An attractive flowering evergreen, the juniper is an integral part of many different garden planting schemes. These range from low growing ground cover plants that can also be used for edging to flowering shrubs and trees.
The differing specimens also develop in a range of shapes including rounded forms, narrow columns and tight pyramids. Short to medium in height, the juniper is one of the most versatile evergreen shrubs and is ideal for smaller spaces.
Part of the Juniperus genus, all types of juniper belong to the wider Cypress of Cupressaceae plant family. Most types of juniper are native to parts of Europe, Asia and North America.
Juniperus plants are amongst the most attractive and versatile plants.
Like the willow tree, juniperus specimens are dioecious plants. This means that the flowers of each plant has either male or female parts.
Both male and female types tend to produce needle-like foliage when young. This flattens out into a more scale-like shape as the plants mature. Female plants tend to produce colorful berries. Technically modified cones, the berries can be used to flavor gin. They also provide a reliable food source for garden birds and wildlife.
As well as providing ornamental attraction, many juniperus plants are also used in medicinal extracts, for coloring food and beverages or to add fragrance to cosmetics. The native people of North America also used different types of juniper to treat chronic conditions such as gastrointestinal infections and tuberculosis.
One of the best flowering trees to add to your garden, the following are some of the more interesting types of juniper.
The Alligator tree (Juniperus deppeana) is commonly seen growing in many parts of the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico. One of the most distinctive types of jumper it is named after its bark which is marked with rough, square shapes that resemble the skin of an alligator. This thick bark makes it easy to identify the Alligator plant when it is planted alongside other types of juniper. The plant’s blue-green leaves also help to set it apart from other cultivars.
The thick, distinctive marked bark of the Juniperus deppeana.
Once established, Alligator is both heat tolerant and resilient. Alligator varieties thrive in a range of different soil types. These plants seem to prefer positions with a moderate level of elevation. It happily grows alongside oaks, ponderosas and pinon pines.
Hardy in USDA Zones 7 to 9, Alligator specimens can achieve a height of 60 ft. However, they rarely exceed 40 ft. Like many types of juniper, Alligator cultivars enjoy a slow growth rate, rarely exceeding 0.6 inches a decade.
Depending on the growing conditions and location the Alligator can be cultivated as either a tree or shrub. Also known as the Mountain Cedar or Checkerbark tree, the Alligator is a long lasting specimen capable of living for up to 500 years.
Many birds, including sparrows, hummingbirds and woodpeckers are drawn to the Alligator specimen. A good choice for planting in dry rocky conditions, some cultivars, such as McFetter are commonly used in landscaping for hedging or screening.
The Siberian, also known as the Common or Dwarf cultivar, is one of the most commonly cultivated types of juniper. Native to many parts of North America such as Illinois, the Dwarf is commonly seen growing on dry slopes and hillsides as well as in mixed forests, clearings and along roadsides.
Unlike most types of juniper that produce scale-like foliage Siberian specimens produce long, stiff pointed needles with a glossy lower surface. These typically have a broad base and blue-green upper surface.
Providing further interest, small flowers emerge during May and June. While male Siberian types produce yellow flowers, females produce yellow-green flowers. As the flowers fade purple berry-like cones form. These provide a reliable food source for wild birds during the winter months.
These plants can be grown as creeping dwarf shrubs or tall, heavily crowned trees. A low maintenance specimen, Siberian cultivars are, once established both wind and drought tolerant. Most Siberians rarely exceed 15 ft in height, however some can grow as tall as 30 ft.
An attractive specimen, the fragrant timber of the Siberian can be carved into bowls or utensils. The berries are also used for seasoning dishes.
An attractive evergreen, the California, also known as Desert White Cedar, is commonly seen growing around various parts of California such as Shasta County. It is also a common sight on the western slopes of the southern Sierra Nevada.
In addition to its distinctive conical shape, blue or red-brown small cones or fruit is one of this cultivar’s most striking features. These develop during the fall or winter months. When in full bloom the scale-like foliage is light or medium green in color.
Desert White Cedar, like other varieties, produces small berries in the fall and winter.
Drought tolerant when established, Desert White Cedar thrives in dry or moist soil. It also tolerates alkaline soils well. Desert White Cedar is often used to prevent soil erosion on dry slopes.
Not as long lived as Alligator types of juniper, the Desert White Cedars grow 12 to 24 inches a year for 50 to 150 years reaching a mature height of between 20 and 60 ft. The rate of growth and mature height largely depend on the growing conditions. Usually grown as a large shrub, Desert White Cedar can also be cultivated as a medium sized tree.
