I have a row of yew bushes, some of which are not healthy at all! I’m in Pittsburgh, PA and have lived in this house 15 years. These bushes used to be healthy (I have old pictures), but over the past five years, the ones toward the end have produced less foliage and turned brown. It seems progressive -- that is, the bushes in front look great (I can hardly keep up with them). Then they get progressively smaller and more unhealthy as you go along. You see the bad ones have top growth but the sides are scant.

I’ve done some research... I don’t use driveway salt. They get sun almost all day (even the healthy ones), and they sit in a line that runs almost exactly east-west. The soil is mostly clay and there’s no standing water here. There is an unhappy looking evergreen tree nearest the unhealthy plants that I plan to take down soon. It’s about 20 feet high. Also, there is ivy around the bases of some the plants, but nothing excessive. They don’t climb into the bushes. I’ve read that this shouldn’t be a problem.

What could be the culprit, and can these bushes be saved? Thanks.

(First picture bushes face south; second, same bushes facing north.)

Bushes facing south

Same bushes facing north

  • 1
    No. Neighbors have some dogs but I never see them. Lots of deer though!
    – bvy
    Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 22:14

1 Answer 1


Yews are the only conifer I know that loves the shade. They are poisonous so the deer and animal life do not eat these guys. These that are dying are in a bit of shade. So I am seeing a disease of some sort. What is happening to the larger conifer to the south?

Yews are also long lived so 15 years plus should be no problem. The pruning isn't that great but still not the problem.

They do fine in clay soil as long as it is well drained, so again not the problem.

Bummer. I would take those 3 yews out completely. Use a truck and chain. Do not replace with yew. I would do a deciduous shrub in place of the yews you remove. Without a test by a reliable organization all you will be able to tell is whether or not the rest of the yew hedge continues to die off.

If this is a disease; there are a possible couple one is fungal one is viral, you'll notice it in the rest of the hedge. Make sure you do not replace with yew, I wouldn't use any other conifer, I'd go to a deciduous or an evergreen chunk of hedge...laurel or privet? I would also do a staggered chunk of hedge so it looks planned and not trying to compete with the yew.

You should check with your nearest, biggest University Cooperative Extensive Service. They can do tests, they can send a Master Gardener out to actually take samples and advise you much more closely. Those Yews are not going to come back. I wonder how old they are? They just might be dying of old age.

  • > What is happening to the larger conifer to the south? Not sure which one you mean. The north side is taking the brunt of it. In the top picture, the leftmost shrub is the same as the rightmost one in the bottom pic. So bushes 3 and 4 (in the top pic) still have lots of growth on the south-facing side (as seen in the bottom pic). The bushes further out are "bursting at the seams" healthy. I can't keep up with them. Thanks for taking the time to respond. Maybe, like you said, it's time to get a pro out here.
    – bvy
    Commented Aug 5, 2017 at 15:47
  • I would as these guys are worth their weight in gold. Amazing how healthy the rest of your shrubs are and the ones that should be the happiest in a bit of shade are quite frankly...done. These won't come back. If they are able to I'll certainly eat humble pie or dirt! Even with only partial growth, I would be considering removing them once a viable reason is found for their demise. Now, there seems to be some rejuvenation on the south side like you said. Just maybe cutting them back 1/4 now and 1/4 later in the season for late fall would get them started again. And I eat humble dirt?
    – stormy
    Commented Aug 5, 2017 at 22:49
  • You have to let us know what the on site expert has to say!! Promise? Hey, we are all experts on here trying to do this over the internet. There is no substitute for hands on, right there professional help! When they come out have your questions ready, a soil test via the Coop. Ext. Service and anything you can wring out of them while they are on site!! Talk about that large conifer with dead growth a DOUG FIR perhaps? Did you by chance use weed killer around the base of these shrubs??? I can see you've been doing something to make a rectangle for the bed of these shrubs...
    – stormy
    Commented Aug 5, 2017 at 22:54
  • ...and TMI I know but you've got to raise your mower deck up and keep your lawn at 3" not a bit lower...we can talk about that later.
    – stormy
    Commented Aug 5, 2017 at 22:56
  • ...and we can talk about proper pruning of your hedge. The top has to be narrower than the bottom of your hedge. Now Yew is a bit better dealing with sunlight relativity but we do that so the leaves on the bottom get as much light as the leaves on top...hate to mess with an obviously happy hedge though!
    – stormy
    Commented Aug 5, 2017 at 23:00

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