A yew tree is as versatile as hardly any other conifer. In summer and winter, green or yellow soft needles decorate the trees. In addition to broad-growing forms such as the eagle wing disc with its characteristic overhanging shoots, species that grow like carpets or columnar forms are known. Yew trees can reach a great age, the oldest yew tree in Germany is estimated to be around 1000 years old and is located in the Allgäu. Unfortunately, the yew tree was almost extinct in the Middle Ages because its hard wood was in great demand in furniture and weapon construction. It is not only suitable as a freely growing tree, but also for hedges and all types of topiary.

Location and care

Even if you don’t believe it: the yew is one of the native trees. Until a few centuries ago it formed the undergrowth of Central European forests. It tolerates strong root competition and gets by with a minimum of light. Overall, the yew tree gets better in a partially shaded to shady location than a sunny, exposed place. The yew tree is also very undemanding when it comes to the soil. It grows on any soil, as long as it is well permeable for water and no waterlogging forms. It even thrives on steep slopes where other tree species are no longer viable. Yew trees prefer a chalky, loamy soil.

  • But they also grow on weakly acidic sandy soils.
  • Yew trees are very drought-resistant.
  • The plants simply do not tolerate strongly acidic peatland soils.
  • They especially like to grow up in the shade of older ash, oak or beech trees.
  • Special fertilization is usually not required.
  • The addition of compost in spring is sufficient for the supply of nutrients.
  • If the garden soil is sandy: enrich it regularly with ripe compost.
  • Only in the case of extremely poor soils is a slow-release fertilizer for conifers appropriate in spring, followed by the addition of horn shavings or bone meal again later.

Planting time

Conifers such as the yew respond positively to early autumn planting. The soil is still sufficiently warmed by the sun and the yew tree can start growing new roots straight away. The numerous autumn rains favor the growth. Alternatively, spring shortly before the start of budding is suitable. If longer periods of dry or hot weather occur after planting, it is imperative to water.

Care in winter

Yew trees are at home in Central European forests, so they are used to the cold winters. But although yew trees are hardy, they suffer from the sun in very cold periods, especially when there is no snow protecting the shoots. Dry winds do the rest. For effective protection in winter, precautions must be taken when planting the yew tree. The ideal location also offers protection from the winter sun: If it is in partial or full shade of larger trees or buildings, there is hardly any loss to be feared in winter. If there are longer frost-free periods in the cold season, during which no rain moisturizes the soil, it must be watered.

Propagation by seeds

In contrast to most other conifers, yew trees do not form cones, but rather bright red fruits that are somewhat reminiscent of berries. In the case of yew trees, the sexes are completely separated. This means that each plant has either only male or only female flowers. This is the first time around the age of 20. The yew tree blooms in March or April. The flowers of the male variant are laid out in late summer of the previous year. Yew trees grow extremely slowly, so the plants are also quite expensive. However, if you have a little patience, you can also propagate the yew trees yourself. Propagation by seeds, however, requires some knowledge and a lot of patience from the gardener:

  • When the seeds of the yew tree turn red, they are collected.
  • Remove the pulp.
  • After ripening, the seed goes through a so-called seed dormancy, which must be overcome so that germination can take place.
  • Yew trees are freezing germs: a cold period is necessary for the seeds to begin to germinate.
  • This behavior prevents the seeds from germinating at the inconvenient time of winter.
  • If these conditions are created artificially, one speaks of stratification.
  • To do this, mix the seeds with moist substrate in an indoor greenhouse or a container that can be covered with a glass lid.
  • Never use normal potting soil, as it contains fertilizer salts! This harms the seedling’s tender roots.
  • Cactus soil or coconut (dried coconut fibers) are ideal.
  • Cover the pot or the greenhouse and store either outdoors or in the refrigerator under constant control at 2-8 degrees.
  • If necessary, moisten a little with the flower sprayer.
  • As soon as the first roots appear – this can take up to 18 months – sow immediately.

Propagation by cuttings

Much easier than sowing is the propagation of the yew tree with cuttings. If the cut shoots roots, the gardener immediately receives a relatively large plant, which would take several years to grow from seeds. The chances of success are very high with green-needle yew varieties, a little less with yellow varieties.

  • In June, use secateurs to cut out sections from two to three-year-old shoots.
  • A good shoot length is around 30 centimeters.
  • Shorten all side shoots of the cuttings and the tip by half.
  • At the base, remove the needles to 5-7 centimeters.
  • If there are side shoots in this section, these will also be removed.
  • Now simply place the cutting in a shady, sheltered place in humus garden soil.
  • Keep evenly moist.
  • From now on, all you have to do is wait: it takes at least a year for the cutting to develop its own roots.
  • The first sign that the roots are successfully forming is the formation of new shoots.
  • In the next autumn or spring, the plant can then be carefully removed and planted in the intended location.
  • Never just pull on the stem, but use a garden shovel to dig about 10 centimeters around the shoot.

