How to Grow Taxus baccata Plants in your Garden

Gardener's HQ Guide to Growing Yew

The Taxus baccata plant is a conifer that is commonly known as the Yew. It is a native of Europe, Northern Africa, and parts of the middle east and South West Asia.

It gets its common name of Yew because of the bark's brown colour (turning reddish-brown in mature trees).

The second part of its scientific name, 'baccata', is a Latin reference to it having red berries. It is often tree seen in landscaping, hedging, and in church yards.

Yew berries
photograph by Dr Mary Gillham Archive Project; CC.

It is relatively small to medium in size for a conifer, reaching about 70 feet (21 m) in height. The trunk is typically 6.5 feet (2 m) in diameter.

Bark tends to be flaky and it is brown in colour. The Yew seed cones only contain one seed; this is about 0.2 to 0.25 inches (0.5 to 0.6 cm) in length and enveloped in a fleshy scale.

Later on in its development this turns into a bright red berry that is feasted upon by members of the Thrush bird family and the Bombycilla passerine Waxwing.

The plant tolerates pruning well making it an ideal tree to grow if you are planning to perform topiary in your garden.

Yew Trees are known to be long-lived with one on Scotland (the Fortingall Yew is thought to be up to 3,000 years old. Not surprisingly this tree has reached a large size, having a girth of 52 feet (16 m).

A lot of Yews that you may see are typically very old, with many trees being 600 years old or more.

Unfortunately, Yews are known to be a major source of allergies for those suffering from Hay fever. So you may wish to avoid being too close to them when the male tree releases its pollen in the springtime.

Quick Growing and Care Guide

  • Scientific Name: Taxus baccata
  • Common Name (s): Yew, English Yew, Common Yew, European Yew.
  • Growing Zone (USA / UK Hardiness): 5 to 7 / H7

Plant Details

  • Life Cycle / Plant Type: Long-lived Tree. Conifer. Evergreen. Dioecious
  • Plant Height: 36 to 60 feet (12 to 20 m)
  • Plant Spread: 24 feet plus (8 m)
  • Blooming /Flower Details: Non-flowering
  • Leaf Foliages: Flat-needled. 1 to 1 1/2 inches (2.5 to 4 cm). Linear to Lancelot. Spiral. Dark green with pale bands beneath.
  • Berries: Female. Bright red. Soft. Showy. Highly toxic seeds. Spread by birds, especially Thrushes.
  • Cones: Pollen producing. 1/10 to 2/10th inch (2 to 5 mm). Male only.

Growing Conditions

  • Best Light Conditions: Full sunlight through to full shade.
  • Suitable Soil Types: Fertile sandy loam for best results.
  • Suitable Soil pH: 6 to 6.5 for best results but can grow at most Soil acidities. Overly acidic soils (4.5 to 5.4) or alkaline soils lacking iron (ph 7.0+) may result in yellowing of needles and a thin foliage.
  • Soil Soil Moisture: Very good drainage required. Medium moisture. Yew trees grown in wet soil are susceptible to root rot and produce brown foliage / needles. Brown needles may also be a result of too much salt.
  • Sowing, planting, and Propagation: Preferably propagate from cuttings.
    Seeds: Caution, wear gloves as Yew seeds are very poisonous. Harvest fresh berries to a garden use colander, squash berries and remove seeds. Flush seeds clean with water in the colander (hose pipe will do). Dry seeds on a kitchen towel. Sow into individual pots containing moist compost and sand (50:50 mix). Bury seeds but allow tip to show. Sprinkle sand on top. Place pots under a cold frame. Mist soil with water when dry; do not over-water. Germination takes at least two winters. Plant for hedging use in the autumn. Please see this page of the RHS for further details of using Taxus baccata for hedging and growing yew in containers or as trees from seeds.
    Yew Propagation: Propagate from Semi-ripe cuttings (new season growth: Hard base of cutting / Soft tip) towards the end of summer or at the start of autumn.
  • Care: As all parts of Yew are poisonous it is recommended to wear gardening gloves when dealing with this plant. Low maintenance plant. Can be Pruned heavily for shape / topiary. Trim hedges once in the summer or at the start of autumn. If a Yew hedge has been neglected and shows a bear trunk it may be best to cut down to ground level to rejuvenate the hedge; this should be done late in the winter or at the beginning of spring.

Further Information

  • Best used for: Shady areas, Urban Pollution, Hedges, Topiary, at the back, as a Screening plant.
  • Family: Taxaceae.
  • Closely Related Species: Yew trees.
  • Miscellaneous: Shallow root system so do not plant close to buildings. Seeds are poisonous as they contain taxine and taxol compounds. The Chief of the Eburones, Cativolcus, is known to have poisoned himself with Yew, rather than give in to the Roman Empire during the Gallic wars.
    Indeed, poisonous extract from the Yew tree was a preferred poison for besieged armies during the time of Christianity.
    As one of the hardest of the softwoods, yew is often used by craftsmen. The natural elasticity of the wood made it an ideal wood for the manufacture of knife handles, cabinets, and Bows, especially the longbow.
  • Family: Taxaceae
  • Further Reading and References used for this Taxus baccata growing guide: Herbaria; Interesting English Yew Facts

I hope that you enjoyed this guide on how to grow Taxus baccata plants. You may also enjoy the following Gardener's HQ Tree growing guides: How to grow Quercus robur and Araucaria heterophylla plants.