Intermediate Hybrid Yews (Taxus x media)
The Yew is usually a medium-sized evergreen shrub, however, older forms can grow into a very large shrub or tree of 30' tall or more. Most cultivars have upright spreading growth habits although some are globed or upright columnar. They have a slow growth rate although a medium growth rate can be achieved with annual pruning that increases the root to shoot ratio.
The bark on the curving, twisting, and never straight multi-trunks is reddish-brown (with subtle shades of crimson-purple), and often hidden by the dense evergreen foliage. The bark exfoliates in flakes when the trunks are exposed. Large, mature forms of this hybrid and other Yew species may be limbed up to reveal the ornamental bark.
Yew leaves are actually flat needles that are arrayed on the twigs like teeth on a comb. About ½ to 1 inch long, they are a lustrous dark green on top, paler underneath. In fact, they are a deeper green color than most other common evergreen shrubs.
Like hollies, Yews have male and female plants. Male Yews bear small yellow flowers in March or April. Female Yews have tiny greenish flowers that, if pollinated by a male Yew nearby, produce colorful fleshy red berries. These distinctive berries are about 1/3 to 1/2 inch in diameter and have an opening at one end through which a hard seed is visible. Select mostly female plants to get the fruits, but interplant a few males to ensure pollination. All yews are toxic when eaten by humans and animals, including the leaves, stems, bark, and seeds (but not the fleshy portion of the fruits); however, extensive handling does not transmit the toxin, which is called taxine.
Unlike spreading or upright Arborvitae or Junipers (the other major alternatives for common evergreen shearable shrubs), Yews can be moderately to severely cut back to the bare stems below the evergreen foliage, and it will often slowly recover and send out sparse new shoots, especially if the pruning is done in very early Spring; Arborvitae and Junipers, however, typically will not recover from this harsh pruning.
Intermediate Hybrid Yew Choices
Brownii features a dense, rounded habit and will grow 9 feet tall and 12 feet wide if left unpruned for 15 or 20 years. Hatfieldii is pyramidal in shape, with a dense branching habit. Hicksii is columnar, with several main stems growing from its base; useful for hedges, grows to 20 feet in 15 to 20 years. Ovata can withstand temperatures lower than -20°F. Tauntonii only grows 3 or 4 feet tall, but spreads enthusiastically; handles southern summers and northern winterburn. Wardii grows very wide and flat; is very dense for a good hedge.