Landscaping with Juniper: Maintain and Prune This Hearty Conifer

Reader Contribution by Stephanie Leaf
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Juniper is a beautiful plant that you can find virtually anywhere once you know what to look for.  I knew nothing about Juniper just a few years ago, but once I realized that several juniper bushes located on our property required frequent maintenance in order to control them, I became familiar with them very quickly.

Going back, our property was home to a former nursery and showcased a variety of bushes, trees and plants. Unfortunately, when we purchased it, the interior of the house needed so much renovation — two years passed before we even touched anything on the outside.  When we finally did, we found that we had several different types of juniper right in our backyard, and I have a love/hate relationship with every one of them.

Juniper Characteristics

Juniper is a coniferous plant belonging to the cypress family. It is a very common plant used in landscaping as garden hedges, hill coverings, and property barriers, to name just a few. Some juniper are low-laying creeper versions, while others are standalone bushes. The color of needles and berries can vary among type but are usually a beautiful green/blue color.

For many plants, years of no pruning may not be an issue, chop them back when you get to it and it will grow back, similar to a haircut. However, Juniper can be much more unforgiving.

Juniper is beautiful in appearance and has a wonderful, refreshing scent, so I would love to keep the bushes around if possible. Juniper also has many wonderful uses that make it a beneficial plant to have in your backyard. It makes beautiful cuttings for holiday arrangements.

Juniper berries can also have a variety of uses from cooking, to healing salves, to essential oils. While junipers can be very enjoyable, the amount of maintenance required is something you definitely want to consider before planting them.

Juniper Maintenance

For one, juniper bushes are extremely dense plants that grow relatively quickly. This means that a Juniper will typically have a dead center. Sunlight cannot reach the center of the plant causing the branches in the middle of the plant to brown and die. Unfortunately, as the plant grows, so does the dead center. This dead center makes frequent pruning necessary in order to keep the dead center small and manageable.

Once the dead center grows, you will only be able to prune the plant back as far as the live branches begin. Pruning the bush into the dead center will cause the bush to have large dead spots which will never grow back. Frequent pruning is the only way to combat this.

In addition to being beautiful and having a variety of uses, it is also a very hearty plant that will grow with little care, which is one of the reasons it is so commonly used in landscaping. We have a creeping juniper plant as a hill cover in our backyard. It is hearty and is wonderful for preventing soil wash out.

Due to its heartiness however, it is very hard to weed and is also an inviting place for black snakes to hang out. It is for this reason that we have plans to replace it with a different option this summer.

We have a huge juniper bush which has been neglected for years. It measures approximately 10 feet wide and 7 feet tall. The dead zone is pretty much larger than the new growth at this point. Unfortunately, no amount of pruning can return the bush to a manageable size. At this point, the only hope is to rip it out of the ground.

Aside from a few of these overgrown bushes, we also have some in areas which require frequent pruning that we do several times a year. We have some lining a small pond on the property, as well as lining the road in front of our home. Although these plants are much bigger than I would like, I have learned to prune them properly so that they maintain their current shape and volume.

Early spring is the best time for us to focus on pruning the juniper bushes that line our driveway. We will also prune them back in early fall. These require frequent pruning in order to ensure that the juniper branches do not block out view of the road when pulling out of our driveway.

Before and after pruning:

11 Tips for Juniper Maintenance

1. When buying juniper, make sure that you are purchasing the correct kind for your needs, the difference in type could determine how it will grow and pruning will be dependent on the growth pattern.

2. Prune lightly and frequently, at least twice per year spring (before new growth occurs) and fall, or when needed to maintain shape of plant.

3. Wear gloves when pruning, new growth is very soft and delicate, but old, mature growth is woody and prickly.

4. Avoid pruning in mid-summer when it is the hottest.

5. Do not use shears, use bypass pruners and make cuts at 45 degree angles

6. Clean pruner blades between prunings and after pruning a different tree/bush to prevent spreading disease.

7. Cut branches enough on each branch to shorten it but do not cut into dead zones.

8. Start from top to bottom, tapering down to maintain shape. The longer limbs should be at the bottom.

9. For bushes or creeping Juniper, make sure to frequently trim back branches sticking out from the top of the bush.

10. You can use the dead zone to your advantage by frequently trimming and cutting and unwanted branches back to the dead zone to prevent them from growing again.

11. Make sure to frequently check for pests that can be destructive to juniper bushes. One of the major ones that we have experiences are call bagworms. These can be extremely destructive and tend to favor evergreen trees and bushes.

Image above shows Juniper branch’s new growth extending from older, woody section. Frequently prune the new growth back to the start of the woody section.

Juniper is a lovely plant with many benefits and uses. If you are able to maintain a frequent pruning schedule, these plants would make a wonderful addition to your landscape and backyard.

Stephanie Leafis transforming her family’s Maryland home into their homestead dream property. She and her husband own a masonry business and do the majority of the renovation projects themselves, with plans to expand their garden, cultivate herbs, build a chicken coop and involve their children in every aspect of self-sufficiency. Connect with Stephanie atWingin’ it on the Homesteadand onFacebookandPinterest.

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