Heritage European Yew Refinement


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Portland, OR
Please enjoy another progression thread…

I bought this male European yew at the BSOP 2017 fall show for $385. It had gone to auction through the Heritage Program after the passing of a man by the name of McDonald. That’s about all I know about the history of the tree, but I guess it may have been landscaping material at some point. It was hugely overgrown and I could tell the former owner had not found time to work on it in recent years.
To even get the tree home I had to remove about 9" off the top of the main trunk, which I felt bad about for a bit. Now I look back at this and feel vindicated — a tree 48 inches wide and tall doesn’t make sense for this species and design when the trunk is about 5 inches diameter above the basal flare.

In late winter 2018 I did some deep cleaning of uncontrolled growths, crotch growths, and removed obviously unnecessary foliage. It was a ton of cleanup but hardly made a dent. I also decided what the likely front would be. This photo was from September; a lot of excessively large needles are visible — I hadn’t yet figured out the watering routine on this tree.

In January 2019 I repotted the tree, which went pretty smoothly. I removed some broken down soil and matted roots, plus took about two inches off the right side of the roots to fit it in this slightly smaller (but deeper) pot. I also corrected some major flaws in the surface roots, which had been hidden by the moss.
I recall doing a little pruning in 2019 but I don’t recall the details. I think it was just minor cleanup for tertiary branch selection and to remove more poorly positioned growths.

Then, this year I took on the process of finally styling the tree. Up to this point its primary branches were all pretty straight and level with only minor taper.

March 2020, before major structural pruning, with pollen cones and loads of healthy new growth visible:

June 2020, where you can see the major reduction in the length of the first branch, the removal of the competing upper canopy on the right, and a massive thinning of foliage on the lower left branches

And, now, the tree halfway through its current (structural) styling efforts.

Various notes about the current state…
  • All branches are still loaded up with healthy buds; I think I finally have a good water and fertilizer scheme figured out
  • Having better clarity on the design allowed me to finally commit to removing the lowest right branch; I don’t love that its removal now makes the bottom two branches pretty equal in terms of height, but I had even more dislike for how the bottom branch competed for visual interest with the trunks diverging
  • Pulling the upper left trunk down and toward the right trunk went surprisingly well; there’s a ton of tension on that wire and this might be the first of several applications of the bending force
  • I have 4 and 6 gauge wire on most of the primary branches; none of the secondary branches have wire because I’m slightly nervous about how many small splits and tears I had to put into the old bark on the coarse primary branches
  • The bottom left branch is my defining branch
  • The upper left branches were quite overgrown so I’ve chopped them way back to regrow with more delicate taper
  • I will continue to compact the right branches and allow the left branches to extend for an asymmetric design with some feelings of tension
  • I think the bottom-most branch on the rear breaks up the awkward similarity in the height of those first branches on the individual trunks
  • The major bits of dead wood are as purchased, though I’ve done cleanup around the margins of live tissue and I’ve also performed some improvements to the surface texture
More to come!
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Imperial Masterpiece
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Northern Germany
Nice work so far! Really turning into a nice tree!

I find that old yew branches are slow to set in place. You might have to resort to guy wires to keep the angle to the trunk for a few years.
I would not worry too much about wiring the rest of the branches too. If well-rooted, these are bullet-proof

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