Do you want to grow and cultivate an incredible shrub or tree in your garden or yard? Then among your best options are juniper trees. Aside from having a wonderful smell, juniper or Juniperus communis also looks splendid.
In addition, the bright blue juniper berries are capable of attracting birds and other amazing wildlife. The fact that it comes in various sizes and forms also makes it perfect for a lot of gardens and yards.
Let’s uncover a lot more things about growing juniper trees and shrubs through this article.
Quick Facts About Juniper (Juniperus Communis)
- Common name: Common juniper
- Botanical name: Juniperus communis
- Type of plant: Shrub, groundcover, tree, coniferous evergreens
- Sun exposure: Full sun, partial shade
- Type of soil and pH level: Sandy and loamy, well-draining, 5.5 to 7.0 pH level
- Rate of growth: Slow
- Color of foliage: Green, silvery blue
- Bloom time: Winter
- Hardiness USDA zones: 2 to 9 and it will depend on the species and cultivar
- Native areas: North and Central America, Asia, Europe
Basic Colors and Characteristics
Here are some of the features you will most likely notice in juniper trees:
Among the most noticeable features of the juniper are their evergreen leaves that tend to showcase a prickly and needle-like growth. You can expect this new growth to mature and have a flattened scale-like look.
It also has foliage that tends to soften as the juniper plant ages. It comes in various colors – among which are green, blue, gold, and silver. There are also some juniper species and varieties that acquire other tones, like bronze, during winter.
Come springtime, the plant will display small and somewhat discreet yellow or green flowers. Some juniper varieties also have both female and male cones, which means that they can self-pollinate. Other species, though, have separate plants for the male and female flowers, which means that the plant has to look for a partner to attain pollination.
Male and Female Cones
You can expect the female cones of juniper trees to look fleshy and resemble that of berry. Males, on the other hand, resemble small tan or yellow pine cones. The time of pollination differs from one variety to another with some of them capable of producing pollen a few times annually.
The female cones are also well-loved because of their aromatic nature. Some even use it as a spice, medicine, and often, as a flavoring for gin.
You can also find juniper berries that are incredible sources of food for birds as well as other wildlife. One thing to note when it comes to growing junipers, though, is that this plant has a combustible resinous sap, which means that it is not ideal to grow in places that are prone to fire or those in high fire danger zones.
Other incredible ornamental traits of juniper include their twisted branches and great-looking bark.
Choosing the Right Juniper Shrubs and Trees to Grow
When planning to grow junipers, you should keep in mind that they come in various forms and sizes. In that case, you have to do extensive research to find out which one you should pick and grow in your yard or garden.
Here are some basic tips in choosing the most suitable juniper shrubs and trees for your home:
Slopes and Hillsides
Are you planning to grow juniper on slopes and hillsides? Then the best thing that you can do is to mass groundcover types, as well as low growing ground covers, along the mentioned areas. By having a mass of groundcover and low-growing juniper in a hillside or slope, you can have a low-maintenance solution when it comes to controlling possible erosion.
Do you want to grow juniper in containers? Then it is advisable to plant a dwarf type or a smaller species of it. This plant should stand as an independent accent in your chosen container. You can also choose to combine it with other evergreen plants so you can add more appeal to your home all-year-round.
Borders and Landscapes
You can also choose to grow juniper in borders and landscapes. In such a case, it is advisable to select those varieties capable of fitting your property’s entire scale. How you can grow and use juniper will actually depend on its form and size.
You may find it useful as screening, hedging, separate focal point, and ground cover junipers. You can also use juniper in foundation plants and mixed borders. Ensure that you give young plants sufficient room to mature without overcrowding them.
Different Types of Juniper Plants
It is also crucial to note that the juniper plant has different types and varieties. You have to learn about each one so you can better decide which one can give you ultimate satisfaction.
Here are just four of the different types of juniper that you can classify depending on their functions and sizes:
Ground Cover Juniper
The ground cover junipers capable of growing a max of one and one-half feet tall. Most of the other plants under this variety are referred to as creeping junipers – those with short height and wide spread.
The ground cover type is ideal, of course, as spreading ground covers, as well as in containers, border edging, and rock gardens. You can also often grow this juniper on slopes and hills. It could be anywhere that requires you to consider the soil erosion factor.
In other word, it is an effective soil erosion measure. Planted appropriately, it can give sufficient erosion control.
