How To Prune Low, Spreading Junipers

How-To's, Landscape Care · Written by Roger

10 Comments

juniper.parsoni1This group of “low junipers” is often either not pruned or pruned incorrectly.  Not pruning can result in run-away growth where these junipers outgrow their space.  Incorrect pruning can alter the plant’s natural growth habit and cause it’s health to decline.

juniper.parsoni_prune1How Do They Naturally Grow?

Right?…This is the first thing to ask yourself before pruning.  The cuts you make should support the natural growth habit and shape of the plant.

Low, spreading junipers naturally want to grow horizontally and get much wider than tall.  Their branches shoot out; instinctively wanting to dominate and get longer (this is known as apical dominance…you don’t really have to know this).    In a wide open space where you’re looking for maximum coverage, this growth habit is ideal.  In these circumstances you can allow the plant “to do its thing”.

Often, however, low junipers are used in limited spaces.   If left unchecked, they’ll out-grow that space and, well…the solutions to that are not pretty.

juniper.parsoni_prune2Selectively Prune

Selective pruning, as you probably know, is time consuming.  As the name implies you are selectively choosing where on the plant to make each cut.

There is no power equipment that significantly automates this process.  There are some people that “shear” these plants with power shears.  That’s incorrect and a disaster as it turns them into manicured shapes and promotes dense growth only on the ends of the branches.

In the second picture above I’m choosing branch ends that are growing noticeably faster and longer.  I then move down the branch to a point within the secondary, slower growth – and make the cut.  This is done throughout the plant.  Try to work from one area out and not jump around randomly.  Always be conscious of the plant’s natural shape. Step back occasionally to check  your work and adjust your cuts if necessary.

The first picture above shows a newly planted Juniper ‘Parsoni’.  The shape of this new, low, spreading juniper is misleading.  Notice how the side growth is somewhat stunted as compared to the top growth.  This is because this plant is coming from a nursery where it had been stored in close groups – probably almost touching one another.

The last picture is a low, spreading juniper that was just “selectively” pruned. (Click on it for a bigger image.)  Most of the long ends have been pruned back, and the natural shape preserved.

Your low, spreading juniper will have a long, beautiful life if you prune them “selectively”.  Of course,  remember how equally important spacing them correctly is when planting.

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    10 Responses to “How To Prune Low, Spreading Junipers”

    1. Linda Wagner Says:

      The inside of my spreading junipers is all brown and dead looking, and only the ends of the branches, which show, are green. Should I be pruning off the dead stuff? Is it an invitation to bugs and/or fungus?

      Thanks.

    2. Roger Says:

      Hi Linda,
      Sometimes when juniper are sheared rather than selectively pruned, the growth becomes so dense and concentrated at the ends of the branches that the interior of the plant browns. And, of course, very old and mature plants will get this way too – they become large and the interior is just naturally shaded.

      You could clean out (prune) some of that interior brown and “twiggy” branching – it would make for a healthier environment in the sense that more air circulation and perhaps some additional light could get in there.

      If you see browning or other discoloration on the exterior growth that could mean an insect or disease problem. Juniper blight (a disease) can be found on certain types of juniper, especially if they are under regular irrigation and are kept too wet. Even a wet, rainy season could cause a blight to take hold. If you see this happening on the exterior growth, perhaps you could bring a sample piece to your local garden center, or send a sample to your county agricultural extension service.

    3. Doug Says:

      My junipers have grown to high. 4 feet. I understand what you have asked above but if I cut back 1 to 2 feet( 2 feet preferred) all green will be gone. I live in north Florida. Today is sunny and 75 degrees. Could have 1-3 more frosts this winter. By march 1 no frosts. I have junipers like in your picture. Can I cut back 2 feet now and expect new growth in spring?

    4. Roger Says:

      Hi Doug,
      If your juniper are 4′ high they would be different from the type I’m talking about in this article. But it doesn’t matter regarding your situation because the same principle applies to most junipers where your considering dramatic cuts (like you’re planning).

      If you cut below where there is existing foliage it’s unlikely the bare stem will rejuvenate and produce new foliage. Therefore, your most extreme cut should always leave some juniper foliage.

      I’m guessing this will not lower the juniper enough for your situation. If that’s the case you might just consider removing them and replacing with a better plant selection, i.e. one that will not mature beyond the height and width you need.

      In the article I’m referring to “low junipers”. This category typically does not exceed 2′ in height. Varieties such as Parsoni, San Jose, Blue Star, etc. fall into this category. Someone at a local garden center that’s knowledgeable could show you their selections that meet the “mature” size requirements you’re looking for. Alternatively you could shop anywhere (even Home Depot, Lowes), take note of the varieties they have and then look them up on the internet for accurate descriptions before purchasing.

    5. Kiran Says:

      We moved into house where there are 2 very old junipers that have beautiful, thick lower trunks, but the greenery has been sheared to look like puff balls. Would love to send you a photo because we are desperate to get these back to a natural shape and growth habit. Not sure how to accomplish this. Any suggestions would be apprecieated!

      Thanks!

    6. Roger Says:

      Kiran,
      If you could send me a picture that would be helpful. Do you know how to send a digital picture by email? You can send it to roger@landscapeadvisor.com.

      I’d be interested to see how developed this juniper is as a topiary. I also have several other questions that a picture would answer for me (e.g. type & variety of juniper, size, etc.)

    7. Carol Ann Travis Says:

      what is the name of the juniper whose picture headlines this article?

    8. Roger Says:

      Carol Ann,
      The juniper pictured at the top of the article is Juniperus davurica ‘Parsoni’. I use this particular variety a lot.

      Make sure to give it room to grow — It can get 6 to 8′ wide. The mature height is around 24″.

    9. Patrick Says:

      Roger, help… my horizontal junipers are all brown from tip to about 12 inches into the plant. I have noticed neighbors also have this problem but not all junipers.. We had a very hard winter this year in Minnesota. Could this be “winter burn”? and what should I do about the brown sections. Thanks

    10. Roger Says:

      Patrick,
      It could possibly be winter damage, but could also be insect or disease damage. Do you remember the juniper looking this way in the fall?

      The only way to be sure, and the way that I would approach this, would be to send a sample to your Minnesota Agricultural Extension Service.

      I use the one here in NJ all the time to get accurate diagnoses. Otherwise you don’t know for sure what the condition is and how to treat it (if treatment is an option).

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