was after something evergreen, happy to look at suggestions if you have any?

  10. Janet platt says:

    Hi ! I have a ‘yew tree/ bush growing under my magnolia tree ! Will they both grow ok together ? The magnolia is a good size ! The yew is young & only 3/4 foot tall ! Any advice on this ?

    1. Ashridge Nurseries says:

      Hi Janet,

      It depends a bit on which flavour of yew you have there. Yew is a big tree in nature, but comes in a range of low growing cultivars. We don’t grow them, and I am not really familiar with them, but I have seen pictures of Taxus Densa and T. Repandens that are short and wide bushes.

      With that being said, it doesn’t matter much, regular Taxus baccata can be clipped and pruned into a restricted form: it’s a famous hedge plant! Keep it chopped into an ornamental shape if you like.

      As for how their roots will interact, I can’t say. It’s possible that many decades from now, when your garden and mine are free of our fleeting concerns again, the Yew’s tough roots will bully the Magnolia’s roots, and the Magnolia’s ability to produce great flowers may decline. Or maybe they will be fine neighbours.

  11. David Fisk says:

    The above is something I find very interesting as for something to do in my old age I care for a small wood owned by my daughter to further my interest I have 30 small yew hedging plants which I have bought in order to see if I can create standard trees from them by cutting back side shoots not for sale but to finish up in the wood. How many years will it take to create such trees and am I wasting my time or doing the right thing by growing them on in pots until at least 4 feet high so I can care for them

    1. Ashridge Support says:

      Thanks for your comment. Bluntly – you are wasting your time growing the yew in pots. They will ultimately do very much better grown in the ground. Water until they are established and growing away, and keep them weed free and they will grow very much faster than in pots. If you want to trim the side branches, do be careful not to do so too early or too much as all trees need their leaves to breathe and reducing their foliage reduces their vigour. There are a lot of resources on the internet about what to do here. As for timescales, 10 years might see some of them in the 3-5 metre range (growth rates will be uneven).

      Hope this helps

  12. Fiona Gilchrist says:

    I have purchased two 1.2 metre tall pyramidal Japanese Yews (taxus cuspidata capitata) which I want to maintain at about 3 metres high by 1 metre wide at the base. Should I let them grow naturally until they reach the desired dimensions before starting to prune them or is it okay to prune off the scraggly bits to keep them neat looking as they come along? I don’t want to delay their development too much, but they can look quite unkempt without a snip here and there. Your article is very informative. Thank you. (Wish I’d read it first before “improving” the clay soil where I’m planting my new yews tomorrow.)

    1. Frankie Meek says:

      Thank you for your comment. It’s probably best to get in contact with your supplier. We don’t sell this particular variety at present, and cannot really offer any further advice on it confidently. Kind regards Ashridge.

  13. David Fisk says:

    Thanks for the reply but I have spent hours searching for an answer to this question. How to create a standard yew tree from a 2 to 4 year old yew tree plant which are all in the shape of a bush used to grow as a hedge. I do not want a bush I want a standard tree with branches that are 6 feet from the ground but I cannot find an answer to my question. Please can you tell me how to go about creating such trees
    Sincere regards, David Fisk

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