Trimming yew hedges

Pruning yews regularly will keep them looking neat and dense. Find out how and when to cut yew hedges correctly!

Yew hedge beside a lawn
Regular trimming ensures a neat appearance.

Overview: Trimming yew  

  • Regular trimming makes yew hedges look dense and well-cared-for   

  • These plants contain poisonous taxine, so you should wear gloves and long clothing while trimming yew hedges and dispose of cuttings properly

  • Trim twice a year from the second year, but not in frosty or very hot conditions  

  • We recommend a trapezoid shape to ensure the yew gets enough light and to prevent snow breakage in winter 

  • You can use a template to achieve a decorative shape, which can then be reshaped up to three times a year 

Why trim a yew?

It is advisable to trim a yew for aesthetic reasons – there is no botanical requirement to trim yews. By trimming a hedge, you can cultivate a beautiful, well-maintained garden feature that grows densely and doesn't sprawl undesirably over property boundaries. Yews are also suitable for creative design through shaping. 

Poisonous: is it dangerous to trim a yew?

Close-up of a yew branch with red berries

Be careful when handling poisonous yew. 

Much of the yew is poisonous because yew parts including needles and the seeds in the bright red berries – though not the pulp of the berries itself – contain poisonous taxine. Even small quantities of this substance can lead to respiratory paralysis and heart failure in humans, and can also poison many animals.

Due to this increased risk, a yew hedge is less suitable for a household that includes children or pets.

Pruning yews is not dangerous though if you proceed carefully and bear a few things in mind: since skin contact with the poisonous yew can cause skin irritation and inflammation, it is important to wear gloves and long clothing while you work. This also applies when shredding cuttings.

When should you trim yews? 

It is best to trim your yew twice a year between the end of February and September from the second year of growth, to make it dense and compact. A trim once in early spring and again in autumn is ideal. You should avoid cutting in frosty or hot weather so that you do not damage the plant.

Hedge trimming ban

Section 39(5) of the German Federal Nature Conservation Act stipulates that breeding and nesting animals must be protected. That’s why light maintenance and shaping cuts of your yew hedge are permitted between 1 March and 30 September, but not cutting back hard.

How to trim a yew correctly

Before you trim your yew, it is important to make sure that no animals are living in it. Put on the appropriate protective equipment and use an electric hedge trimmer to prune your yew hedge into a trapezoidal shape that tapers upwards. This means that all parts of your yew will receive sufficient sunlight and that not too much snow will settle on the hedge in winter. 

It can be helpful to stretch a length of twine along your yew hedge to ensure you cut straight. You can cut stems back by three quarters, or by half for a young yew.

All you need for hedge maintenance

A geometrically shaped yew topiary with trapezoidal sides that has been pruned into shape

Yews are suitable for topiary.

Yew: performing a shaping cut  

You can easily trim a yew into a topiary shape yourself. To do so, make a template out of cardboard and then get started!

An electric hedge trimmer is perfect for the rough pruning of yew hedges, while manual secateurs are best used for more subtle details. Topiary works particularly well with young yews or yew hedges, which will produce new shoots again after a rejuvenation cut. 

To ensure that your yew always looks neat and tidy, you should trim it regularly – preferably up to three times a year, ideally between June and mid-August.

A person wearing protective gloves cleaning a hedge trimmer with a brush in a workshop

Don’t forget to clean your power tool afterwards.

After trimming your yew, remember to clean your tools thoroughly and to compost the clippings. The poison in the yew breaks down completely during the decomposition process;

this means the finished compost is harmless, although yew rots down slowly. Before composting, shred the branches and mix in fruit waste and shrub clippings to speed up the decomposition process. A quick composter is particularly suitable for composting yew clippings.

A person wearing protective gloves fertilising a young yew hedge plant

Yews need regular fertilisation.

After trimming yew remember to care for your hedge by adding fertiliser and filling any gaps in the hedge. Young hedges in particular should also be watered regularly for the first one to two years after planting.

Tips and tools for well-groomed greenery