5 Reasons to Reconsider your Hatred of Juniper Bushes

Juniper bushes are the most despised landscaping plant in existence.  I know this to be true, because 75% of the time that I talk with a homeowner or property owner about renovating their landscape, they say something like “those Junipers have GOT to go!”.

Photo of typical overgrown Juniper bushes

Juniper bushes are common in older landscapes. Here they were not given adequate room, so they have been sheared off along the walkway.

Why is this?  I think there are a few main reasons, aside from the fact that they are prickly beasts that we have all tangled with a one point (either landing in one while playing as a kid, or getting that annoying rash on your arm while trimming them) :

 

1) They were simply overused in the past.  People are just tired of them and want something unique and new.  And since they live for ages and rarely die, they are often the only living survivors guarding the front doors of homes in any older neighborhood.

2) They were not planted with enough room to grow.  Many of the varieties get quite large after say, 20 years, and quickly outgrow the planting bed.  Because they grow too large for their setting they require excessive pruning to keep them at a manageable size.  This pruning then exposes all of the dead old growth inside the base of the plant- ugly!

3) The aforementioned prickliness.   And good luck getting the baseball you were tossing around out of the center of that green monster.

Given these negatives, why then should you consider using Juniper plants in your landscape?

1)  They require little water and are very well adapted to the western and southwestern United States.  That is why in places like Eastern Colorado (where few woody plants survive, and water is a scarce resource) they are used by landowners and farmers for windbreaks.  They are an excellent Xeriscape plant.

upright Juniper bushes in a Xeriscape planting

When used correctly, such as in this Denver Xeriscape, Junipers can be an attractive addition to the landscape.

2)  They are long-lived plants.  In some places native specimens have lived for several hundred years in the wild.

3)  Given an appropriate amount of space, they require almost no maintenance.

4)  They are evergreen, so they provide good winter interest.  They can be used to add texture and scale to a landscape, and make terrific visual screens, hedges, and windbreaks.

5)  There are many forms and colors available that offer endless design possibilities, ranging from narrow upright forms to low mat-forming spreading varieties, and everything in between.  Colors can range from dark green, to blue-gray, to bright green, to yellow green, with some varieties changing to purplish-red shades in the winter months.

So, the next time you decide to tear out those old Juniper shrubs, consider re-introducing them into your new landscape design to enjoy all of the benefits these versatile plants have to offer.

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.


Be Sociable, Share!

Related Posts:

Leave a Comment to “5 Reasons to Reconsider your Hatred of Juniper Bushes”

  1. Marie says:

    I laughed out loud when I read the title. OK, so what do you suggest I do with a partly brown juniper right next to the front door of my newly-purchased house?

  2. Matt Corrion says:

    Thanks for the comment! Does your juniper have room to grow, or is it already crowding the front door and/or walkway? If it does have room to grow, they may have simply over-pruned it. You might be able to thin it out a little to allow light into it’s interior branches, while also removing the brown parts. Then, if there is room, you could supplement it and take the attention away from it by surrounding it with other plants.

    But, if it is too large and in too small of a space it might be time to remove it. I would be happy to give you some choices to replace it with- I would just need to know 1) where you are located, 2) how much sun does the area get, 3) how much water does the area get, and 4) the size of the space.

  3. Sheila says:

    My Juniper bushes are at the end of my driveway and have been there for the past 16 years when planted. The poor things are in a fight for their lives. the branches are shrivering up and turing brown. The shape at the end of both sides of the driveway is enormous. due to the shrubs planted behind it they can only grow up and out. what can I do to try to save them? right now I have cut the majority of the brown off, am over watering them, and am using Miralce Grow!

  4. Matt Corrion says:

    Sheila,

    I need a little bit more info to give you a good answer. Take a look at my comment above from April 6th- If you can answer the questions that I asked in that comment, then I can give you some ideas. Specifically, what City do you live in, and how much sun and water do they get?