Small junipers are those with a max growth capability of 6 feet. You can also classify this type as a small tree or medium to large shrub. You can often use the small junipers as a foundation plant and find it in landscapes and gardens.
There are also what we call dwarf junipers. This juniper plant can grow a max of 4 feet. You can often use this juniper as a foundation plant. It is also highly recommended to plant it as a bonsai tree and in ponds and gardens.
You can also find large junipers that refer to juniper trees with the ability to grow at least 25 feet tall. Some large juniper varieties are even capable of growing at around 60 to 130 feet. You can often find this tree in the woods and forests.
How to Plant Juniper?
The first thing that you have to do when planting juniper is to determine the perfect time to do it. Note that the best time for you to plant juniper is during the fall or spring season’s milder months.
The reason is that this period can help prevent the stress that may be brought in by the cold or heat to your plant. It is also important to look for the best place to plant juniper. The best choice would be a sunny area that also has well-draining soil.
Aside from that, remember that there are vital processes that you have to familiarize yourself with when it comes to planting and growing junipers – gathering cones, extracting seeds, and stratification. Once you have completed all those processes, you can successfully plant juniper.
Note that you need to extract the seeds of juniper from the berries before you can plant them. Juniper berries refer to the cones shaped like a berry that you can see being formed in the plant.
Also, note that the berries are not exactly berries, per se. They are actually classified as cones. However, they are referred to as berries due to the way they look, which somehow resembles blueberries.
When it comes to gathering the cones, you have to do it during the late autumn. Focus on gathering cones that are already dark blue and at least two years old. In some cases, you can easily identify them due to their white and waxy coating.
You can also differentiate young juniper cones from them because of their green colors and light blue highlights. It is crucial to leave these young juniper cones behind so they will still have time to mature.
Gather the mature ones only. Another sign that you are getting the mature ones is that they are soft once you press them using your fingers. In addition, mature cones or berries can be quickly and easily picked off by hand.
If you need to harvest them from large juniper trees or large shrubs, what you have to do is to shake them mightily. That way, the berries or cones will fall off. You don’t have to worry because only the mature cones will most likely come off since they are the ones that are already ready for harvest.
Once you have gathered the cones or berries, it is time to extract their seeds. To do that, soak the berries first in a citrus-based hand soap that you have to dilute. You should leave the cones soaked there for a few days or until the process removed their stickiness.
When that happens, you can remove them from the diluted hand soap. Rinse off the berries to get rid of all remaining soap. After that, let them dry by spreading them on a paper towel.
Once dry, get a colander that has a metal screen. What you should do is to rub the cones onto the metal screen, ensuring that the skin is scraped off, which will bare the seeds within. Avoid damaging the seeds when trying to scrape off the cones’ exterior layers, though.
One crucial reminder is that while the cones contain plenty of usable seeds, there are also older seeds that are already bad and unusable. This makes it necessary to separate the usable and unusable ones. To do that, get some water where you can soak the cones that you have opened.
Wait for some seeds to float on top of the water. The ones that are floating are the good and usable seeds that you can collect using a spoon. Leave the ones that sink behind as you will not be able to use them.
Upon completing the process of extracting good seeds, spread them in a paper towel. Let them dry there. After that, store the seeds in an airtight container and put them in your fridge until the time you intend to use them.
It is also important to stratify the seeds before you can successfully grow them. The reason is that the stratification process will help bring the seeds out of being dormant before you plant them. If you don’t do that, then there is a possibility that your seed will not sprout.
You can use various stratification techniques depending on your juniper species. One effective technique to stratify the seeds is to put them in a colander then let them stay under the faucet. Bathe the seeds using the water lightly streamed by the faucet.
After that, you should leave the seeds beneath the water that is draining through the colander for around forty-eight hours. Once done, prepare a plastic bag where you can put the seeds that are still wet. The bag should have moistened peat moss or sand in it.
Seal then store it in a room temperature area for around two months. After the two months are up, you should transfer the sealed bag to your refrigerator and let it stay there for around three months.
Once you have completed that period, you can readily plant the seeds. The good thing about this stratification technique is that it seems to work well in the majority of juniper species and varieties.
The reason is that it imitates the specific weather through which the juniper seeds are exposed to for them to finally break free from dormancy while in the wild.
Actual Steps in Growing and Planting Juniper
Now, let’s go to the actual planting process. Here’s how you can do it:
- Visit the planting area then amend the soil using 20 percent organic matter.
