Taxus baccata and cuspidata

Taxus as bonsai

Branch of Taxus cuspidata with fruit (By Kurt Stüber, through wikipedia)

Taxus is a family of plants often known as Yew trees. They consist a range of species. In bonsai the most encountered are the European and the Japanese Taxus (Taxus baccata and Taxus cuspidata). Besides that, in gardens we often find cultivars with specific growth forms (Columnar or low and bushy). They are all very similar in overall appearance and treatment. To keep the two species apart, look at the needles. T. baccata has leaves growing in two rows along the branches. However, if grown in lots of sun, T. baccata hybrids can have the needles uniformly growing in spirals around the branches. T. cuspidata has the needles unregularly distributed along the branch.

Many tree species are used as bonsai. Identification is at times difficult and keeping track of the treatment even more so. As such, a section has been created with several commonly used species. Refer to the main species identification to start a new identification.

The plant is often found in stores as this is a popular hedging plant. It is often possible to become decent-sized trunks from gardens, when people decide to restyle and remove their hedges and green focal elements. As it takes well to trimming, also once established back to bare branches, a very large dense shrub is no problem.

Not to mix up with

Picea and other short-needled conifers. To keep them apart you can crush some foliage: Yew has very little smell compared to the other short-needled conifers.

Position of Taxus bonsai

Yews can take shade to full sun and are not very demanding of the light levels. It is however very important to realize that Yews have sun and shade foliage. In full sun the outer foliage is physically different from the inner foliage. The consequence of this is that after styling a yew where a lot of foliage is removed it needs time to adjust to full sun. Also, a yew that is normally in the shade cannot be directly moved to full sun or it will suffer sunburn. Acclimatize your yew to the sun during cool, cloudy moist months of the year.

Watering Taxus bonsai

Yews are highly susceptible to root mortality when in soggy substrate. Always use very well-draining substrate. In winter try to keep the root ball dry if freezing weather is expected. A yew turning yellow overall typically is too wet. In summer, water well, but ensure good drainage. Newly collected plants benefit from very little watering, but lots of water spray on the foliage.

Trimming Taxus bonsai

Taxus baccata after first styling from a garden centre plant.

Yews respond to trimming by throwing out buds on all the bark exposed to light. If well-established it even will take a complete cutback to bare branches, and will create buds on the bare branches. For development of pads, trim back after the main summer extension has started to harden off (For me, this is in August).

Trim to about 8-12 new needle pairs of new growth. Then remove all needles older than last years’ growth (Leaving about 20 needle pairs on each branch tip). This will stimulate back budding on the 3 year old branches. In a good your you could expect a flush of growth from the cut ends, and a large amount of buds on the plucked section for next years’ growth.

Repotting Taxus bonsai

Yews can be repotted best at the onset of spring, before the buds break. Repot in a well-draining mixture. Although Yews respond well to heavy root work, do this only on healthy trees. After heavy root work (e.g., after collecting or removing large sections of old roots) ensure that the plant is left alone for a long time. After collection, 2-3 years is the minimum time needed for recovery.

To keep in mind

Large trunked yews can often be found in gardens where they are used as points of interest in the winter.

All parts except for the red fleshy part of the fruits are highly toxic. When working the deadwood with power tools wear a facemask to avoid inhaling dust, as even the dust can cause serious health problems.

Healthy Yews may respond to collecting and a trim by throwing out lots of foliage. This severely weakens a yew. 3 years are a good minimum of recovery time needed. Do not be fooled by too lush growth: This is often on stored energy, completely draining the plant of its reserves. So let the plant grow for a few years before working it. Keep it on the dry side during recovery, and spray with water frequently.

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