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Evergreens Are More Than Screens

Most people consider evergreen plants to be quite boring. They grow slowly, barely changing from season to season, and they don’t have big showy flowers in the spring.

But without evergreens, it would certainly be more difficult to screen out certain unattractive views. They can soften a sharp corner, bring a formal garden to life, provide balance in an eclectic collector’s garden, and serve as a groundcover or backdrop for a colorful perennial border. Boring or not, evergreens of all shapes and sizes are still quite popular.

This huge group of plants can range in size and diversity from our native eastern red cedar—Juniperus virginiana, which grows 40 to 50 feet tall—to the extremely common carpet junipers that average 1 to 2 feet tall.

Because there are so many varieties of junipers that seem relatively inexpensive when compared to evergreens such as boxwood, holly, or spruce, we tend to see lots of junipers, and unfortunately many planting mistakes. My standard advice of “know how large a plant is expected to grow before you buy it” and “a tape measure is your friend” is very important when picking out a juniper.

Common junipers
Some of the common Chinese junipers such as Pfitzeriana or Hetzi are usually sold in a 1-gallon size container. These plants look large for the pot size so it seems like a good deal, but is it? The Hetzi juniper easily grows 15 feet tall and 15 feet wide, and Pfitzeriana grows only 10 feet tall but an amazing 25 feet wide! Use a tape measure to ensure that you are spacing your plants out far enough. Eyeballing it can be very deceiving.

Two great junipers
Two of my favorite smaller growing junipers are the Japanese Garden juniper, Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana,’ and Shore juniper, Juniperus conferta ‘Blue Pacific.’

Both of these junipers prefer a very sunny location, but the Blue Pacific Shore juniper is known to be slightly more shade-tolerant. They are also very tolerant of a variety of soil conditions, which has also led to their popularity. Junipers as a rule are very forgiving when planted in heavy clay soils, and are also extremely drought-tolerant.

The Japanese Garden juniper grows only 10 to 12 inches high but will spread up to 10 feet. It is a much slower grower in comparison to most junipers. The foliage is spiny and prickly and tends to look like it grows in layers. When growing on a flat surface, they have more of a sculpted Oriental look.

The Shore juniper is unfortunately equally prickly. It grows 1 to 1-1/2 feet tall and can spread 7 to 8 inches. I recommend good leather work gloves when working with these two junipers. The Blue Pacific Shore juniper has good bluish-green foliage and the Japanese Garden juniper has a good bluish cast.

Pest problems
Junipers do have a few pest problems that should be discussed, most notably spider mites, tip or twig blight, and bagworms. If not detected in the early stages, any of these problems can be devastating to a planting. Do not plant in wet or boggy soils; well-drained areas are a must. Full sun is also critical; junipers planted in shade tend to decline and become more susceptible to disease and insect attack. If you suspect you have a problem, take a plant sample to your local horticulturist or County Cooperative Extension Office for proper identification before you implement a control.

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