- Begin digging a planting hole after the soil amendment process. The hole should be twice or thrice wider than the root ball’s diameter. It should also be a bit less deep compared to the root ball.
- In case you have pot-bound roots, tease them out. Alternatively, you can make a few slits on the plant’s root ball.
- Put the plant in the dug hole. Ensure that the topmost part of the root ball is a bit higher than the ground surrounding it.
- Use loose soil to fill up the hole. It is also advisable to gently tamp it down as a means of removing air pockets. When doing this, ensure that you do not cover the root ball.
- The next step is to water the plant thoroughly. Water it again one or two times every week until the plant is already established.
When you plant juniper, one thing you should remember is that spacing matters a lot. You need to provide adequate spacing based on the juniper variety you are growing and its intended use to promote good and proper air circulation. With good air circulation, the plant will grow while being less prone to developing fungal diseases.
Growing Common Junipers from Seed
In terms of propagation, take note that you can readily grow common juniper from seeds. Also, this plant can be classified as dioecious, which means that the individual tree can either be female or male. You must, therefore, plant them close to the opposite sex so they can cross-pollinate, resulting in the production of fruits.
You will know that the juniper already has ripe fruits when they turn purple-black from green. When that happens, you can harvest the seeds. you can then choose to sow the seeds directly in your garden or store them throughout the winter so you can sow them in spring.
If you choose not to sow the seeds right away, make sure to clean them first and air-dry them before storage. This should help in preventing mold development. Also, take note that the seeds of common juniper need cold stratification for them to germinate.
With that said, it is crucial to keep and store it in an airtight container. Put the container in a place that has a temperature of 20 to 40 degrees F. You can keep and store it there for a max of 120 days before you can plant it.
Note, though, that common juniper is known for having notoriously poor germination rates. This makes it even better to sow a few seeds simultaneously, so you can increase your chance of succeeding.
Caring for your Juniper Plant
One thing that makes the juniper plant so impressive is that it is fairly self-sustaining. This means that it is a low-maintenance plant that does not require a lot of attention. It is an extremely cold hardy plant and shrub capable of adapting to various growing conditions – among which are dry locations and poor soils.
It can also handle inner-city environments since it is capable of tolerating urban pollution. Note, though, that you still have to give them some care and provide them with what they need to ensure that they will continue growing without any problem.
Providing the juniper plant with what they need to survive will make it even more effective for a wide range of purposes, including mass plantings, general garden use, rock gardens, and groundcovers.
One of the most amazing qualities of juniper is that they love the sun. It is a sun-loving evergreen, so you need to make sure that it receives full sun most of the day.
If you don’t provide it without enough sunlight, there is a high risk that it will experience stalled or stunted growth. You can’t expect common junipers to survive full-shade conditions so ensure that it is really exposed to the sun.
Juniper also seems to leave a good impression among gardeners because it is not picky as to the soil where you can grow it. The soil does not matter so much provided that the medium you use has good drainage.
Juniper is also known for being highly adaptable to various soil conditions. It is not also very particular when it comes to the pH level of the soil. It can grow well in highly alkaline and acidic soils.
This plant will also easily grow in various sites. Among them are exposed plateaus and slopes, wooded hillsides, maritime escarpments, and sand dunes and terraces. You also have an assurance of their ability to thrive even in rocky environments, open, and dry environments.
Juniper can be classified as a drought-tolerant shrub, which means it can adapt to wet and dry conditions. Note, though, that this plant, even with its drought-tolerant and strong nature, can’t withstand being in standing water for a long time or being waterlogged.
That said, you need to give this plant proper and appropriate drainage. Also, note that growing it in the native range means that it will not require additional or supplemental watering.
As a hardy plant or shrub, juniper falls under the light feeder category. This means that it does not need to be fertilized regularly. You can still fertilize the established one.
If you want to fertilize your established juniper, then remember that it can greatly benefit from an annual feeding done during late winter and early spring. Use a slow-release fertilizer meant for a shrub and tree, too.
Humidity and Temperature
Being a native in the Northern Hemisphere’s cool and temperature climate, it is highly likely for the juniper to tolerate various temperatures. It can even handle winter temperatures that are lower than -45 degrees Celsius.
It can also frequently handle summer temperatures, even up to 30 degrees Celsius. In addition, juniper grows and survives well when planted in USDA zones that are around 2 to 7.
