Good Vibrations® Gold 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

Gin Fizz® juniper with berries. Photo by Spring Meadow Nursery.

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

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

Good Vibrations® Gold (syn. ‘Hegedus’), Creeping JuniperBuy now from Proven Winners
Juniperus horizontalis

Type:

Shrub

Zones:

3-9

Height/Spread:

Low spreading habit, 1 to 1 1/2 feet tall and 7 to 9 feet wide

Exposure:

Full sun

Color:

Gold, with hints of bronze in fall and winter

Soft, feathery gold foliage lights up mixed borders, rock gardens and foundation plantings. This shrub is adaptable to most soils and hot, dry conditions and is salt tolerant, making it a good choice along driveways, curbs, and for beachside locations. The open, loose habit makes this useful as filler in containers. Mass as a groundcover along a bank or rock wall. Prune lightly to shape as needed in early spring.

Photo: Proven Winners

Gin Fizz® (syn. ‘RIKAG’), Chinese JuniperBuy now from Proven Winners
Juniperus chinensis

Type:

Shrub

Zones:

4-8

Height/Spread:

Upright tapered habit, 10 to 18 feet tall and 7 to 10 feet wide at the base

Exposure:

Full sun

Color:

Green foliage, blue-green berries

Pale teal berries are produced in abundance, set off by a backdrop of deep green foliage, making this shrub a stunning accent in a mixed border. The symmetrical pyramidal structure adds a formal element. Use as an attractive focal point, or plant in a row as a lush hedge or screen for privacy.

Photo: Proven Winners

Montana Moss®, Chinese JuniperBuy now from Proven Winners
Juniperus chinensis

Type:

Shrub

Zones:

4-9

Height/Spread:

Mounding spreading habit, 2 to 4 feet tall and 3 to 5 feet wide

Exposure:

Full sun

Color:

Blue-green

The moss-like bluish foliage adds soft texture and depth to the landscape. Use this versatile low-growing shrub as edging, in rock gardens, as a lawn substitute, or mass as a groundcover along a slope for erosion control. Can also be used as a spiller element in a container in combination with other plants. Prune lightly as needed to shape.

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

When planted closely together, the dense foliage makes a good windbreak or screen from the elements. Frame entryways or line driveways or walkways. Grows steadily, approximately 6 inches per year. Trim into more formal or conical shapes or leave naturally rugged looking. Provides structure, stability, and blue-green color year-round with little or no care.

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 exceptionally narrow, tapered shape is reminiscent of a skyrocket, hence the name. The dreamy blue-green color and stately form of this tree makes it particularly suited to Mediterranean-style landscapes. Uses for this moderate grower are many: as hedging in narrow spaces, as privacy screening or windbreak along a property line, to divide garden rooms, or as a focal point in the landscape. Tolerant of urban conditions, this tough variety needs little care once established. More susceptible to cedar-apple rust than others.

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

This durable fast-growing tree with an elongated, tapered form is especially valuable when planted in a row as a windbreak, privacy screen or hedge. Young specimens can be planted in containers or urns, lending a formal element. This variety is also grown as spiraled topiaries, which are 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

Named for the clusters of needles that resemble stars, this slow-growing shrub is one of the best varieties for blue color. The vibrant hue, softly textured foliage and diminutive stature makes this a stunning container accent. Use in mass plantings, along a slope for erosion control, as a rock garden specimen, or at the front of a mixed border. 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 striking blue color is most attractive when allowed to meander around boulders. Tolerant of heat islands around streets and driveways, this exceptionally hardy variety thrives in a wide range of conditions, including cold northern regions, coastal areas, and the thin, rocky soils and wide temperature swings of the high desert. Use to soften and drape over retaining walls, as erosion control along a slope, or as a specimen in a rock garden. A popular choice in Asian or Zen landscapes, this slow-moderate grower can also be trained as a potted bonsai.

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 vertical, narrow habit makes this shrub a great choice for confined spaces. The pleasing chartreuse-green coloring makes this a compelling focal point in the landscape. Plant in containers, in a mixed border, as a rock garden specimen, or in rows to divide garden rooms.

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

Fine-textured feathery foliage grows in a loose arching habit, adding depth and movement to the landscape. Silvery-blue berries complement the slate-grey leaves. Use this slow-to-moderate growing shrub as a groundcover for erosion control along a bank, as a low hedge along a property line, or to define a pathway. Protect from hot afternoon sun in warmer climates.

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 of this tree makes it a good choice as a background specimen in a mixed border, a focal point in the landscape or foundation planting along a home between windows. Use this moderate grower to screen unsightly views or utility boxes. The shape and texture is reminiscent of a weeping willow, and looks stunning when located near a reflecting pond. Adaptable to most regions and climates, from the cold northeast, coastal areas and high desert.

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
Our Guide to Conifers

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