  5. Michele Santangelo says:

    Hi Matt,

    Great website, thanks for the info! I have about 4-5 junipers on each side of my driveway that seem to be well over 10 years of age, and have just been left to grow since probably the very beginning. I live in a rural area on an acre so they have plenty of space, but now they have become long limbed and scraggly, about 6-7′ tall, but seemingly healthy otherwise. I said the same thing about ripping them out one day, but they do provide a nice privacy and driveway lining, if only they looked manicured. Plus all the other projects take precedence over messing with existing healthy low-maintenance plants…so my question is, how can I improve their look? I’ve been searching for pruning techniques online to no avail, I can’t afford to hire a professional, and I’d prefer to do it myself anyway, but knowing how bad hack jobs can turn out I’m afraid to touch them…plus I read a comment that if they’re cut too far back to just bare limbs, the foliage won’t grow back – ahhh!

  6. Matt Corrion says:

    Michele,

    Thanks for reading and for commenting! You might consider putting some plants around them that are smaller, with a tighter growth habit, if there is room. Then you would have a more “tidy” appearance up front and the junipers would not be sitting there by themselves “sticking out like a sore thumb” yet they would still give you the height and privacy. If you do decide to trim them a bit, try to only take the tips off and not trim them too deep inside the plant. If you wanted to send me some photos I would be happy to take a look- you can email me at info@odgdesign.com

  7. Chris Keating says:

    So glad I stumbled across your website, and still chuckling over the article title. Well written, btw.

    We have an interesting bush/tree thing in our front yard (western exposure) It has four or five thick branches growing up from a central source, and the branches end in gigantic Sideshow Bob-esque explosions of foliage. The tallest part of the bush/tree is about 7′. We thought it would be neat to trim this bonsai-style, but do not know where to start. Is this possible with a juniper? Can you pass on any tips on how to shape this thing, in order to create an Oriental feel?

    THX!

  8. Matt Corrion says:

    Thanks Chris!

    Trimming your juniper to look like a bonsai is definitely possible! Many of the bonsai sold in stores are just small junipers, they are one of the easier bonsai to grow due to their toughness and low water requirements that I touched on in the article above.

    If I were you I would probably try to trim it in 1 or 2 “phases”. Buy a really good sharp pair of small shears, and start trimming branch by branch. Go slow, and consider each branch before removing it. The biggest mistake I see people make is getting too aggressive and trimming too much off at once. This is why it might make sense to trim it in 2 phases. After the first trimming, step back and assess it for a couple weeks. This way you might get a better idea of which branches to remove to finish it off.

    So glad you stumbled upon our site- I hope you keep following us!

  9. Alyssa Sliva says:

    I have already been looking to post about something like this about my site and you set it up an idea. Regards.

  10. Lynne McKinley says:

    I had them in Santa Monica, they were like 50 years old and crowded and huge when I moved in. I put on gloves and dug in to prune them – opened them up like big bonzai trees, with artistic shaping and airy design. They were amazingly beautiful and people actually stopped by to comment on them. They only look bad if you let them go.

  11. Matt Corrion says:

    Hi Lynne, that is a great way to prune the older ones. Would love to see some photos if you have any!

  12. Brian Breeding says:

    I have several large juniper bushes about my building which were planted in the 1970′s and remain hearty and beautiful…except for two bushes which were basically destroyed in a heavy snow last winter. I believe that they could be salvaged by (piecing in) and planting the same variety of blue juniper in the broken areas. Problem is that none of the landscaping sales geniuses today can tell me the variety which would match my basic 1970′s blue juniper bushes…and today there are so many varieties…most of which are slow growing and meant for ground cover…the exact opposite of what I am looking for. I need something that will grow fast and integrate into my 4 ft high round bushes quickly? Can you point me in the right direction? I am at wits end. Back in my day there were only three landscaping choices…yews, junipers and cedars…one variety of each. And the young kids running the local nurserys and at Lowes and Home depot dont have a clue.

  13. Matt Corrion says:

    Brian,
    Thanks for your comment. I would love to see a photo of the area. Also, what City are you located in? If you could visit my business website at http://www.odgdesign.com and send me a message via the contact form on that site, I will follow up with an email or call. Matt

  14. Cindy says:

    I have four, what I think are common Junipers, or Burkii Junipers in my front landscaping. They are approximatly 10 ft tall and have been there for at least 7 years. We prune them at least twice a year to keep their shape and height, but this past season the top half of one of them died. I saw no sign of pest, or blight and the bottom is still healthy and growing. My question is can I save it by cutting the top off and trying to reshape it as it grows or will I have to replace?

  15. Matt Corrion says:

    My best guess without seeing them in person is that it could be salvaged by pruning as you suggested. Junipers are very resilient.

