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What common problems do yews get in this area?
Yews are tough evergreen shrubs which for the most part are pest free. In St. Louis, however, two common problems frequently occur: the browning of foliage due to winter burn and death of the plant due to root rot.
Winter burn is caused by excess drying of the foliage during winter when the plant is unable to replace the water loss through the leaves. Typically, this damage will occur on the south or southwest side of the plant. Plants exposed to winter sun and drying winds are more subject to damage. Browned needles will not recover, but if damage is not severe and the twigs are still alive, new buds should grow in the spring filling in the bare areas. If damage is severe, the dead twigs will need to be removed and growth will have to come from lower down on the stem. To prevent damage in forthcoming years, water plants well in the fall before freeze up and also during the winter if the ground is very dry.
Yew plants need well-drained soil. Although they like moderate moisture, they can tolerate some dryness in the summer. Conversely, a wet, clay soil can mean certain death for yews. Poor soil drainage or extended periods of rain can reduce the amount of oxygen in the soil causing roots to die. It is common for parts of the plant or the whole plant to quickly yellow and die in a week or two if root damage has occurred. Heavy clay soil, a poorly drained area, or excessive moisture from a rain spout or sprinkling system can all be probable causes. The only effective remedy is to improve soil drainage, correct the over watering situation, or replace the plant with another kind of plant that is more tolerant of the site.