Native to the cool, temperate climates of the Northern Hemisphere, juniper (Juniperus Communis) is distributed almost throughout the polar regions—and grows naturally in parts of North America, Europe, and Asia. This grow common juniper one of the most widely distributed shrubs in the world. In terms of cultivation, juniper has not received the same attention as Chinese juniper (J. chinensis), but there are still dozens of common juniper varieties to choose from. Members of the Cypress family, these hardy evergreen conifers vary in shape depending on the variety and conditions in which they are grown. This species form is usually a low-spreading shrub no more than about 5 feet tall and no more than 13 feet wide, but there are varieties with tall tree-like forms and creeping groundcover forms that grow only a few inches tall. Varieties bred for landscape use rarely exceed 15 feet tall, and many are much smaller. All common junipers are characterized by short, needle-like, fragrant leaves and berry-like green cones that turn dark purple/blue when ripe.
Like most conifers, common juniper is usually planted in mild weather in spring or early fall. Growth rates vary by cultivar, but most are slow-growing shrubs that rarely gain more than about 6 inches per year.
How to Grow Common Juniper
Common juniper is mostly self-supporting and doesn’t require much attention. They are very hardy shrubs that can adapt to a variety of growing conditions, including poor soils, arid locations, and even downtown environments, as common juniper is very tolerant of urban pollution. For best performance, give them moist but well-drained soil and full sun.
Planting techniques are typical of wood container landscape plants: Dig a hole about twice the width of the plant container or root ball; supplement the fill with organic material; place the shrub in the center of the hole the same height as it will grow in the container. Then fill and water completely.
Common juniper is a sun-loving periwinkle and should receive full sun for most of the day. If common juniper is not getting enough light, you may notice stunting or stunted growth. Common juniper cannot survive in full shade.
When it comes to soil, common juniper is not fussy, as long as the medium provides good drainage. They are very adaptable to a variety of soil conditions, and they are not fussy about soil pH – preferring a range from slightly acidic to slightly alkaline, but will also grow adequately in highly acidic and highly alkaline soils. Common juniper is known to grow readily in a variety of different locations, including bare hillsides and plateaus; wooded slopes; sandy terraces and dunes; marine steep slopes; and dry, open, and rocky environments. This doesn’t mean you should look for harsh conditions for these shrubs, as they will certainly thrive in rich, fertile, well-drained soil. However, common juniper is a more tolerant plant than Chinese juniper in terms of soil conditions.
Common juniper is considered a drought-tolerant shrub, but is good for both dry and wet conditions. However, they do not tolerate flooding or standing water, so proper drainage is essential for common juniper. Common juniper does not require supplemental irrigation when grown in its natural range.
Temperature and Humidity
Common juniper is native to the cool temperate climates of the Northern Hemisphere, so it can tolerate a wide range of temperatures. Most juniper species are considered hardy in USDA zones 2 through 7 and can withstand winter temperatures as low as minus 49 degrees Fahrenheit. Common juniper does not like very hot climates south of zone 7, Chinese juniper is a better choice.
These hardy shrubs are considered light and do not require regular fertilization. Mature common juniper may benefit from annual fertilization in late winter to early spring, if desired, with slow-release shrub and tree fertilizers, but it is by no means necessary.
Types of Common Juniper
As a landscape plant, the common juniper is sometimes considered inferior to the Chinese juniper and primarily appeals to native plant lovers. This reputation has slowly changed due to the extremely forgiving nature of this plant. While there are still fewer varieties of Chinese juniper available, there are several very excellent varieties of common juniper to consider: 12
- Juniperis Communis ‘Gold Cone’ is a 3 to 5 foot tall shrub with a columnar shape and bright green foliage.
- Juniperis Communis ‘Repanda’ is a creeping groundcover that grows 1 to 2 feet long and 8 to 9 feet wide.
- Juniperis Communis ‘Compressa’ is an erect cone-shaped shrub that is only 2 to 3 feet tall.
- Juniperis Communis ‘Hibernica’ is a beautiful columnar shrub that grows up to 15 feet tall.
- Juniperis Communis ‘Blue Stripe’ is a 2-foot-tall, 6-foot-wide creeping form with distinctive blue stripes on its leaves.
- There is also an important variety, Juniperis Communis var. depressa, which has several named cultivars, including “Blueberry Delight” and “Copper Delight”. The Depressa variety grows naturally in the eastern United States and grows to 3 to 4 feet tall and 12 feet wide. It is mainly used as a ground cover for large areas.
Prune and train your bonsai
As a disclaimer, this is a very basic general summary on how to prune and train a bonsai. There are many knowledgeable bonsai experts out there who have provided a lot of insightful information for you to follow with more specific guidelines. If you want a quick fix, we’ve tried to cover the basics here.
Spring and summer are the best times of year to prune juniper trees. Once the new shoots are 1 inch (2.5 cm) tall, they should be pinched back. This can last from spring to mid-September. Pinch back the new growth point (cutting with scissors will cause the surrounding needles to fall off) and pull the needles you don’t want from the branch, leaving the needles you want in place. Limit occasional pruning to 10% or less of total foliage to avoid undue stress on the tree.
Juniper tends to grow as low as possible to the ground, so cut off any downward-growing branches to make the plant look like a tree. Long shoots protruding from the outline can be clipped at the base to continue developing leaf paths throughout the growing season. Avoid trimming the plant like a hedge, as removing all growth points will weaken the tree and cause some leaves to turn brown. If the leaf pads become too dense, you will need to thin them at the bottom with sharp scissors. A juniper bonsai is generally a strong tree that can withstand vigorous pruning well, but it will not germinate again on bare parts of the tree. So make sure you have some leaves on each branch you want to keep alive.
Most purchased juniper bonsai already have their initial styling and wiring done, so there is no need to do this right away. Although they can withstand wiring for their lifetime, care should be taken not to damage the system. Always use wire cutters when wiring. Their branches are flexible and highly trainable, making them easy to shape, but consult an expert in the field to learn how to do this.
>> See more: bonsai tree cutting
How to Grow Common Juniper from Seed
While this can be a slow process that can take up to three years, growing juniper from seed is not difficult. Common juniper is dioecious, which means that a single tree is either male or female and must be planted near the opposite sex to pollinate each other and bear fruit. Once the fruits of common juniper are ripe (from green to purple-black), the seeds can be harvested and sown directly into the garden or stored in winter for spring planting.
If you don’t seed them right away, they should be cleaned and air-dried to avoid mold growth. Common juniper seeds require cold stratification to germinate and must be stored in an airtight container at 20 to 40 degrees F for up to 120 days before planting. Since common junipers have a very low germination rate, it is best to sow multiple seeds at a time for the best chance of success.
Seedlings grow fairly slowly, and it may take a full two years before the seedlings are large enough to be planted in the landscape. Potted seedlings should be moved to a sheltered place (but not indoors) each wintering season.
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