Yew bonsai from hedging material

History of hedgerow yew for bonsai

Some 5 years ago I pulled a Taxus hedge from a garden. Upon collecting I realized that the plants had been planted without taking of the netting that the grower of the original plants had put on the rootball for transport. The roots had grown through the netting made of some type of nylon, and I spent 10 minutes per tree pulling out the netting and chopping the rootball back to a base useful for bonsai. This was all done in the heat of summer, mid-august, as this was a free-bee hedge from a garden that was redecorated.

Long story short.. I planted the yews in my growing field. Watered well and left them alone. By the end of summer some 5 of 15 trees had died and were pulled out. I have given away a few and by spring 2019 I was left with 6 yews for bonsai. Well established and super healthy. Every second year I cut the roots of these yews -without lifting the trees, just using a spade to slice under the rootball from all sides- so they have compact rootballs.

From field to pot – Bonsai Taxus

Late March 2019, as the buds were starting to push, I pulled one out of the growing bed, cleaned out the roots (Not bare rooted, but removed maybe 80% of the field soil), and potted it in a pot. I did not trim the foliage at this time. Picture of April 2019. I planted the Taxus for bonsai in the pot so that the best possible angle in the pot was taken with regards to the nebari. This will help selecting a front of the tree during styling.

Yew first potted up from the field
Yew first potted up from the field

By mid-summer 2019 it was clear that the tree had taken the transfer to pot without any problems, as expected (I did not have to trim any major roots). So I made a plan for the future. As it is often difficult to see what is happening in a big green ball of foliage, I first trimmed out all branches that I for sure could not use. These are mostly thick branches at an angle that will never be useful, as they can also not be bent. As a result, about 40% of the foliage was cut out, and the trunk was visible.

Taxus cutoffs
Taxus cutoffs
Yew structural prune for bonsai
Yew structural prune for bonsai

Design of Taxus Bonsai

A plan was made. I turned the tree around to find an angle where the roots were pleasant and the trunk would come towards the viewer. Over the last 2 years I have started to make a sketch of the future tree and the primary branches. I find this helps me in styling and also in keeping direction in subsequent years. The view I have for the future

Taxus bonsai sketch
Taxus bonsai sketch

For the styling I did nothing but bend a few of the main branches down using guy wires, and carved away the biggest stump where the plant was once cut down. Furthermore, I trimmed long branches and thinned them out, removing all branches that were bunched together. Finally, I pulled off part of the inner needles to allow light on the branches and inside the crown. I hoped this would push weaker inner buds to take over from the long spindly branches. Because, although the tree looks very green, the inside of the tree has mainly weak branches, as the outer foliage shades it out.

First steps for a yew bonsai

By the first of September the tree had responded well and inner buds were starting to push. Later this winter I will wire out the whole tree and place individual branches. I will probably leave most of the foliage on the tree. I know Taxus backbuds well, but this tree has been through a lot over the last 12 months and I feel it needs the foliage to stay healthy.

Yew in September with new growth
Yew in September with new growth

2 Comments on “Yew bonsai from hedging material”

  1. Great articles here. Thanks for sharing. I’ve just began my journey in Bonsai and find this information very useful. Winter is a great time to catch up on these articles and the new Bonsai books I received this Christmas. Thanks again.

    1. Hi Jo-Anne,

      Nice to hear from you. I do hope these little articles of mine help.
      I realized early on that a lot of things can go wrong and I experiment a lot. So I thought sharing how I do things, might help others along.

      Jelle.

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