How To Grow A Dense Yew Hedge

How To Prune A Yew Hedge For Bushier Growth

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Yews (Taxus spp.*) are narrow-leaf evergreens that are popular hedge plants. They are tolerant of more shade than most evergreens and make excellent foundation shrubs. If you would like to trim your bushes into a dense yew hedge, annual pruning will shape them as well as increase branching.

Suitable for USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8, yew hedges perform best in a part sun, part shade location with slightly acidic soil. Yews respond well to shearing for a formal look or trimming with hand pruners for a natural shape. If you have a yew hedge that’s starting to look scraggly, learn how to “pinch” it back to achieve a bushier hedge.

How To Prune a Yew Hedge for Bushier Growth

Before trimming a yew hedge, it’s important to understand a yew’s growth pattern. New growth forms on the previous year’s buds in spurts twice a year, in spring and in summer. When to trim a yew hedge depends on the type of pruning you plan to do. For major pruning, trim before new growth starts in spring. Light pruning can be done anytime during the year.

  • Pruning for a Formal Shape - Prune yews with a hedge trimmer twice a year when new growth is uneven. Do not prune in late summer or fall because the new growth may not have time to harden off before winter. A disadvantage to shearing a yew hedge is that a thin, outer shell of foliage can develop with bare branches inside.
  • Pruning for an Informal Shape - Prune the hedge once a year before new growth starts in spring using thinning cuts (cut branches back to the point of origin along the stem or trunk). This type of pruning will achieve a natural shape as well as reduce the size.
  • Pruning for a Denser Hedge - Prune leggy shoots once each summer with hand pruners. Perform heading cuts (trim off the tips of branches). This encourages the buds below the cut to grow, thickening the bush. This is the same concept as forcing a flower or houseplant to grow shorter and thicker by “pinching” new growth.
  • Rejuvenation Pruning - If the shrubs are wildly out of control, a rejuvenation pruning may be needed. Cut the hedge 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm) from the ground in early spring.

Fertilizing Yew

A good yew fertilizer is a complete fertilizer, such as 10-8-6, that contains the macronutrients nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). Evergreens may not need fertilizing as they take up many nutrients from the soil. If you decide the hedge needs fertilizer, broadcast it in late winter before new growth begins. 

You may want to fertilize if:

  • New growth seems slow, sporadic, or shorter than usual.
  • Needles are off color, not a healthy green.
  • Soil is less than ideal – very sandy or heavy clay.
  • Shrub is weakened by damage from insects or disease.
  • Young shrub could use a push for accelerated growth.

There is a yew for every occasion. Be sure to select the right size and shape for the location you want the yew to grow. 

*Note: Taxus spp. is highly toxic to people and animals. Prevent ingestion of leaves, bark, fruits, and seeds. The poison principle is alkaloid taxine which can be fatal.

Susan Albert

After graduating from Oklahoma State University with a degree in English, Susan pursued a career in communications. In addition, she wrote garden articles for magazines and authored a newspaper gardening column for many years. She contributed South-Central regional gardening columns for four years to While living in Oklahoma, she served as a master gardener for 17 years.