privacy hedges


I have a property in the Haliburton highlands. It is heavily treed with mainly maple, hemlock, fir and pine. As a result much of the property is shaded most of the time. The soil is sandy and well drained.

I have tried cedar hedges for privacy but they have not done well in the shade and deer love nibbling on them in the winter. I have been wondering if yew is a viable option for a natural hedge in this region. I realize it is slow growing but the cedars I planted have been extremely slow.

I would be grateful for any suggestions regarding plant choice and strategies for optimal results.



Taxus (yew) is indeed tolerant of dense shade (or full sun), but may grow slowly in shady conditions. Yews prefer well-drained soils, especially sandy loam (good news for you, with sandy soil).  To help give your hedge a good start, add compost to the planting area and apply a soluable transplant fertilizer right after planting (this helps with root growth). For the first few years, take care to water the shrubs thoroughly (at least once a week during the growing season). Continue to add a few inches of compost as a mulch each spring to help your shrubs to continue to grow well (by providing nutrients to the soil, improving the soil texture and moisture, and encouraging root growth).

It is easy to maintain a tidy, boxy look to the hedge.  Make sure that you don’t crowd the plants you choose – plant them at distances recommended by the nursery/grower.  Some references suggest that smaller plants become established more easily.  Once established the yew is deer resistant and does not need much care.  As well, it tolerates heavy pruning.  Note, however, that yew berries (actually the seeds) and leaves are toxic if chewed or swallowed.

There are several cultivars available, and a good place to start is with what is available at  your local nursery.   English yew (Taxus baccata) may be a good choice, and the ‘Hicksii’ yew (Taxus x media ‘Hicksii’, is also good for hedging.   Remember that yews are available as both male and female plants (the female plants produce the single-seeded fruit that birds love so much). It is best to plant yew in September/October or March/April.

The Missouri Botanical Garden’s Kemper Center for Home Gardening has a terrific resource – the Plant Finder – you can find several types of yews that might suit your needs.  For each, note the growth zone, height/spread and sun requirements.

As well, a couple of our own Gardening Guides should assist you in your search for the perfect hedge:

Evergreens Suitable for Hedging.  Yews are among the hedges recommended for shade.

Ornamental Shrubs for Various Light Conditions.  This provides an overview of things you might want to consider when selecting the optimal hedge for your site, as well as several shrubs that can be used in full shade (these can be used as hedges).

Please write back to tell us what you selected and how your hedge grows!