By the way: yew trees are poisonous plants with edible pulp. What very few people know: The red pulp of the yew tree is edible. The taste is sweet and reminiscent of artificial sweeteners.

Small cut at the right time

Yew trees grow very slowly, so they get by with one topiary a year. If shoots have dried up in winter, they can simply be cut out in spring, then the tree usually recovers quickly. The topiary is done either before budding or around St. John’s Day on June 24th.

The yew tree tolerates a cut better than any other conifer. Even if it is trimmed back to a bare framework made of thick branches, it is guaranteed to sprout again – albeit very slowly. Because of this extraordinary property, yew trees have long been the most popular topiary for small gardens or large parks, alongside boxwood. But even the professional gardeners don’t rely on their sense of proportion when shaping the trees; they use large templates made of plywood to get an exact shape. If there is a risk of coming into contact with the sap when cutting, gloves should be worn. Anyone who intends to cut with the electric hedge trimmer or even a gasoline-powered variant should convince themselves

Yew hedge to design yourself?

Baroque gardens in royal castles would lose their charm without the yew trees cut into shape. In private gardens, the conifers are also valued as an opaque and easy-care hedge. Around 100 years ago, some hedge varieties were selected from the offspring of attempts to cross the European and Japanese yew trees. In some cases this resulted in extremely frost-resistant, upright and bushy cultivars.

  • When planting a yew hedge, you should plan about two plants per meter
  • It takes a while for the hedge to become opaque.
  • However, after a short time plantings that are too close lead to fierce competition, to which some plants usually fall victim.
  • Do not set too close to the property line, because the hedge is most effective when it has about 30-50 centimeters of space in each direction from the trunk.
  • Usually the hedge is cut into angular or oval shapes.
  • If you let your imagination run wild, you can also get the most unusual or playful shapes or reliefs out of your hedge.
  • Even arches can be created from yew trees.
  • In contrast to thuja or boxwood, the hedges can be significantly rejuvenated if they are neglected and no longer dense enough.
  • They are the only conifers to sprout from old wood.

The dream of your own topiary

Who does not know them: beautiful and lively green figures in geometric shapes or animals. Centuries ago, gardeners let their imaginations run wild when designing yew trees. The dream of such a topiary also slumbers in many a hobby gardener. Realizing such a dream from a young plant or a cutting requires a lot of patience and special knowledge, because the foundations for appropriate growth must be laid in the desired shape at an early stage. Experienced bonsai gardeners will not find it difficult to cut the plant correctly or to direct individual shoots in the desired direction. Anyone who feels overwhelmed with such a task can buy a pre-formed yew tree in a nursery without a remorse.

Yew trees are true survivors

If the tree loses its primary trunk, also known as the stick, it has the ability to drive new shoots out of the stump. This behavior is called stick rash. Hedges, which were mainly planted to protect the wind, are therefore trimmed back to about 20 centimeters from time to time in order to keep them tight in the lower area. However, these new shoots only achieve an inferior trunk quality.

Diseases and pests

Diseases or pests are very rare in the yew, it is not for nothing that it is one of the most resistant and easy-care plants. Nevertheless, it happens from time to time that their needles turn yellow or brownish or that the plant is ailing in some other way.

  • A yew tree should never be exposed suddenly, because it reacts with needle yellowing because it is not used to direct sunlight.
  • Other causes of the needles turning yellow: too little water in dry periods or roots that are too wet.
  • Roe deer and red deer are some of the yew’s greatest enemies. In endangered areas, the planting should definitely be fenced off.
  • The yew scale insect secretes honeydew. This forms a favorable basis for the soot mold, which can be dangerous for the yew tree.
  • Buds can be attacked by the yew gall mosquito, which inhibits the growth of the plant.
  • Branches and twigs are coated with white, waxy wool: signs of the woolly bowl louse.
  • Black weevil larvae feed on the roots or the root neck of the plant. The adult beetles leave bay-like notches in the needles.

The yew can be classified as one of the easiest to care for and most resistant native woody plants. It makes almost no demands on its soil and is both cold-resistant and particularly easy to cut. However, when choosing a location, you should make sure that it is never particularly sunny or wet. Yew trees are ideal as topiary trees or for planting hedges

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