Junipers are victims of their own success. With scores of cultivars available and a tough nature, the genus Juniperus is used extensively in the landscape. Or, some might argue, overused. And even in some cases, misused. Still, a properly selected juniper will add textural and color interest to your property.
First, be sure you can give your juniper the appropriate conditions, i.e. sun and good drainage. True, there are a few cultivars that can take some shade, as well as others that are more tolerant of less than ideal drainage, but play it safe by providing full sun and a well-drained location.
Then, decide what role the juniper is going to play in your landscape. Are you looking for a focal point or strong vertical element? A few pyramidal or columnar cultivars of J. virginiana that fit the bill are ‘Burkii’, ‘Brodie’, ‘Hillspire’ and ‘Stover’. These upright cultivars can also be grouped to form a hedge or allee.
If you need a shrub, junipers of almost any size and color can be found at garden centers. Most have a spreading habit, so they grow wider than tall and work well under windows without need for frequent pruning. J. chinensis ‘Gold Coast’ sports golden yellow needles, tops out at three feet and spreads to about five feet. ‘Nick’s Compact’, another cultivar of the same species, has green foliage with a slight bluish overcast. It will reach 2 ½ feet by six feet in eight years.
Continuing down the height spectrum, we get to groundcovers, where many good junipers go bad. Actually, the junipers themselves don’t usually go bad, but rather the planting scheme. Many homeowners understandably don’t want to mow on a steep slope, so they plant umpteen junipers as the solution. Use a little imagination here! Why not three, or even five, different juniper cultivars in order to get a variety of colors, heights and textures? Or even mix in some plants other than junipers, such as yuccas, agaves or ornamental grasses? Large stones would also be a good foil to the junipers’ texture and color, and once you wrestle them into place, they require no maintenance.
A final caution about foliage color: some junipers are green, while many are bluish, yellow or even variegated. But many varieties change color in cold weather, often to what is charitably described as “dark plum”. You might consider it “dirty brown”, so it pays to check out junipers in winter to see what you’ll be getting.
Featured image – Juniperus conferta ‘All Gold’ by Joann Currier
Charlie Kidder gardens in Cary, where he tries to cram every plant possible into his half acre. He also helps to care for the xeric gardens at the JC Raulston Arboretum. He can be contacted at email@example.com.