Irish Yew Replacement and Care

Credit: Richie Steffen/Great Plant Picks

Q: I was hoping you could provide me with some guidance/advise. We’ve landscaped our garden last year (with the help of a professional) and we had a Irish Yew in the back corner. The Irish Yew didn’t make it through the winter (went brown) so we had returned it (as it was under warranty). Not sure if it was because of the wet summer we had last year. We’ve been wanting to replace it however have not been able to find one of a decent size (since they are slow growers) this season at our local nursery (Brampton/Georgetown area). Do you know where we could find one that’s a good height? Or do you have any other suggestions of a different type of “needle” tree that is narrow?

While we aren’t able to direct you to products in your province, we recently answered a question from another gardener wishing for a narrow tree, and I believe it will give you some of the information you require:

Q: We have a narrow garden bed running along the back of our property.  We want to plant a row of trees that will reach two stories high but retain a narrow shape.  
A: One of the upright hornbeams (Carpinus betulus ‘Frans Fontaine’ or ‘Fastigiata’) would be a good choice. ‘Fastigiata’ is often more readily available and is also an excellent upright tree. ‘Frans Fontaine’ is a newer selection than ‘Fastigiata’, so it may be about the same with eventually. Both have gold fall color and smooth grey bark. Hornbeams are drought tolerant (once established) and pest and disease free. As they are fairly slow growing, start off with trees set about 2 metres apart. You can trim the sides to keep them narrower as they respond well to pruning.  

Related to the hornbeam are some of the upright selections of European beech (Fagus sylvatica), such as ‘Dawyk Gold’, ‘Dawyk Purple’ or ‘Reb Obelisk’. Like the hornbeam, they are hardy, slow-growing, problem free and don’t mind being pruned, but they have golden or red foliage, which is a bonus. Beech
sometimes hold onto old leaves through winter; some people don’t like that, but I find the golden-brown color pleasing and the leaves offer some privacy. Beeches have lovely, long, narrow winter buds and smooth grey bark.

A broadleaf evergreen possibility is Eucryphia × nymansensis. It has glossy leaves and white flowers in late summer. It’s at the edge of its hardiness range in coastal B.C., but your neighbor’s house would provide protection from wind. Its relative, E. glutinosa, is a bit hardier but semi-evergreen or deciduous.
Our native B.C. conifer yellow cedar (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis) has a narrow, upright habit, especially the selections ‘Green Arrow’ and ‘Pendula’. The only downside is that these tend to be narrower at the top
than the base, which might not give you the privacy you desire.

Yews are blockier in shape, offering width all the way to their tips. Consider Taxus × media ‘Hicksii’ or T. baccata ‘Fastigiata’ (Irish yew). Both are slow-growing but very long lived and prunable, right back to their
trunks if need be. It doesn’t sound like you have horses or goats, but yew are poisonous to livestock, so not a good choice for country gardens.