Dying japenese yew hedge

(Question)

This past spring we planted 35 (expensive!) japenese dense yews to form a hedge. They were vibrant green and gorgeous.
Now one by one, adjacent to each other, they start to rust/brown randomly, and over a few months brown all over and die. We pulled the first ones out. Now we have 3 more discolouring! I prune the brown away but it continues. Now we’ve lost 7 of them!
Please help. What do I do to stop this?

(Answer)

Seeing a newly planted (expensive) yew hedge go through stress and turn brown (and die?) can be very distressing!  The first thing to do  is to make sure that the plants you think are dead are in fact dead.  Yew is a pretty resilient plant and has the capacity to grow new shoots right from the wood…so to find out if the plant is indeed dead is to scrape a bit of bark off a branch with a fingernail…if it is green underneath, the branch is still alive…so the plant can recover…if it is brown all the way to the trunk, the branch is dead.  If the plant is dead you should be able to go to the nursery where you purchased them and ask for a refund or for replacement plants.

The cause of the stress for these relatively recently planted yews, causing the needles to brown and “die off”, could be caused by one or more of the following factors..

1.  Not enough water: Yews must be kept evenly moist.

2. Too much water:   Too much water around yew roots may cause plants to die or grow poorly…yew will not tolerate water logging/root rot, often caused by poor drainage, and in such conditions may be more susceptible to Phytophthora root rot.

3.  Failure to establish…The plants may be having problems establishing themselves due to improper planting.  Was the planting hole large enough?  Were the plants pot bound when you planted them?  If so, remove the plants and tease the roots away from the root ball to encourage them to grow out into the surrounding soil faster.

If you think any of the above might apply, dig the plants up again, remedy the problem and replant… Make sure to thoroughly inspect the roots when you are replanting.

Remember, even totally brown yew can recover…foliar feed can give it a boost…also spread a 4 to 6″ layer of organic mulch on the soil over the root zone when the ground freezes.  Spread it from near the trunk out to dip line to moderate temperature fluctuations and the prevents the soil from frost heaving.  Good luck!