Juniper; beautiful in the wild or in your yard
Common Name : Juniper. Sometimes that name will come with a bit of a descriptor: common juniper, dwarf juniper, prostrate juniper, mountain common juniper, old field common juniper, ground juniper
Science-y Name : Juniperus communis
A Few Other Varieties : J. depressa, J. charlottensis, J. megistocarpa, J. montana, J. horizontalis
Native or Non : Juniper is one of those special shrubs that can be found just about everywhere in the northern hemisphere. So much so that it is classified as a circumboreal species. Circum = around, boreal = of, relating to, or located in northern regions. We’re going to say with confidence that this one has some native varieties.
Characteristics : While some juniper will grow to tree-like stature, in New England landscaping it
is more common to see a juniper that is close to the ground and has spread itself out over an area. J. montana and J. horizontalis are low growing varieties that stay under 3 feet high and create a mat of branches across an area. If you want to get all fancy with your words, tell your friends that your juniper is decumbent, which is a plant that grows lying along the ground or along a surface with the extremity curving upward.
Some types of young juniper will have needles, much like a fir or a spruce. As junipers mature their needles become scale-like. So instead of that single pointy, short needle an up close look will reveal a needle that looks as if it has fish scales that overlap. That tight scaled needle is used in tree identification, and one way to tell that you are looking at a tree or shrub in the juniper family.
In landscaping juniper is often used as a low border along a curb or edge of a driveway. Some ornamental varieties will grow in a fountain-like way with a main trunk that grows straight up for about 3 feet and then long trailing branches that cascade off all around. Plants that are kept for their unusual or stunning features are often called a “specimen plant”, particularly when they are the only plant of their kind in a space.
Fun Fact : Potentially one of the most talked about fun facts of juniper is that the berries ARE NOT BERRIES! Despite their blueberry hue and berry-like feel (go ahead and pinch one) they are actually the female seed cones of the shrub, and are made up of tightly merged scales that give it a berry-like appearance. Mature berries from J. communis can be used as a spice, and these little beauties are used for gin when they are young and green.
If you are going to try your hand at foraging keep in mind this is a “less is more” kind of spice. The berries can be toxic when too many are eaten. Research, cross reference and more research before just picking a plant and popping it in your mouth!
Care Considerations : Juniper love the sun and well draining soil. They are also tolerant of urban lifestyles, which means they can take the abuse of car exhausts, and winter sand and salt treatments pretty well. Every plant has its limit, however, so if your juniper isn’t thriving it might need a more protected area.
If the soil is too moist a juniper will get root rot. Its needles will turn brown and start to die off. Brown bits on a juniper could also mean the plant is too exposed to winter elements, like ice and wind. If the juniper in your yard is struggling we’ll assess the plant location and recommend something to help make it happier.
Pruning is best done in late winter or early spring, and is done mostly to keep it in line if it’s stretching itself too far over a curb or toward other plants.
Contact us to get an estimate on RAG Thyme services for your yard and garden! We’ll help existing plants stay brilliant, or suggest alternatives with as much beauty and personality.