Juniper requires just minimal pruning. It should be just enough to maintain the plant’s natural form. It would be best to do the pruning during the early spring by cutting off dead juniper branches and trimming any errant plant growth.
It also helps to shape your juniper lightly when needed. Continue doing the light pruning during the growing phase of the young juniper plants to retain their health and compact nature.
Avoid severe pruning, especially in overgrown specimens, since older growth, specifically at the plant’s center can’t be expected to regenerate. You should not also cut juniper branches beyond the live growth since it may only lead to having permanent bare gaps.
How and When to Harvest
When properly cared for, your juniper will be ready for harvest soon. An important reminder, though, is that the juniper plant has both immature and mature cones simultaneously, which means that you can’t detect the exact year when you can do the harvest.
Note, though, that the fall season is the time when most juniper berries ripen, so observe your plant during this time. One sign that they are ready to harvest is when the cones already feature a slight give and start feeling plum. The berries also need to be in their mature shade or color.
You can also detect underripe ones as they are the ones that are firm or green. Once ready for harvest, you can rest assured that it is easy to do so. Harvesting juniper involves using your fingers to pluck each berry.
Expect them to come off with ease. During harvest, ensure that you wear a pair of gloves as protection as this plant has sharp needles.
Pests, Problems, and Diseases to Watch Out For
Your juniper will not also be immune to certain problems. There are still instances when you have to watch out for the pests and diseases that may affect them during their growth.
Some of the issues encountered by the juniper plant are due to stress, too much morning or afternoon shade, lack of air circulation, and soil that has excessive amounts of water. The following are among the pests and diseases that you should watch out for as they tend to trouble your juniper the most.
Spider mites are probably among the most common pests that will attack your growing juniper. There is a high chance for the spider mites to pierce your juniper using their mouthparts. When that happens, they will suck the plant’s sap.
The problem with this is that it may weaken your plant. It may even kill your juniper especially if a lot of spider mites feed on the sap. Other signs that show the infiltration of spider mites on the plant are fine webbings and yellowing juniper needles.
You can deal with the spider mites by knocking them off through a blast of water coming out of your garden hose. It is also possible to get rid of these pests by spraying them with systemic insecticides.
There is also a high chance for your juniper to get penetrated by aphids. As small insects, you can also blast them off with garden hose water to remove them.
If you were still unable to get rid of them, you can use contact insecticides. You can just spray the aphids with such an insecticide to treat the plant infestation.
Your juniper may also be infested by bagworms. These refer to small caterpillars that may feed on your plant, resulting in the dropping of their leaves and their somewhat stunted or slow growth. Too many bagworms in the plant may kill it.
Bagworms are actually small pests that live and thrive in tiny bags, which is why they got their name. If your juniper plant has them, just pick these small pests off. After that, use soapy water to plop them.
Bark beetles are also among the most common pests that may affect your plant. It is highly likely for them to thrive when your juniper trees are in a stressed condition, such as when there is drought.
One sign that there are bark beetles in your juniper is that it starts to wilt. You will also notice its foliage starting to yellow and its needle dropping. If left untreated, your plant may die.
The problem with bark beetles is that it is kind of hard to remove. The only way for you to eliminate them from your plant is to cut off the affected shrub so you can dispose of it.
Cedar Apple Rust
Your juniper shrub may also suffer from a fungus called cedar apple rust. It harms not only juniper but also apple trees. One sign of this infestation is when your juniper begins to grow hard galls and witches’ brooms.
Fortunately, it is not too severe that it would kill the plant. Still, it can make your juniper look unsightly. For you to handle the cedar apple rust, it is advisable to prune any witches’ broom or galls. Avoid planting cedars or junipers a hundred yards from apples, too.
If you overwater your junipers or try growing them in heavy, poorly draining soil, chances are you’ll end up dealing with some root rots. This happens when the roots can’t access oxygen because there’s just too much water around the roots. The solution is to improve drainage and/or reduce the amount of water you’re giving.
You also have to be very observant to ensure that your juniper plant does not end up experiencing root rot. This may be a result of overwatering the plant or growing them in heavy soil that drains poorly.
The rot will eventually develop since the roots of the plant will have a hard time accessing oxygen due to the excessive amounts of water surrounding them. To avoid this problem, make sure to improve drainage. It also helps to reduce the amount of water you give to the plant.
There will be occasional instances when juniper plants will also encounter microscopic roundworms called nematodes. It is highly likely for nematodes to live in the soil, feeding on the roots of your juniper.
