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Grey Owl juniper is a wise choice

I get to help a lot of people pick out plants and the first thing they tell me is, “It has to be low maintenance.” The most important factor in developing a low maintenance landscape is choosing the right plants for your environment. The plants you want may not meet this standard, so sometimes you have to compromise. 

ONE CLASSICALLY LOW MAINTENANCE PLANT that I have to persuade people to use is Grey Owl juniper, Juniperus virginiana, which is related to our native Eastern red cedar. It is a fabulous plant, but for some reason people hear the word juniper and say “No, thanks!” But in the right environment, this plant requires very little, if any, effort to maintain. 

Photo: Shelly Nold

GREY OWL JUNIPER IS A COMPACT EVERGREEN that does well under adverse conditions such as drought, poor soil and unusually high or low pH soils. Plant it in full sun, where it will grow 2 to 4 feet tall and 4 to 6 feet wide. Don’t make the common mistake of planting them too close to a sidewalk or driveway, or you’ll inevitably have to continually prune them to control the size as they grow. Improper spacing can turn naturally low maintenance plants into high maintenance ones. 

Photo: Shelly Nold

ITS SILVERY GREY FOLIAGE is one of my favorite things about this juniper. It is attractive year-round, but in the winter, it is so beautiful that it looks almost blue on a cloudy day. Grey Owl is female and produces abundant showy fruit. I enjoy cutting a few branches and using them in winter arrangements for my porch container. 

If having a low maintenance landscape is important to you, consider the Grey Owl juniper—but more importantly, choose plants that are suitable for your environment and space them appropriately for their mature size. Then all you will need to do is enjoy watching them grow. 

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