Chinese Juniper (Juniperus Chinensis) is typically cultivated as a small to medium shrub. A versatile specimen it can also be encouraged to develop into a larger shrub or tree. Chinese cultivars can grow to a height of 10 to 50 ft while shrub types rarely exceed 8 ft.
Like many types of juniper, the Chinese is an evergreen that thrives in full sun. If the plant doesn’t receive at least 6 hours of sunlight a day, it may start to look sickly. Like other varieties, the Chinese prefers well draining soil but is tolerant of both drought and salty soil.
Native to Asia, Juniperus Chinensis has ridged bark and two types of needles. Adult needles are short, convex shaped while juvenile needles are awl shaped. Typically green, the needles can also be gray-green or blue-green in color. The plants are hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 9.
The Hollywood is a common Chinese cultivar. As it matures, Hollywood twists and bends, creating an interesting specimen plant.
Scientifically known as Juniperus horizontalis, Creeping types of juniper are native to the Northern United States, Canada and Alaska. The plants are also known as Trailing or Creeping Savin.
This is a low growing plant, rarely exceeding 1 to 2 ft in height. It is a practical option that works in a range of different landscape styles as well as providing colorful ground cover. Creeping Savin can also be cultivated as a fragrant shrub.
Hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 9, like many types of juniper this plant is adaptable to all soil types and, once established, flourishes in hot, dry conditions. In fact, Creeping Savin is so drought resistant that it can be planted in areas where irrigation is hard to impossible.
There are numerous different Creeping Savin cultivars, including those with distinctive yellow foliage. Like many types of juniper, the leaves are needle-like when the plant is young before developing into scales as the plant matures. As the flowers fade, blue-white berry cones with a waxy coating emerge.
These are versatile, evergreen plants.
Drooping or Weeping types of juniper plants develop a distinctive cascading or weeping form. Providing an attractive addition to the garden, elegant drooping branches with red brown bark and needle-like leaves fall from a broad-shaped crown towards the ground. As the plant matures, the needle-like leaves turn into, equally interesting, flattened scales.
Native to Mexico and parts of the Himalayas, Weeping cultivars are a popular ornamental choice. Hardy in USDA Zones 8 to 11, these plants can reach a mature height of around 35 ft in ideal conditions.
As the flowers fade, berry-like blue-black fleshy cones form. These are popular with both birds and mammals while the long lasting, durable wood can be used to construct fence posts.
7 Eastern Red Cedar
Often mistakenly described as a cedar tree, Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is actually a type of juniper. Eastern Red Cedars grow all over the United States. Often termed a pioneer tree, these hardy specimens were among the first to occupy otherwise deserted regions, thanks to birds such as waxwings spreading their seeds.
Like many types of juniper, the berries of Eastern Red Cedar provide a reliable source of food for many wild birds.
Especially fragrant, this is a good specimen tree. Eastern Red Cedar specimens are hardy, evergreen small to medium trees that can reach up to 50 ft tall in favorable conditions. These plants have a distinctive upright trunk with thin, shedding strips. The Eastern Red Cedar’s dark blue-green foliage contrasts nicely with the plant’s gray or red-brown bark. Further adding to the visual interest, the trunk can be fluted at the bottom.
The Eastern Red Cedar is more tolerant of excess moisture than other types of juniper. However, the plants do struggle in wet or boggy soil. Eastern Red Cedars are hardy in USDA Zones 2 to 9.
The wood of the Eastern Red Cedar, which is finely grained and pleasingly disease resistant, can be used to make fence posts, chests, pails and pencils. The oil produced from Eastern Red Cedar plants can be used to kill moths that feed on wool.
8 One Seed
At home in the arid areas of western North America, including Arizona, South Colorado and New Mexico, One Seed types of juniper can be cultivated as either evergreen trees or coniferous shrubs. Characterized by a dense crown, which can measure 20 to 70 ft in diameter, One Seed’s bark is gray-brown. This exfoliates in thin strips to reveal an orange-brown surface, providing further visual interest.
One of the many dioecious types of juniper, there are separate male and female One Seed (Juniperus monosperma) trees. The female trees produce cones that are dark purple or blue in color.
The foliage of young plants is needle-like, turning more scale-like as the plants mature. Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9, like other types of juniper the One Seed is popular with both birds and mammals who, in turn, help to pollinate the tree.
