Yews are to Northern gardens what hollies are to Southern onesnearly indispensable evergreen plants suited to a multitude of uses. Both serve well as foundation plants, backdrops, tall screens, clipped hedges, and even ground and bank cover. Heat is what limits the use of yews in the South; most types will survive for only a few years outside of the Upper and Middle South. Plum yew (Cephalotaxus) is a good heat-tolerant substitute. Where they grow well, yews are tough plants. They are long lived and can be safely moved even when large. Because yews sprout foliage even from bare wood, they adapt very well to pruning and shearing. They tolerate just about any well-drained soil, and pests are few. Be warned, though: if deer are plentiful where you live, don't bother planting yews, as they'll be quickly devoured.
Although they are conifers, yews do not bear cones. Instead, female plants produce juicy, scarlet, berrylike fruit among the dark green needles.
T. baccata. ENGLISH YEW. Tree or shrub. From Europe, North Africa, western Asia. To 2540 ft. or taller, 1525 ft. wide, with broad, low crown. Needles 12112 in. long, dark green and glossy above, pale beneath; spirally arranged. Far more common than the species are garden selections, including the following.
'Adpressa'. Usually sold as T. brevifolia. Wide-spreading, dense shrub to 45 ft. high, 68 ft. wide. Female.
'Aurea'. Broad pyramid to 25 ft. tall, 12 ft. wide after many years. New foliage is golden yellow from spring to fall, then turns green. Female.
'Fastigiata' ('Stricta'). IRISH YEW. Dark green column to 1530 ft. tall, 310 ft. wide. Has larger needles and more crowded, upright branches than the species. Branches tend to spread near top, especially in snowy regions or where moisture is plentiful. Branches can be tied together with wire. Plants that outgrow their space can be reduced by heading back and thinning; old wood sprouts freely. Golden-leafed forms are available. 'Fastigiata Aureomarginata' is a male selection with yellow-edged green leaves.
'Repandens'. SPREADING ENGLISH YEW. Long, horizontal, spreading branches make 2- to 4-ft.-high ground cover; extend to 810 ft. after many years. Useful low foundation plant. Will arch over wall. Female.
T. cuspidata. JAPANESE YEW. Tree or shrub. In its native Japan, reaches 50 ft. tall; in North America, usually seen as a compact, pyramidal tree to 1025 ft. (possibly taller), half as wide. Can be kept lower by pinching new growth. Fruits heavily. Needles 121 in. long, dark green above, tinged yellowish beneath; usually arranged in two rows along twigs to make a flat or V-shaped spray. The following selections are commonly sold.
'Bright Gold'. Shrubby, upright dwarf to just 3 ft. tall and wide after 10 years; eventually twice that size. Leaves are broadly edged in golden yellow in spring, turning more green in summer. Tolerates full sun better than most; color is best in sunny sites. Male.
'Capitata'. PYRAMIDAL YEW. Upright grower to 40 ft. tall, about half as wide. Female.
'Emerald Spreader'. Flat-topped form to 212 ft. high, 810 ft. wide. Dense growth. Good ground cover for large areas. Female.
'Nana'. Often sold as T. brevifolia. Very slow growingjust 14 in. a year. Can reach 3 ft. tall, 6 ft. wide in 20 years. Serves as a good low barrier or foundation plant for many years. Female; heavy fruiter.
T. floridana. FLORIDA YEW. Zones LS, CS; USDA 8-9. Extremely rare tree found only on the banks of the Apalachicola River in northern Florida. Bushy evergreen shrub to 15 ft. tall, spreading a bit wider. Flat, inch-long needles are arranged in two ranks on stems. Female plants bear red berries in fall. Prefers shade and slightly acid soil. Do not disturb wild populations of this endangered plant.
T. x media. Shrubs. Hybrids between T. baccata and T. cuspidata; intermediate between the two in color and texture. Of the dozens of selections available, the following (all with dark green foliage) are among the most widely offered.
'Brownii'. Compact, rounded plant to 68 ft. tall, 810 ft. wide. Good dense hedge. Male.
'Densiformis'. Dense, flat-topped; grows 23 ft. tall, 46 ft. across. Female.
'Hatfieldii'. Broad column or pyramid. Reaches 12 ft. tall, 10 ft. wide after 20 years. Male.
'Hicksii'. Upright-growing selection to 1012 ft. tall, 34 ft. wide; slightly broader at center than at top or bottom, widening with age. Good hedge, foundation plant. Male and female forms are sold.
'Kelseyi'. Upright, dense grower to 15 ft. tall, 10 ft. wide. Very dark green needles. Female; heavy fruiter.
'Wardii'. Wide-spreading, flat-topped shrub to 6 ft. tall, 15 ft. wide. Female.