Juniper (Juniperus) with its approximately 70 species belongs to the cypress family (Cupresaceae) and represents the largest group there. In Central Europe, however, only the common juniper (Juniperus communis) and the Sadebaum (Juniperus sabina) are native. Juniper is known by many different names, including Machangel, Kranewitt, Queckholter and Feuerbaum. Since ancient times juniper has been an important spice and medicinal plant. In the Middle Ages, juniper smokings were used to ward off diseases, witches and demons. Juniper extracts are still used today to cure urinary tract infections and stomach complaints. The fruits of the bush, the “juniper berries”, are popular as a kitchen spice.
Appearance and growth
Depending on the species, juniper can grow both as a creeping shrub and as an evergreen tree. The four- to six-winged twigs are covered with closely fitting small leaves. These are needle-shaped, extremely pointed, three or four together and form small whorls that act like green stars. The famous juniper berries are actually small cones. This is best seen as long as they are still green and immature. After fertilization, the seeds form from the merged seed and cover scales of the female flower cone. Juniper is dioecious. Anyone who wants to harvest fruit must plant one male and at least one female shrub – and be patient, because it can take up to seven years for the female juniper bushes to bloom for the first time. The maturation of the cones/crops then takes another two years. The fruits and needles of almost all juniper species are poisonous, the only exception being the dark blue berries of the common juniper (Juniperus communis).
Location and soil
All juniper species are very adaptable and grow in both subarctic and subtropical areas. Juniper thrives in sunny and semi-shade locations on well-drained soil, which may also be calcareous. It tolerates heat and drought very well, but suffers in the shade (e.g. under large treetops) because it is very hungry for light.
Early autumn is the best planting season for evergreen conifers with bales. Until mid-November, the garden soil still has a relatively large amount of residual heat. Thanks to this energy reserve, the freshly planted woody plants can easily take root in the year of planting. This is important because the evergreens evaporate water through their needles even in winter and only a well developed root system can supply the necessary liquid. Depending on the type of growth (carpet-like, shrubby or upright), the space required for planting differs from juniper. If you want to plant junipers as a hedge, you should plan a distance of at least 70 centimeters between the plants.
Juniper is very undemanding in the care. Watering should only be carried out in the first few years of dryness, later the plant can cope without additional watering. The regular application of conifer long-term fertilizer supports the robust nature of the woody plants.
Juniper is cut-tolerant and can be shaped year-round, preferably in spring or autumn, by cutting. However, the old wood sprouts heavily again. Attention: The pointed needles turn the juniper into a defensive plant. Therefore, wear long clothes and firm gloves when cutting!
Well rooted juniper is completely frost hardy and needs no winter protection.
The different juniper species and varieties provide variety in the garden and inspire all year round thanks to their great variety of shapes. There is something suitable for every design wish and every garden size in the juniper genus. The weak-growing juniper varieties are particularly suitable for the home garden. Smaller species can also be used for plant troughs and tubs, as even hard frost can do them little harm. There are yellow-, blue- or green-needled varieties (e.g. ‘Hornibrokii’) of the creeping juniper, which grow very slowly and fit perfectly into smaller gardens and sunny graves. It spreads out like a carpet and is also suitable as a low bed border. The shrub juniper (for example Juniperus virginiana ‘Hetzii’ or the ‘Pfitzeriana’ varieties) is fast-growing and well tolerated for cutting. It also thrives in tubs and develops the well-known juniper berries, which are appreciated as spices. Column junipers like the varieties ‘Skyrocket’ and ‘Hibernica’ are typical plants for heather gardens and are often planted in our latitudes instead of cypresses. Due to their slender growth, they fit into small front gardens, boulders and graves.
Tip: The branches of the juniper are poisonous, but exude a wonderful resinous scent in the apartment. Juniper berries are harvested from August to late autumn. Because of the pointed needles it is very difficult to pick the berries by hand, so you knock the berries off the branch with a stick. Juniper shavings are suitable for smoking and grilling, and are also used as a bath additive or natural moth protection. The berries of the juniper are used for flavouring various herb brandies such as gin, Steinhäger or Genever.
Important species and varieties
The wild form of the juniper is rarely planted in the house garden. Due to the more compact growth, breeding forms are more in demand here. Recommended alternatives also for rougher locations are columnar juniper varieties such as Juniperus chinensis ‘Spartan’ or ‘Keteleeri’ or Juniperus scopulorum ‘Skyrocket’, which grows several meters high but remains extremely slender and therefore takes up very little space. Its ground-covering growth makes the crawling juniper (for example Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana’, Juniperus horizentalis ‘Glauca’ or Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Carpet’) the ideal greener. The cone juniper (Juniperus chinensis ‘Stricta’) presents itself loosely. His needles turn steel blue in winter and are a great eye-catcher. The needles of the blue-hedra juniper (Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’) also shine in a beautiful blue shade. The yellow juniper Juniperus media ‘Old Gold’ shows golden needles all year round. Juicy green brings the Chinese juniper ‘Rockery Gem’ into the garden. Its growth is low and its branches are strongly branched. The flat-growing juniper (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Bar Harbour’), which takes on a purple shimmer in autumn, looks like a blue carpet.
The propagation of juniper succeeds best in the summer through cuttings. Some, especially the crawling forms, can easily be multiplied by offshoots. Breed varieties are developed in nurseries by grafting. An increase by seed usually does not succeed.
Diseases and pests
Juniper rarely suffers from diseases or pests, but it is the carrier of the pear grid. Sadebaum, Chinese juniper and Virgin juniper are the main carriers of the mushroom. Native juniper (Juniperus communis) is not infested against it. The Schadpilz forms gelatinous winter-spore-bearings (juniper-galls) on its main host at thickened shoot-places in the spring. During rainy periods, numerous fungal spores are released and carried by the wind to the secondary host, the pear. From the time of flowering, small orange-red spots appear on the leaves and warty outgrowths on the underside of the leaves, in which new fungal spores form. The pear tree no longer bears fruit and dies when heavily infested. In order to prevent infestation, the two plant species should be separated as far as possible. During flowering, three to five sprays with Saprol Neu or Polyram-Combi help. For junipers only a strong pruning into healthy wood helps. The cuttings must not be disposed of in the compost, but as residual waste.
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I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide. I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.