Greek types of juniper (Juniperus excelsa) commonly grow in the Eastern Mediterranean as well as parts of South Bulgaria, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. An evergreen tree capable of reaching 30 to 60 ft tall in the wild, Greek cultivars can be identified by their green-blue pointed needles and, on female specimens, purple-blue cones.
A tall, attractive specimen plant the fragrant boughs of Juniperus excelsa are a great option for Christmas greenery. The branches can also be used to make decorative garlands and wreaths while, if properly prepared, the berries can be used in sauces and marinades. If left on the plant the boughs create a dense canopy which provides shelter for garden birds.
Many of these varieties grow in difficult conditions.
Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9, this is a low maintenance cultivar that requires very little pruning and is also drought tolerant. It is also a resilient specimen, capable of growing on the sides of rocky cliffs. While Greek cultivars can grow to a height of 65 ft in the wild, in gardens the plants rarely exceed 20 ft. The trunks can measure up to 6 ft in diameter.
In the wild Juniperus excelsa can be found growing alongside the Stinking Juniper (Juniperus foetidissima) plant. While similar in appearance the foliage of the two plants are differing shades of green.
10 Rocky Mountain
One of the most formal looking types of juniper, Rocky Mountain (Juniperus scopulorum) is a column-shaped specimen. Similar in appearance to a Christmas tree, depending on the cultivar, Rocky Mountain is capable of growing to a height of 3 to 30 ft. This versatility makes it an ideal specimen plant. Rocky Mountain specimens can be cultivated as a windbreak or as an alternative to the bonsai tree.
Rocky Mountain can be cultivated as an alternative to the bonsai tree.
Rocky Mountain’s blue-green scale-like foliage may be lighter or darker depending on the cultivar. The berry-like cones are typically dark blue in color with a white covering.
Hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 9, the Rocky Mountain plant provides both food and shelter to wildlife such as deer, birds, elk, turkeys and antelope. Rocky Mountain fruits can be used to flavor teas and food while the wax around the berries can be used to make candles.
As the name suggests Western types of juniper are native to western areas of the United States. Part of Cupressaceae family, these attractive specimens are also known as the Sierra Juniper (Juniperus occidentalis). Growing as a large shrub or small tree, depending on the growing conditions, Western cultivars can reach a height of 50 to 80 ft. However most cultivated species tend to average between 15 and 30 ft.
Typically hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9, like other types of juniper the foliage of the Western variety is pointed when young. As the plant matures the foliage becomes more scale-like.
This slow growing specimen is ideal for planting in containers. The blue-brown cones have a variety of uses, but if left on the plant they are a popular source of food for birds such as the cedar waxwing. Providing food and shelter to wildlife throughout the year, the wood of the Western cultivar can be carved, turned into fence posts or used as firewood.
One of the most adaptable types of juniper, the Utah, also known as the Cedar Juniper is a bushy evergreen. As these plants grow they develop a distinctive round crown and long trunk. Utah specimen’s typically develop a large root system. When planting, take into account any nearby underground obstacles such as pipes or drains.
In the wild Utah plants can grow up to 30 ft tall. This growth is more contained if they are cultivated in gardens. Here the Utah typically achieves a height of between 10 and 20 ft. Commonly found on dry plains and plateaus, the Utah tolerates a range of soil textures but grows best in gravelly loamy soil.
The Utah is a pleasingly resilient specimen capable of growing in difficult conditions.
Identified by its thick stems and branches, the foliage of the Utah is light yellow-green in color. The fruit is a contrasting blue-brown shade. The foliage, like other types of juniper, becomes scale-like as the plant matures. Capable of living for over 500 years, the Utah is hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 7.
Due to the fact that they often grow in similar locations, the Utah is often mistaken for the One Seed juniper. The easiest way to tell the two apart is to inspect the cones or berries. One Seeds usually produce jucy cones, while Utah cones are dry.
Where to Plant
An attractive specimen, caring for all types of juniper is pleasingly simple. Once established the juniper is pleasingly drought resistant. This makes them a good choice for planting in arid or dry climates.
Warning: Juniper has a resinous sap. This is combustible. In areas where there is an ongoing danger of wildfires, mass planting of juniper trees should be avoided. However, the plants can still be safely planted in areas such as rocky outcrops where there is little combustible material in the surrounding area.
Choosing the Right Specimen for You
When considering a plant, there are a number of things that you should take into consideration. The most important thing to take into account is the desired size and purpose of the plant. Some types of juniper, for example, are better at providing privacy screening than others, while others are a better feature or specimen plant.
