Yew varieties (Taxus spp.) are slow-growing needled evergreens that make good foundation shrubs and privacy screens. Desirable attributes of yews include tolerating considerable pruning, producing ornamental red berries and growing a symmetrical and dense canopy in partial to full shade. All parts of the plant are poisonous, so avoid planting yew varieties in areas where children or pets play.
Some specimens of English Yew (Taxus baccata) are known to live for 3,000 years, according to North Carolina State Cooperative Extension. The dwarf variety “Amersfoort” grows 5 to 8 feet tall by 2 to 5 feet wide in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 7 and has needles one-fourth to one-half inch long. “Wantong Gold” grows 3 to 4 feet tall by 4 to 5 feet wide in USDA zones 6 through 7. It displays yellow needles and is appropriate for small gardens or as an accent shrub. Both varieties take 10 years to reach their mature size, are good for rock gardens and prefer sandy loams.
Japanese yew (Taxus cuspitata) varieties are known for their hardiness. The tall variety “Capitata” (Taxus cuspidata “Capitata”) grows 10 to 25 feet tall by 5 to 10 feet wide, used as a privacy screen or accent shrub. “Monloo” (Taxus cuspidata “Monloo”), also known as “Emerald Spreader,” is a short variety that grows to 1 to 2 1/2 feet tall by 1 to 9 feet wide in 20 years. Its needles are five-eighths of an inch long and it prefers moist, sandy soil. Both varieties of Japanese yew grow in USDA zones 4 through 7 and are on invasive plant lists in some areas.
Taller Hybrid Varieties
Taller varieties of hybrid yews add vertical interest to your landscape design. “Flushing” (Taxus x media “Flushing”) is a tall, narrow variety that grows 12 to 15 feet tall by 2 to 3 feet wide, appropriate for filling fenced-in corners or accentuating entryways. “Citation” grows 6 to 10 feet tall by 3 to 6 feet wide and makes a nice unimposing hedge. Both yew varieties tolerate pollution, require shelter from winter wind and grow in USDA zones 4 through 7.
Shorter Hybrid Varieties
Shorter hybrid varieties look attractive as a low-growing hedge, a backdrop for perennials or at the front of a shrub border. The dwarf variety “Everlow” grows 1 to 1 1/2 feet tall by 4 to 5 feet wide, but is not a good choice for regions with temperature extremes. The semi-dwarf variety “Densiformis” grows 3 to 4 feet tall by 4 to 6 feet wide and features dense clusters of thin needles. Both yew varieties thrive in a wide variety of soils and grow in USDA zones 4 through 7.