Yellow Yews, and other Gardening Myths

A closeup of Taxus baccata foliage and fruit. Interestingly, all parts of the yew are highly poisonous, except the red fruit coating around the seed.

A closeup of Taxus baccata foliage and fruit. Interestingly, all parts of the yew are highly poisonous, except the red coating around the seed.

Well, the day has dawned bright and beautiful here, and I’m shortly to decamp my office for the garden, but before I go, I wanted share with you an interesting discovery I made recently: yews prefer alkaline soil. This may not sound groundbreaking, but it’s the answer to a question that’s been puzzling me for a while. I have a low hedge of Taxus repandans, the spreading yew, along the front drive, and for several years they have been persistantly yellowing off – looking, in fact quite dreadful. I tried everything I could think of: adding iron to combat possible chlorosis; adding fertilizer; extra water; less water; acidifying the soil with sulfur. (All evergreens like acid soil, right?) Wrong. Turns out that’s another one of those common garden myths. In truth, not all evergreens like acid soil, the yew being one of them. It makes perfect sense when you think about it: European yews are native to the calciferous soil of Western Europe – think of all those ancient yews growing in chalky English churchyards – and really can’t tolerate acidic soils very well. So all my previous ministrations were actually hurting, not helping the yews. I made an about face, added some gardening lime, and the yews have begun to green right up.

Let’s just file this one away under the “Whoops” category.

By the way, for a bit more about the fascinating history of the yew, check out this link:



Yellow Yews, and other Gardening Myths — 5 Comments

  1. good call,Mike. Actually acidic soils (humic-acid laden, not from aluminum sulfate administration) bind/make unavailable- calcium. It’s not the inorganic chemistry-as this would say Ca++is more soluble- it’s related to organic- the sap turns unfavorable to Ca++ transport. Your garden lime works short-term esp.fall applications as winter light changes make sap more likely to restore Ca in root reserves.Come spring, expect positive result to fade.Light levels are the true key.In review, humic acid(s) great but problematic. Wet soils are lethal, mimic above Ca depletion.So alum.sulfate addition.Hollytone/many organic acids are helpful for growth-this is limited by soil alk-if sodium carbonate level is lean then supplement.Currently growing many acres of yews intermixed with rhodo/azaleas for chemothera.(Taxol) production.Hope this helps.

  2. I also made the assumption that my Hicksii yews needed Miracid when they were getting yellow. I added Miracid twice and this spring they look worse than ever. I live in New England where the solid are already acidic. I read your post and ran out and bought lime (not pellet but ground) and top dressed around the bushes. I then watered them to dissolve the lime.

    Do you have any advice as to how often to add the lime? The saying in New England Is that our soil is so acid that you cannot overlime. I hope this is true because I added a 40# bag to about 35 ft of hedge. Any advice is welcome.

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