This can result in fungal and bacterial infections as well as secondary diseases. When nematodes infest your plant, there is nothing you can do except for the solarization of the soil.
Your juniper may also encounter what we refer to as the twig blight. This happens when the tips of its branches turn ash gray or brown and die. This disease can be expected to stay on the juniper shrub for several months.
You will also notice black, tiny, and pimple-like fungal fruiting structures developing on the exact place where the dead branches and tissues meet the wood that is still living. Solve this problem by pruning and destroying all infected branches and twigs. It also helps to use a fungicide every time you notice a new growth on the shrub.
Other Possible Environmental Issues
It is also crucial to observe your juniper plant to ensure that you are able to deal with some of its other potential issues, including the ones below. Most of these additional problems are mainly environmental, so make sure to solve them appropriately.
This happens when the needles that turn yellow initially become dry and turn brown. After that, they will drop off from the plants. This symptom will most likely happen within the plant closest to its trunk.
It could also be scattered throughout your entire juniper plant or on its tips. This case may be severe that it will cause the plant to die. Find out what causes the needles to brown and resolve it based on that cause.
For instance, if it’s because of overwatering, then it is time for you to reduce its water intake and provide it with just enough for the plant to survive.
Overwatering and Drought
Both of these issues may also cause problems in juniper, including the browning of needles. It helps you to check whether the ground is either frozen or dry. The reason is that even if it is drought-tolerant, you still have to make sure that it receives enough moisture.
In other words, you have to keep the soil moist. Avoid overwatering, though, as may lead to the rotting of the roots, which makes them incapable of taking up enough water.
You also have to prevent your juniper from being exposed to dog urine. The reason is that this urine has salts that may only cause the burning of the foliage. This can further result in the foliage appearing scorched. If you think that your juniper has this problem, rinse the foliage immediately to get rid of all traces of the dog’s urine.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is juniper easy to grow?
Yes. In fact, juniper is one of those plants that require minimal attention and maintenance. You just have to make sure that it receives full sun and grows in well-draining soil.
How quickly does juniper grow?
Most groundcover and shrub varieties of juniper have a yearly growth rate of four to eight inches. If you have spreading or creeping junipers, then the growth we are talking about is by width.
Meanwhile, the growth rate indicates the height for some juniper bushes. If what you have are juniper trees, such as the blue point, then expect it to grow around one foot annually.
Where do junipers grow best?
Junipers grow best in areas with full sun. The reason is that they are among the other plants that love the full sun. Note that the majority of juniper species grow on the rocks present in the rocky mountains, which provides them a lot of exposure to the sun. This is what you should provide them when planning to grow one at home.
What climate does juniper grow in?
Common juniper species are among the native plants in Northern Hemisphere that have cool temperate climates. This makes this plant capable of tolerating different temperatures. You also have an assurance that it is drought-tolerant.
Are juniper berries toxic?
Yes. Juniper berries, along with the plant’s stems and sharp needles, are mildly toxic to cats and dogs who accidentally eat them. This may be a rare case, though, since a lot of pets would just like to leave the juniper plant alone because it has a bitter taste.
Still, if ingested, some issues that may come out from it would be stomach upset, diarrhea, and vomiting. It can also lead to extreme cases, like kidney problems, that are, fortunately, just rare.
One more thing to note about juniper berries is that if your pregnant dog consumes a large amount of them, then there is a high chance for the pregnancy to get aborted. It would be best to call your vet or poison control expert in your locality in case your pet starts showing symptoms, especially severe ones.
What are the most common diseases affecting juniper?
There are a few diseases that may affect your juniper plant. Among them are cedar rust, rotting of roots, blight affecting the twig and needle, and some fungal infections. In most cases, this is the result of too much shade and excessively wet soil.
Should avoid planting apple trees and juniper together?
Yes. As much as possible, do not plant juniper if there are already apple trees in your garden or yard. The reason is that the two trees can encourage the penetration of cedar apple rust, a fungus, that may infect the juniper first then spread to apples. This fungus may also spread to nearby quince, hawthorn, and crabapple trees.
Juniper is indeed one of the best plants you can grow, cultivate, and take care of. It is so elegant that it can provide your home with color all year round as well as distinct texture and architectural shape.
What’s even better about the juniper plant is that it can withstand even the harshest growing conditions, so it definitely makes sense to make it a part of your household. You also have an assurance that they will work as effective spreading ground covers.