Montana Moss® juniper. Photo by Proven Winners.

Juniper has long been a popular ornamental garden plant for its four-season interest, ability to grow in most regions, and virtually carefree nature. With shapes ranging from ground-hugging juniper bushes just 6 inches high to towering juniper trees 130 feet tall, and colors from steely blue to shimmering gold, there’s a juniper that suits nearly every landscape need. Whether you want to cover a slope for erosion control or create a privacy hedge, there’s one that fits the bill.

A member of the cypress family, there are some 50 to 60 species of these coniferous evergreens, which occur natively throughout the Northern Hemisphere, from the Arctic region to tropical Africa. Here are some garden-worthy varieties suitable for urban lots and other common residential landscapes.

On this page: The Basics | Planting | Care | Choosing the Right Juniper | Pictures | Alternatives | Landscaping Tips

JUNIPER BASICS

Type:

Tree, shrub, or groundcover

Zones:

2-10, depending on variety

Height/Spread:

Upright, spreading or weeping habit, 6 inches to 130 feet tall and 1 to 25 feet wide

Exposure:

Nearly all varieties do best in full sun, though some benefit from afternoon shade in hotter climates.

Color and characteristics:

Evergreen leaves have prickly needle-like new growth, maturing to a flattened scale-like appearance. Foliage, which softens with age, comes in varying hues of green, as well as blue, silver, and gold, some acquiring bronze or other tones in winter. Tiny inconspicuous yellow or green flowers appear in spring. Male and female cones are both present on some varieties, making them self-pollinating, while others occur as separate male and female plants, which require a partner plant in order to achieve pollination. Female cones develop a fleshy berry-like appearance, starting out green and maturing to blue, while males more closely resemble miniature pine cones that are yellow or tan in color. Pollination time varies, with some varieties producing pollen several times a year. Female cones are aromatic and used as a spice and for medicinal purposes, but are most often used to flavor gin. Juniper berries are also a food source for songbirds and other wildlife. The resinous sap is combustible, making them a poor choice in areas with high fire danger. Other ornamental attributes may include attractive bark and twisted branching.

Toxicity:

Juniper berries, needles, and stems can be mildly toxic to dogs and cats if eaten, though most pets will leave plants alone due to the bitter taste. Ingestion is rarely if ever fatal, but can cause stomach upset, vomiting, diarrhea, and (in extreme cases) kidney problems. Consuming large amounts of the berries can result in aborted pregnancy in dogs. Contact your local poison control or veterinarian if your pet exhibits any symptoms. See more Common Poisonous Plants for Dogs and Cats.

PLANTING INSTRUCTIONS

When to plant:

Plant during milder months of spring or fall to avoid heat or cold stress.

Where to plant:

Choose a sunny site with well-draining soil.

How to plant:

Amend planting area with 20% organic matter. Dig a planting hole 2 to 3 times wider than the diameter of the root ball and slightly less deep than the rootball. Tease out roots if potbound, or make several slits in the rootball. Place plant in the hole with the top of the rootball slightly higher than the surrounding ground. Fill planting hole with loose soil and tamp down gently to remove air pockets, making sure not to cover the rootball. Water thoroughly and again once or twice weekly until established. Spacing depends on the variety and how they are used. Allow adequate spacing to ensure good air circulation, which will make plants less susceptible to fungal diseases.

CARE

Close-up of Montana Moss® foliage. Photo by Proven Winners.

Pruning and deadheading:

Junipers need little to no pruning so that plants retain their natural form. In early spring, cut out any dead branches, trim back errant growth and lightly shape as needed. Keep up with light pruning as young plants grow to keep them compact and healthy. Severe pruning of overgrown specimens can be a problem, as older growth at the center of the plant doesn’t regenerate. Cutting branches past live growth into dead zones can result in permanent bare gaps.

Soil:

Tolerant of most soil types, junipers prefer slightly acidic, organically rich soil with good drainage, as roots can rot in standing water.

Amendments & fertilizer:

When planted in optimal conditions, junipers need little to no supplemental fertilizer. If desired, apply an all-purpose slow-release fertilizer in early spring. Spread fertilizer around the root zone according to instructions and water in thoroughly.

Watering:

In most regions, junipers need little to no supplemental water once established. They are more likely to suffer from overwatering and resulting diseases than they are from underwatering. Irrigate newly planted specimens every week or two until roots have developed sufficiently, and keep plants moist during extreme drought and heat spells.

