Yews' normal cut: Forever small and lush

The ward's yew behind this wall is 15 years old in this photo, 20 in the next.

The ward's yew behind this wall is 15 years old in this photo, 20 in the next.

 See the yew above the rock wall? For 20 years we've kept it just that size, featuring feathery ends and great health. We do that with just one cut a year.

The key to keeping a yew healthy is to thin as well as shear. This applies to almost any plant that's regularly clipped.

Thinning cuts allow light to penetrate further into the shrub so growth is more dense and the plant has more energy.

Here is that same yew, looking a bit shaggy as it comes time for its annual August cut.

Here is that same yew, looking a bit shaggy as it comes time for its annual August cut.

Here's a yew in late winter, prime for clipping. You can shear and then thin, or vice versa. We'll thin first.

Here's a yew in late winter, prime for clipping. You can shear and then thin, or vice versa. We'll thin first.

We use the "pat and clip" method as we thin. Using an open hand we pat the top of the shrub to identify the stiffest twigs. Those we cut out. You see them here.

We use the "pat and clip" method as we thin. Using an open hand we pat the top of the shrub to identify the stiffest twigs. Those we cut out. You see them here.

Next (not shown), we'll shear to cut the shrubs narrower and shorter (orange lines).

Next (not shown), we'll shear to cut the shrubs narrower and shorter (orange lines).

Thinning makes holes in the shrub. Correct. Are those holes unsightly? No. Just look again at that low hedge. It's thinned and beautiful.

Thinning helps prevent the hollow ball look. This look developed over several years on this shrub. The look is also known as "ugly ankles."

Thinning helps stave off ugly ankles, as does proper shaping of shorn plants. Form them narrower at the top than the base -- cut along the yellow line here. Better yet, cut along the orange line.

The tight pruning results in the formation of green meatballs, cubes, rectangles and other odd shapes. - Michael Dirr -

The low hedge you saw in our thinning demonstration is a good example of a healthy shorn plant. Here it is being cut back five years ago to reduce its height. At that time we thinned it way down, so all that open space filled with soft new branches. Today's thinning didn't create visible holes because that great depth of green shows through every opening.

Bellied out over the walk, and taller than desired.

Bellied out over the walk, and taller than desired.

Cut back in April.

Cut back in April.

Opened up by thinning, beginning to grow back in May.

Opened up by thinning, beginning to grow back in May.

Well on its way to full by fall, it filled the following year.

Well on its way to full by fall, it filled the following year.

See how much more soft wood there is where the shears must work, than thick knuckles.

See how much more soft wood there is where the shears must work, than thick knuckles.

You can't see that thick wood but it's there to be patted, then thinned back. In time, the oldest twigs at the outer edge of the shrub are about four years old -- pencil thick.

You can't see that thick wood but it's there to be patted, then thinned back. In time, the oldest twigs at the outer edge of the shrub are about four years old -- pencil thick.