Planting Rootballed Yew
How to plant a hedge of rootballed yew
Having survived the last Ice Age, Yew is probably the toughest tree in the UK. It establishes well grows steadily rather than slowly, forgives bad clipping, car crashes and other accidents, looks good practically anywhere and adds value to your property like no other hedge plant.
The planting of such a tolerant native is therefore pretty straightforward. Common sense will usually guide you well as the same fundamentals apply to yew as to any other hedging; it needs drainage, light, food & water, air and a steady footing.
Applying the above, here are some specific pointers that relate to rootballed yew.
1. Please remember that rootballed plants can be very heavy - our biggest can top 30 kgs each. So:
- They are delivered in one or more pallets. Once unloaded from the lorry these are almost impossible to move on anything other than a smooth surface such as asphalt. A strong wheelbarrow or sack truck is very useful here.
- Planting really is a two person job as these things need to be placed relatively gently in the bottom of a trench and you would like your back to be in good shape when the job is done.
- If you have to do it alone then - bend ze knees
2. Prepare the ground well in advance. Yew will live many hundreds of years, so preparation is worth doing well.
- Take out a trench 30 cms (12") deep and about 45cms (18") wide. Improve the soil you excavate by removing weeds, roots, rubbish, larger stones and buried treasure. Break up the clods and incorporate some well rotted organic matter - no more than 25% by volume.
- Fork over the bottom of the trench to make sure there is no compacted soil - especially important if you used a digger
- Beware of proper clay. You will need to deal with the drainage problem clay presents before planting any hedge, Yew included. Almost any plant will die in standing water which is what happens if you dig a trench in clay. Fixing the problem may require professional advice and is not the subject of this advice - just be aware of the danger.
- If you are worried about clay, dig a hole about 45cms deep at the lowest point in the line of hedging. Pour a bucket of water into it in the evening. If there is standing water there the following morning, drainage is bad and you should take advice.
3. Stand the rootballs in the trench.
- Please do NOT remove the jute (sacking) that is tied round the rootballs. It will rot away quickly so should be left in place.
- Depending on plant size, space your plants at about 60 cms apart. More if they are overcrowded.
- Yew hedging is formal so it pays to spend time getting your lines straight and the spacing even. Unless you have the eye of a pyramid builder, use string stretched between canes to make sure you are planting straight. Check the measurements between the individual plants. No shame double checking either.
- Rootballs are not identical in size, so some will need to be lifted by adding some soil underneath while others may need a bit of soil removing from the trench floor beneath
4. Plant your hedge.
- Gently water the rootballs. Just enough to make sure the jute is wet.
- Return the soil around the plants, making sure that they remain well spaced, upright and in line.
- Firm the soil as the level rises and make sure that when finished the jute is completely covered.
- Because of the size of the rootballs and the organic matter you added to the soil from the trench you should have planting mixture left over when you have finished. Don't try to use it all up on your Yew. Put it to one side and use it to raise the soil level if there is any sinkage over the 4-6 weeks following planting. When that is done, use it elsewhere in the garden instead of drowning your plants.
- Talking of drowning - water really well when planting is finished and make sure the bed does not dry out until you see fresh growth in spring. This should not be a hard task if you get a typical British winter after planting...
- Your hedge will need watering sometimes in the first year of its life. If you are not sure, then if the earth is damp 2-3 cms (1") down there is no need to water. If it is dry, then water really well. Remember that lots, occasionally, is better than little and often.
- In the first winter after planting, firm down the soil after any hard frosts.
- If Yew is planted in well-prepared ground and if it is not overwatered then it will grow away handsomely after a settling in period. So plan on very little growth in the first year after you have planted, but thereafter you can hope for up to 30 cms a year.
- However please DO NOT EVER trim the top of your yew hedge until it has reached its final height. The technical term here is "apical dominance" - put simply - once you cut the growing tips off Yew upward growth slows down. Thereafter it can be as little as 5 cms (2") a year.
- As far as the sides are concerned, feel free to start trimming them to shape from the first spring after planting onwards. Always try to keep the hedge slightly wider at the bottom than at the top in the early years.
- Other than that, keep your yew hedge weed free, sit back, and watch it grow.