Diseases and pests:

Although virtually carefree when planted in the right conditions, they can be susceptible to a number of pests and diseases if not kept healthy. Insect problems include spider mites, juniper twig girdler, scale, juniper needle miner, bagworm, sawfly, and bark beetle. Diseases, which are primarily associated with overly wet soil, too much shade, or lack of air circulation, include twig and tip blight, phytophthora root rot, and cedar rust. Don’t plant near apple trees, as juniper are susceptible to cedar-apple rust, a fungus that can damage or destroy apple trees, as well as crabapple, hawthorn, and quince.

Deer resistance:

Deer will leave them alone for the most part, due to the sharp needles and bitter taste, though extreme conditions can result in deer grazing on plants they wouldn’t otherwise.

HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT JUNIPER

With different sizes and forms to choose from, here are some tips to consider:

For borders and landscapes:

Choose varieties that will fit the scale of your property. Depending on the size and form, use as hedging, screening, in a mixed border, as foundation plantings, groundcovers or a stand-alone focal point. Make sure to allow room for plants to mature without becoming crowded.

For slopes and hillsides:

Mass low growers and groundcover types along a slope or hillside for low-maintenance erosion control.

For containers:

Plant a smaller specimen or dwarf type as a stand-alone accent in a container, or combine with other evergreen plants for year-round appeal.

JUNIPER VARIETIES

Swipe to view slides

Photo: Proven Winners

Montana Moss® Buy now from Proven Winners
Juniperus chinensis

Type:

Shrub

Zones:

4-9

Height/Spread:

Spreading habit, 2 to 4 feet tall, 3 to 5 feet wide

Exposure:

Full sun

Color:

Blue-green foliage

Soft, blue-green foliage adds a unique texture to and blends well with other colors in the garden. This shrub is well suited for use as a groundcover or edging plant. Prune as needed to control spread.

Photo: Proven Winners

Tortuga™ Buy now from Proven Winners
Juniperus communis

Type:

Shrub

Zones:

2-7

Height/Spread:

Spreading habit, 2 feet tall, 3 to 4 feet wide

Exposure:

Partial to full sun

Color:

Emerald-green foliage

A tough evergreen that withstands cold, heat, deer, rabbits, drought, and can even be planted under black walnut trees. Use this native plant as a low-mounding groundcover in sunny, well-drained areas.

Photo by: Tim Ludwing / Millette Photomedia

'Blue Point' Juniper
Juniperus chinensis

Type:

Tree

Zones:

4-9

Height/Spread:

Upright pyramidal habit, grows 8 to 12 feet tall and 3 to 6 feet wide.

Exposure:

Full sun

Color:

Blue-green

Plant closely together for a good windbreak or screen from the elements. Frame entryways or line driveways or walkways. Trim into more formal or conical shapes or leave naturally rugged looking.

Photo by: Sandy Pruden / Millette Photomedia

'Skyrocket’, Rocky Mountain Juniper
Juniperus scopulorum

Type:

Tree

Zones:

4-9

Height/Spread:

Upright columnar habit, 15 to 20 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide

Exposure:

Full sun

Color:

Silvery blue-green

The narrow, tapered shape is reminiscent of a skyrocket. The dreamy blue-green color and stately form of this tree makes it particularly suited to Mediterranean-style landscapes.

Photo by: Tim Ludwig / Millette Photomedia

‘Spartan’, Chinese Juniper
Juniperus chinensis

Type:

Tree

Zones:

4-9

Height/Spread:

Upright tapered habit, 15 feet tall and 3 to 5 feet wide

Exposure:

Full sun

Color:

Dark green

A durable fast-growing tree that is especially valuable when planted in a row as a windbreak, privacy screen, or hedge. Also grow as a spiraled topiary, popular in Mediterranean-inspired landscapes.

Photo by: Spring Meadow Nursery

‘Blue Star,’ Singleseed Juniper
Juniperus squamata

Type:

Shrub

Zones:

4-8

Height/Spread:

Dwarf spreading habit, 2 to 3 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide

Exposure:

Full sun

Color:

Pale blue-silver

Clusters of needles resemble stars on this slow-growing shrub, one of the best varieties for blue color. The diminutive stature makes this a stunning container accent and a popular choice for Asian-style landscapes.

