Common Yew, Taxus baccata, is a native conifer that makes a classic evergreen hedge with a rich, deep green colour that clips beautifully into formal lines, billowing curves and sturdy topiary. Yew is an ideal backdrop to any flower border and it is tough enough to be a roadside hedge. Unlike most other conifers, it will regrow from old wood so it can be hard pruned. It forgives mistakes when clipping, and old, neglected yew hedges can easily be renovated. It is extremely hardy, shade tolerant and will grow anywhere with decent drainage, reaching about 20 metres if grown as a tree.
The plants on this page are young saplings, ideal for planting as hedging or in woodland projects. If you are looking for something larger, you can see our full range of yew hedging plants which includes bigger rootballs. Alternatively, see our full range of hedging.
Yew hedge plants are delivered bareroot during autumn and winter.
Spacing a Yew hedge:
Plant bareroot Yew hedging at 3 plants per metre, 33cms apart. Larger plants can be spaced at 50cms intervals
General description of Yew plants:
Yew has a reputation for being slow growing and this true of mature hedges, which only need clipping once a year. Young Taxus baccata plants are quite vigorous, however. They can easily 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.
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 and almost all animals 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 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.