A versatile specimen, these plants can be used for a range of purposes.
In smaller areas or container gardens small and dwarf cultivars are suitable. Low growing types are also ideal for providing groundcover or controlling soil erosion.
Both trees and shrubs are pleasingly easy to care for. Shrubs rarely require pruning, naturally keeping their shape. While trees provide height and shade, shrubby cultivars are a great way to add structure, interest and fragrance to the landscape.
Identifying the Ideal Planting Position
Select your planting space carefully. Most types of juniper are considered hardy in USDA Zones 2 to 10. The plants may have an upright, spreading or weeping growth habit. Depending on the cultivar, the plants can achieve a mature height of between 6 inches and 130 ft and spread between 1 and 25 ft wide. Your chosen space should have enough room, both above and below ground, for the young plant to grow into.
Planting correctly, in a favorable position helps your selected specimen to settle more quickly. It also makes ongoing care a lot easier.
Plant in a full sun position. Many types also tolerate light shade. Too much shade causes the branches to spread apart, straining to reach the sunlight. This damages the shape of the plant.
When planted in a favorable position, flowers and berries as well as lots of healthy foliage develop.
Most types of juniper grow in a range of soil profiles as long as it is well draining. Many cultivars are ideal for urban areas because they tolerate urban pollution.
Avoid planting all types of juniper in areas where apple trees are close by. The cedar-apple rust fungus (Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae) is known to first develop on juniperus cultivars before transferring to apple trees, hawthorns, quince and crabapples. The Eastern Red Cedar is the most common host of this fungus but other types of juniper can also play host.
Container specimens can be planted at any time of year. Ensure that your pot is large enough to hold your chosen specimen and has ample drainage holes in the bottom. Fill with a balanced potting soil and plant as described below.
If your chosen specimen is balled with burlap covered roots, it is best planted in the fall.
To plant, dig a hole as deep as the root ball and two to three times wider. Work lots of organic matter into the soil.
Position the plant in the hole. The soil line on the trunk or stem should be level with the surrounding soil.
When the plant is correctly positioned, backfill the hole, firmly pressing down the soil as you do so to remove any air pockets. Use a garden hose to water the planted specimen in well. If the soil settles into a depression you may need to add more soil.
Larger specimens, particularly if planted in an exposed position as a specimen plant, may require some support. A DeWitt Tree Stake Planting Kit is easy to install and provides robust support to young specimens, ensuring that they develop into a healthy, upright shape.
When planting, remember to space the plants out correctly. Larger types require more space than smaller specimens. Allowing an adequate space between plants encourages air circulation, meaning that the plants are less susceptible to developing fungal diseases such as powdery mildew.
If you want to learn more about planting a juniper tree, our how to plant guide is a great place to start.
Young shrubs require regular water, particularly during dry spells during the first two years. After this period the plants are considered established and are more able to tolerate periods of drought.
Apply a balanced fertilizer, such as a 10-10-10 fertilizer every spring. In good soil there is rarely any need to apply more than an annual dose of fertilize. If you are using a granular, slow-release product, such as Miracle-Gro Shake ‘N’ Feed Fertilizer, make sure that you spread it evenly over the entire root zone before watering in thoroughly.
Most types of juniper naturally keep their form or shape meaning that there is little need to prune. In early spring prune away any dead branches and, with sharp garden scissors, trim away errant growth. It is unusual for the plants to require anything more than a light shaping.
Diseases and Common Problems
In the right position and with the correct care, these are largely problem free specimens. If the plants aren’t healthy they can fall victim to various infestations such as spider mites, scale, juniper needle miner, bark beetle and juniper twig girdler.
Diseases such as root rot are also common if the soil is not well draining. Planting specimens too close together or in a too shady position can also cause issues.
Toxicity Warning. All types of juniper berries, stems and needles are mildly toxic to cats and dogs if eaten. The bitter taste means that in general animals tend to leave the plants alone. While ingestion is rarely fatal it can cause diarrhea, vomiting and kidney problems.
While attractive, the berries, needles and stems can be dangerous if consumed.
A reliable ornamental plant, whichever of the many types of juniper you decide to add to your garden these plants are amongst the most attractive and easy to cultivate currently available. Once established the plants tolerate adverse conditions well. These long lasting specimens are a great way to fill your garden with interest and provide wildlife with food and shelter throughout the year.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.