Photo by: Spring Meadow Nursery

Blue Rug (syn. ‘Wiltonii’), Creeping Juniper
Juniperus horizontalis

Type:

Shrub

Zones:

3-9

Height/Spread:

Spreading trailing habit, 6 to 8 inches tall and 6 to 8 feet wide

Exposure:

Full sun

Color:

Silvery blue

This ground-hugging shrub with twisted branches and blue color is attractive when meandering around boulders. Exceptionally hardy and thrives in a wide range of conditions, including coastal areas and high deserts. Popular in Zen gardens.

Photo by: Spring Meadow Nursery

‘Gold Cone’, Common Juniper
Juniperus communis

Type:

Shrub

Zones:

5-7

Height/Spread:

Upright columnar habit with a tapered tip, 3 to 5 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide

Exposure:

Full sun

Color:

New growth is bright golden, mellowing slightly in summer and fall before fading to subtle blue-green in winter.

The diminutive stature and narrow habit make this a great choice for confined spaces. The pleasing chartreuse-green coloring makes this a compelling focal point.

Photo by: Tim Ludwig / Millette Photomedia

‘Grey Owl’, Red Cedar
Juniperus virginiana

Type:

Shrub

Zones:

4-9

Height/Spread:

Open spreading habit, 2 to 3 feet tall and 4 to 6 feet wide

Exposure:

Full sun

Color:

Silver-grey, with hints of purple during winter in colder climates; silver-blue berries

Fine-textured feathery foliage grows in a loose arching habit, adding depth and movement to the landscape. Use this slow-to-moderate grower as a groundcover, erosion control, a low hedge, or to define a pathway.

Photo by: Bertrand Dumont / Millette Photomedia

‘Tolleson’s Blue Weeping’, Rocky Mountain Juniper
Juniperus scopulorum

Type:

Tree

Zones:

3-9

Height/Spread:

Upright weeping habit, 15 to 20 feet tall and 8 to 12 feet wide

Exposure:

Full sun

Color:

Silver-blue

The graceful weeping habit makes this a good choice as a background specimen in a mixed border, a focal point in the landscape or foundation planting between windows. The shape and texture is reminiscent of a weeping willow.

JUNIPER ALTERNATIVES

Many conifers have resinous sap, which can be flammable. In areas with high fire danger, substitute with broadleaf evergreens such as Oregon grape, boxwood, or rhododendrons.

JUNIPER LANDSCAPING TIPS

Good Vibrations® Gold juniper, paired with Graceful Grasses® Vertigo® purple fountain grass and Oso Happy® Candy Oh! landscape rose. Photo by: Proven Winners.

There are many ways to incorporate junipers into your landscape. Here’s how:

  • Place a tall container by your entryway and plant a dwarf form as a year-round accent to enjoy up close.
  • Plant a low- to medium-sized hedge along the front of your yard between the lawn and sidewalk as a living fence.
  • Upright medium-sized forms can be planted in rows to break the landscape into individual garden rooms.
  • Protect your home and landscape from desiccating winter winds by planting a row of tall junipers as a windbreak.
  • Use upright specimens as a neutral backdrop in a mixed border to set off flowering annuals and perennials.
  • For year-round color around your home, place small- to medium-sized varieties along the foundation where they won’t become overgrown and obstruct window views.
  • Grow groundcover types in a rock garden in combination with alpine plants.
  • Edge a pathway with a low-growing variety for year-round living color.
  • Define a property line with a row of fast-growing tall junipers for privacy.
  • Plant an individual specimen with appealing structure and color at the end of a pathway to draw your eye through the landscape.
  • Use varieties that complement the style of your home and landscape. Weeping and groundcover forms are suitable to Asian-style landscapes, while columnar types evoke a formal or Mediterranean feel.
  • Junipers combine well with a wide variety of trees, shrubs, perennials and groundcovers. Plant alongside companions with similar cultivation needs, such as dwarf bamboo, sage, roses, and ornamental grasses.

RELATED:
Shrubs 101
Evergreen Shrubs for All-Season Interest
Best Evergreen Trees for Residential Gardens

JOIN 95,000 GARDEN LOVERSSign up for weekly gardening inspiration and design tips

Get plant information, gardening solutions, design inspiration and more in our weekly newsletter.

* Required Fields
We will never sell or distribute your email to any other parties or organizations.

More about the newsletter

Follow Us Garden Design Magazine Facebook Garden Design Magazine Twitter Garden Design Magazine Pinterest Garden Design Magazine Instagram Garden Design Magazine Youtube

Shop Garden Products

From tools to furniture, these garden products are sure to delight

Discover unique garden products curated by the Garden Design editors, plus items you can use to solve problems in your garden right now, and best sellers from around the web.

Shop Garden Design!