  16. Charlie Dooley says:

    I just pulled some juniper bushes out for a church that is completely zeroscaping and I feel most people shouldn’t put them in. A large number of people are allergic, and most people dont have enough space for them to grow out. Getting them out is a nightmare.

  17. Cindy says:

    I have a follow up question then. If I cut the dead top out do I need to paint the cut with anything, or can I just leave the cut exposed.

  18. Matt Corrion says:

    I would leave the cut exposed. Painting in most instances is not warranted, that is a bit of a old wives tale.

  19. Juniper HATER says:

    The common housefly finds them to be an extremely comfortable home and pest control companies won’t spray them due to the fact that they (juniper bush) can not handle the pesticide. So, unless you enjoy providing a home for these pests, rip them out. There are hundreds of thousands of bushes who can withstand pesticides and do not provide a safe harbor for pests.

    Fondly,
    Dirk Calloway

    Dictated but not read

  20. Matt Corrion says:

    Dirk, I do not have a real problem with houseflies, they have never been a major nuisance in any of my homes or gardens. Personally I never spray pesticides anywhere on my house or landscape. This practice kills any beneficial insects such as spiders, and can damage bee colonies and other pollinators. Also my kids play in the landscape and I don’t want any of that stuff near them.

  21. Tony Anpajo says:

    Have two juniper bushes on either side of steps in front of condo. Noticed about a month
    ago that the very top parts of them have this tremendous ‘wavy’ growth on them. The
    new branches standing out very distinctly form the older bottom part. Nearest thing I
    can compare them to is the ‘haircuts on some teenagers where the bottom is kind of close
    and the tops of their heads are this wild bushy look…with flowing waves. I have also
    noticed (in past two weeks or so…I’m not terribly observant of flora) there has appeared
    a LOT of little bee like flies (I think their Hoverflies but not sure) have seemed to take up
    residence in the Junipers….by day they seem to ‘Hover’ around and dart here and there but
    they don’t seem to be wasps, etc as they have not tried to sting or ‘follow’ me if I get fairly
    close to bush. Any thoughts on what these flying things might be or how to get rid of them?
    thank you, Tony

  22. Wayne says:

    I’m highly allergic to juniper pollen which makes me miserable for 2-3 months every year. Occasionally, my juniper allergies are so severe that I also get sinus and respiratory infections. So, if I could through some sort of omnipotent power, I’d eliminate junipers everywhere. Wipe them off of the face of the earth! As far as I’m concerned they should be banned by every city, town, municipality, and county. I wonder if those of you who plant junipers for simply aesthetic reasons have any idea how much suffering you cause a significant portion of the rest of the population around you.

  23. Leland says:

    Junipers “scream” midwestern landscape. Junipers were once the staple of many California landscapes in the ’50s, ’60s and even into the ’70s. They were a preferred plant selection due to their rapid growth and their ability to hedge quickly and become living fences or fortresses. In rare circumstances junipers can have some visual appeal, but most people had them planted too close to their homes, too close to walk ways and too close to the street. Thus becoming major eyesores in the future. Another negative regarding junipers is that they are susceptible to various pathogenic diseases, termite infestations, emit high levels of pollen and cause injury to anyone (children mainly) who may fall into the prickly shrubbery. I can still “feel” the major OUCHIES when I was a child falling down and into a juniper shrub and the rash that proceeded the contact from the egregious shrub. The home that I currently reside in was built in the late ’50s and had junipers all over the place. There was a 45 foot Hollywood Juniper tree planted right up against my home. It had a very gnarly, twisted trunk and constantly shed its dead growth all over my roof. Needless to say my home had some foundation damage and roof damage from this hideous juniper tree. I had it taken down along with a huge juniper hedge which was 8 feet high! Also, numerous juniper tams I had extracted. I can’t imagine anyone planting junipers anymore. Not only do they evoke a dreary midwestern look, but are terribly invasive and home to lots and lots of vermin. Rats love junipers! If you’ve got junipers get rid of them now!!!

