UT Gardens’ December Plant of the Month: Juniper

Published 9:10 am Monday, December 9, 2019

Got the winter blues? These wide spreading blue junipers can take you from depressed to delighted. The other happy news is that they are easy care, low maintenance plants when properly sited.

That site would be sunny and well drained, with plenty of room for these shrubs to grow. Other site considerations would be where the pearlescent blue foliage provides eye-popping contrast for other winter interest selections, such as deciduous hollies with brilliant red berries, or other evergreen plants with gold or dark green foliage. Junipers make stunning backdrops for red-twigged dogwood or coral bark Japanese maple. You may also wish to consider placing them where a few snipped branches won’t be missed, as they make fabulous additions to holiday wreaths, swags or table centerpieces.

Most of the plant tags and online information about junipers grossly underestimate their mature size, especially since these durable shrubs can live quite a long time. Their substantial bulk is not necessarily a drawback. It makes them candidates for including in perimeter plantings for privacy or for impact on the large-scale planting, so place accordingly.

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The three junipers described in this article have similar growth habits, with plume-like branches flung from a central growing point, and while height may not be an issue in the gardener’s lifetime, the expanding width might make pruning necessary. It can be done judiciously and invisibly. Simply follow the “offending” branch back to its origin where it forks from the trunk or a larger branch then remove at that juncture. Repeat until the plant is reduced as needed, and the graceful feathery habit will be preserved.

“Angelica Blue” is a form of Chinese juniper, Juniperus chinensis. Its branching habit is nearly horizontal, so the height may stay fairly constant once it reaches 6 or 7 feet, but the width will continue to expand to 10 feet or more.

“Holbert” is another Chinese juniper and while similar to Angelica Blue, its feathery limbs are larger and have a more dramatic angle as they soar from the trunk. In our gardens in Jackson, it is about 8 feet tall and nearly twice that wide!

“Grey Owl” is thought to be a selection from the native eastern red cedar Juniperus virginiana. Don’t let that name fool you, as the foliage is also a silvery blue. This form is usually listed as growing to 3 feet tall and 6 feet wide, but this information is ridiculously wrong. Its widespread use in the landscape over the years has demonstrated that it can reach 10 feet tall and wide.

“Grey Guardian” is a sport from “Grey Owl” that has demonstrated a more compact growth habit with the same icy hue and a finer texture. It is advertised to be between 2 and 3 feet in height and have a dense spreading habit of 5 feet, but it has not been around long enough for anyone to know if those numbers are accurate over the long haul.

These junipers can be susceptible to bagworms. But is a very good and organic product when used early in the attack, so don’t let that one pest dissuade you from enjoying these plants. Their beauty will snap you out of the ho-ho-hum of December drear.