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In the winter we may start to get a little depressed by all of the drab colors outside. When planning a landscape or planting a new plant, consider using plants that have interest all year long. In the winter we typically look to evergreen trees and shrubs to add a little green to an otherwise brown or white landscape. A good choice for an evergreen shrub is a yew.

Close up of yew branchAnglojap or Anglo-Japanese yew (Taxus x media) is a great evergreen shrub. This hybrid shrub, a cross of two other yews, has characteristics from both parent yews, making it a very desirable landscape plant. All yews have the same flat needles that are dark green, with a lighter green on the underside of the needle. Female yews have a reddish-pink colored fruit, called an aril. Taxus x media can grow to 30 feet tall, depending on the variety. Most yews for landscapes grow to 6 or 7 feet tall at the most.

There are many different varieties of the Anglo-Japanese yew. 'Densiformis' is a variety that is dense and shrub-like and is common in Nebraska. 'Brownii' is rounded, while 'Wardii' is wide-spreading. 'Hicksii' is the columnar variety and 'Everlow' grows short and along the ground. Any of these varieties are a good choice, just find the one that fits the needs of your landscape.

Yews are fairly easy to manage. They will grow in full sun, full shade, or part sun/shade. They will thrive in the pH of Nebraska soils, but those soils must be well drained. Yews do not tolerate too much moisture around their roots. We commonly see unhealthy yews planted near downspouts from roof gutters.

Yews do not grow well in windy sites. If not protected from our strong North winds in the winter, the tips of the branches may turn brown. Yews are used as a hedge, a screen, or for interest in your landscape. Be careful where you plant a yew; all parts of the plant are toxic if eaten, except the fleshy portion of the aril. Be cautious with this plant around small children and pets, as the aril is very tempting; it contains seeds that are extremely poisonous. Never throw branches of yew plants into a pasture if cattle or other livestock will be going into that pasture as the livestock might feed on the branches and get sick or die.

According to Kansas State University, yews historically were used to make longbows. The English also used yews to protect their graveyards. Some species of yews can live to be 2,000 years old or more. According to Portland University, Native Americans used the wood from yews for bows, canoe paddles, spears, arrowheads, and much more. Today, the yew has similar uses including fenceposts, carving, and railroad ties.

Taxus x media is a plant that can be planted in many different locations in your landscape. The many different varieties offer different forms and sizes. If you are looking for a nice shrub that will give your landscape an aesthetic appeal throughout the entire year, you should look to plant a yew. Just consider that most of the plant is poisonous.

Yew Berries
Nicole Stoner

Nicole Stoner, University of Nebraska Extension, tells about a plant that will add some interest to the winter landscape on your acreage.