  24. Juniper Lover Forever says:

    Having the right junipers in the right places is perfect for my mid-century modern home. I had three juniper trees on my lot when I moved in and I added more lower growing varieties in strategic locations around my lot. They are the backbone and backdrop to my landscaping scheme, plus they give year round privacy from a semi-busy street (I’m on a corner lot). Also, mine are mostly the soft needled kind, they are low maintenance and I love them in the winter when everything else looks dead. I also have other evergreens in the mix, such as mugo pines and the junipers fit in really well, if you plan well.

    I just laugh at the notion that people have created a type of landscape snobbery against junipers, how ridiculous. Also, I take offense at the person who made the comment that junipers scream mid-western landscaping as if things associated with the mid-west are inferior. Side note: junipers have been planted all over the country for decades, not just in the mid-west, they are not associated with only mid-western landscaping.

    And, one more thing before I get off my soapbox, I won’t be ripping out my junipers for anyone in the neighborhood that has allergies to them. If everyone in the neighborhood had to remove all trees, shrubs, grasses, and flowers out of their yards because someone in the neighborhood was allergic, I guess just about everyone’s yards would have nothing but dirt left in them.

  25. Matt Corrion says:

    I couldn’t agree more! I think the answer is moderation- we would never design a landscape today using only Juniper, but they are great plants when used in the right situation.

  26. sarah kate says:

    I have a duplex with juniper bushes in the front. There is one space where we have a very large pine tree that is compromising the roof. We are considering taking the tree out and replacing it with something that is lower growing. We do not want to add in more juniper bushes. What are some plants that go well with the juniper bushes?

  27. Matt Corrion says:

    Sarah,
    Where is the duplex located? Without knowing what hardiness zone, what kind of soil you have, if there is irrigation, sun/shade, etc. it is hard to say. If you visit our website at http://www.odgdesign.com and fill out the contact form I will get back to you with some ideas. Thanks!

  28. Caitlin says:

    Hi, I live in zone 5 and have a juniper bush in the front. I’ve never really liked it and thought it was always dying because it had yellowish leaves. When I looked into it I realized it’s a gold variety. I’m debating if I should appreciate it more. It’s not tall but it needs pruning because it’s a bit wide for it’s spot. Should I learn to love it ?

  29. Caitlin says:

    I wanted to add that I’m pretty confident it is a “Gold Coast” have you had experience with that variety ?

  30. Matt Corrion says:

    Hi Caitlin,
    Another possibility would be that it is Juniperus × pfitzeriana ‘Old Gold’, that is another popular variety. You could try to surround it with complimentary colors such as purple and red flowering perennials…

  31. Caitlin says:

    Hi thanks for the quick reply! I’m so excited to share that I pruned it today. I read your post and other tips about pruning and cut the lower branches off to expose the trunk sort of similar to a bonsai and kept it’s natural shape on the top. It came out much better than I anticipated. I’m very happy to have read up on it. Thank you so much for the color suggestions. I have a red phlox in the back that I might move to the front near it soon.

  32. Caitlin says:

    Also i realized there is no way I could figure out the type. I looked into the old gold you mentioned then saw “lime glow” and that looks close too. I didn’t realize there were so many varieties.

  33. Kim says:

    When we moved in to our 1950s home 4 years ago within the first week we removed about 20 Junipers from all around our house. Now we can see the house – yea! We also have them that line up our (very long) drive way and also line along our front yard (but there provide a great break between us and the road). Over the past 4 years I have trimmed them up (I think I am 98% done!) and when you trim them underneath you get such an interesting sculpture that I love! I should post some pics of how many our still on our 6 acre property and you can see where I trimmed them back (several feet!). It has made for some cool looking flower/plant bed areas too.

  34. amy says:

    Hi Matt, I’m so happy about this site and that you seem to still be responding! We have built a new home on an old lot and the only landscaping to survive is a long line of very tall junipers along the driveway. I’d love to keep these trees alive and have pruned a little, noticing 2 healthy shoots coming from the ground about 4 feet each. Is there a way that I can transplant these shoots/baby trees to another area that is not so full/dense? Thanks for your time- Amy.

  35. Matt Corrion says:

    My pleasure Amy! I think if you dig up as much roots as you can with each shoot, and then plant in full/part sun in well draining soil, and water them every other day for a couple weeks you might have success. It doesn’t hurt to try! I would either do it ASAP in June, or wait until the fall for best results. Where is your new home? Can I interest you in a landscape design or landscape master plan? You can reach me at info@odgdesign.com

Leave a Comment