Yew Bonsai (Taxus)

The Yew Bonsai is a slow growing tree, with a slim trunk and peeling bark, that gives the tree an interesting old look. Most of the tree parts are highly poisonous, especially the leaves. The fleshy part of the fruits is not poisonous, however the seeds inside are.

The genus is called Taxus (hence the name of taxus bonsai the yews get some times), and it contains 5 species of dioecious and evergreen conifers, of which the most common ones as bonsai are known to be the English Yew (Taxus Baccata), and the Japanese Yew (Taxus Cuspidata).

They are hardy and centenary trees that are known to be the longest living coniferous in Europe.


Yews are small to medium sized evergreen trees, growing for up to 20 meters high. The bark is brown and scaly and the leaves are arranged spirally on the stem, and are dark green and flat. Their seed cones containing only one seed each.

Their natural habitat is in the deciduous woods areas, mostly in moist parts of Europe like Scotland, or Ireland. They are well known to be able to grow and survive in deep shade zones. Several smaller trunks can fuse together in time and create a really impressive single trunk in an older tree.

They’re split into male and female trees and, in order to fruit, two trees of the opposites need to be close together to create the berry-like red fruits. The flowers are twice as big for male trees as they are for female ones, and look like small spheres.

How to care for your Yew Bonsai

Positioning – Compared to the majority out there, Yew bonsai trees prefer shade rather than sun, so make sure to avoid direct strong sun if possible, especially in the extreme heat periods. Some light is needed in order for the needles to remain small and not stretch too long, but your Yew is generally more than happy to stay in shade, and can even stand cold temperatures of up to -10 degrees Celsius.

Soil, Fertilizing and Watering – The soil is best to have an alkaline pH and be watered every day, and even twice per day in hot season, but make sure the soil is well-drained and not moist at all times. The needles will turn grey if you over-water. You can mist the foliage, but not while placed outside in the direct hot sun, as it might burn the leaves. Yew bonsai needs fertilizing every 2 to maximum 3 weeks, especially during the growing season. They need plenty of potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and calcium.

Pests and diseases: Because they have fleshy roots, they commonly develop root problems if their soil is too wet. If the needles at the tip of the branches become yellow in color and start falling, check out the root, as it might have decayed, and then make sure that the soil is not very acid. Scale is one of the most common insects found to affect this type of tree. You can spray the tree with insect sprays, or use other type of fungicides. Be sure to water the plant before applying insecticides.

How to train and style your Yew Bonsai

Styling a Taxus bonsai can be very easy, because they are easy to carve and to develop foliage pads. Except the broom style, you can style your bonsai into pretty much any other way. A hollow trunk is a common characteristic of this bonsai tree. They look good in any size, but not very common to be found as mame or shohin.

Wiring – You need to wire the wood when young, as old wood can be very rigid and harder to shape. Use thin wires, but check frequently to make sure the wire doesn’t cut the bark. It should not be wired after repotting. It can take only a few weeks for the branches to take the desired shape. To remove the wire, just cut it, do not unwind, as the branches might break.

Pruning – The pruning needs to be done in autumn, and is not to be done during growth season, otherwise the tree will not grow fruits. Their branches will tend to go outwards instead of upwards, so you would want to cut them down in the late growing period. Leave some foliage on the rest of the branch. Do not pinch out after the flowering has taken place.

Repotting – should be done only approximately every 3 years, as they grow very slowly, using well-draining soil. If roots become entangled, they will prevent drainage, thus needs to be repotted.

One interesting specie of Yew is the Chinese Yew (Taxus Chinensis). It is believed to have special properties that can be used in treating cancer. Unfortunately, Chinese Yew is now listed as an endangered species, because its population has been reduced drastically since the discovery of its cancer treating properties.

When it comes to the most used species as bonsai, the English Yew is known to be less hardy than the Japanese Yew. Actually, Japanese yews are more cold-hardy than many other evergreen shrubs, and they prefer a more acid soil than other yews.

Don’t forget, when trimming your yew bonsai, make sure to throw away the remaining parts, as they are toxic and the toxicity becomes even stronger in leaves that dry out.