Juniper – Juniperus communis – Juniperus communis – Garden plants – Juniper – Juniperus communis – Shrubs

The juniper is a shrub or small tree that is also endemic to our peninsula. It has been known since ancient times because its oils are extracted for medicinal purposes and its berries have countless culinary uses. It is also very popular as an ornamental plant: the many varieties, cultivars and hybrids allow us to use it in many ways by taking advantage of the different bearing and size as well as being able to choose between several colors of the foliage.

A juniper can enhance large and small gardens; some cultivars can be cultivated easily even on a balcony or, as bonsai, on a windowsill.

Large shrub or small evergreen tree, widespread in all temperate zones of the Northern Hemisphere, this is a very long-lived essence, which can reach 8-10 meters high, there are dwarf varieties, especially widespread in high mountain areas.

The foliage is needle-shaped, pointed, glaucous green in colour, crossed at the top by a clear, very aromatic striation. They are dioecious plants, the masculine specimens, in spring, produce small inconspicuous flowers, of yellowish white colour; whilst the feminine specimens produce greenish flowers, followed, in summer, by the fruits, small fleshy berries, called cuddles, of green colour, which become black when ripe, containing 2-3 fertile seeds.

The juniper berries are utilized in the kitchen and the essential oil contained in them in herbalist’s shops and in pharmacology. The junipers are very diffused in cultivation, both the varieties with erect or pyramidal posture, and the dwarf or prostrate varieties.

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Exposure

juniperus communis gold cone I juniperus communis they love sunny locations, but they can also develop harmoniously in partially shaded places. They are not afraid of the cold and can bear even very intense and prolonged frosts. These are very rustic plants and shrubs, which are unlikely to be damaged by adverse weather conditions. In very cold climates they can have a smaller development. They do not have problems even in the presence of strong winds.

To have a vigorous growth the ideal is to insert the juniper where it is reached by the sun at least 8 hours every day, especially in the northern regions. If we live in mountain areas we prefer the Juniperus sabina, more tolerant towards the cold.

In the centre-south of the country, good results will be achieved even in slightly shaded positions. If we live in the first coastal strip, we should orient ourselves towards the species Contorta, avoiding instead the Communis, which does not tolerate saltiness.

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Description and origins

The genus is very vast and is widespread almost everywhere in the northern hemisphere, up to an altitude of about 1500 meters. There are about 60 species of shrubs and trees with different habitats, influenced in particular by the environment and the climate in which they grow spontaneously. There are quite impressive trees, similar to cypresses in colour and “column” shape, while others are lower and rounded in appearance.

The shrubs, endemic to the mountain territories or to the Mediterranean maquis, usually have a shrubby habit and soil cover: this allows them to withstand cold or hot temperatures, drought and strong winds.

The foliage is needle-like in the common juniper, usually rather pointed; in other species, such as the sabina, it appears similar to that of the tuya, composed by scales imbricated one on the other. At times, a marked heterophilicity manifests itself: different forms are found between young and old branches (or subjects).

The bark is very interesting from an aesthetic point of view: with age it flakes off, allowing a glimpse of the younger wood, with warm shades of red, yellow and brown.

It is a dioecious plant: there are therefore specimens that produce, in the armpits of the leaves, only male flowers (green) and others only female (yellow) and then the false fruits. Similar to berries, they contain 3 seeds. The first year they are green and then become a beautiful dark blue covered with abundant bloom.

Watering

ginepro The young juniper plants recently planted may need to be watered during particularly dry periods; the specimens of juniperus communis already planted for a long time bear without problems the drought and usually settle for the rains.

Only in case of particularly high temperatures and long periods of drought it is good to provide water, taking care to ensure that the soil is well dry between one watering and the other.

In the spring you can spread slow release granular fertilizer or mature manure at the foot of the plant.

Land

ginepro The plants of juniperus communis adapt to any soil, provided it is well drained; they develop also in stony or clayey soils, adapting without any problems also in the poorer soils. They can be cultivated also in container. They do not have problems to grow also in rather arid and dry places, whilst they might present some problems if the soil is too humid and presents dangerous water stagnations.

Fertilization

To obtain a faster development, especially in the first years, we can, in the spring, spread a complete granular fertilizer for conifers, halving the quantity suggested by the producer.

Multiplication

The multiplication of the juniper plants can be done by seed, in spring, or by cutting in late summer; it is advisable to place the young plants in cold greenhouses during the first winter season to allow them to grow and develop at their best, before the final planting.

Pests and diseases

gineproThe plants of juniperus communis are rustic and resistant shrubs, not subject to the attack of parasites and diseases. The juniper, however, fears the cochineal, which often nests in the lower part of the leaves. Water stagnation, on the other hand, can be very dangerous because it causes radical rottenness that compromises the health of the plant.

It is good to intervene promptly with cl’use of specific products in case of cochineal and with an intervention on the ground so that it is more drained, in case of root rot.

They are very resistant conifers and are only rarely affected by pests. The most common are the red spider, cochineal and aphids. Only in the most serious cases are they fatal and improving the cultivation conditions the problem will soon be solved.

More dangerous are some beetles (typical of conifers) whose larvae dig tunnels in the wood: if we notice copper desiccation we intervene with systemic insecticides, possibly spraying also the roots.

The most common drawbacks are root rot and rust: they are linked to excessive irrigation and an insufficiently draining substrate.

Cultivation

The cultivation of these conifers is very simple: they are not very demanding and can be adapted to practically any climate. All you have to do is pay attention to the soil to ensure optimum drainage. Maintenance will be very limited because growth is very slow: pruning operations will therefore be very delayed.

Planting and substrate

In our peninsula the best time for planting is certainly late autumn: in this way we will give time to the root system to adapt and begin to explore the substrate; growth will also be maximized from the first months of spring.

In any case, it is also possible to proceed at the end of winter or at other times, for specimens in pots. However, we must absolutely avoid periods of strong heat or when the ground is frozen.

We proceed digging a hole at least 50 cm deep and wide; on the bottom we prepare a thick draining layer based on gravel or expanded clay. Let’s insert the plant and cover with a very permeable and light mixture: we can opt for a premixed product for citrus fruits. Alternatively, let’s mix ¼ of mould, ¼ of garden earth and ½ of coarse river sand. We can also add a few pebbles of various grain sizes.

Not all species, however, have the same needs: some prefer calcareous and very dry soils (such as common juniper), others instead want acid-reacting soils (such as Juniperus horizontalis).

Maintenance

The juniper grows very slowly and, once released, it withstands cold, heat and drought very well. For this reason it is considered an ideal essence for low maintenance gardens, both in alpine areas and near the coasts.

A little more attention is required during the first two years of planting.

During this period of time it is necessary to follow the plants with frequent watering, especially during the summer.

In winter, however, a thick mulch is recommended in the entire area covered by the canopy: in this way we will avoid that the roots, still superficial, are damaged by the cold.

Rusticity

Junipers are usually pretty rustic. Some species are more delicate because they germinate early and frosts can damage the apexes and compromise growth from the vintage. In northern Italy, we therefore consider the possibility of covering these specimens with a special veil.

Juniper pruning

The growth of juniper is very slow and surgery will be sporadic. Usually they have the sole purpose of keeping the specimens grown in a formal way tidy.

As a general rule, it is advisable to intervene for isolated specimens in mid-summer; for hedges, however, it is advisable to cut slightly in two stages, in June and then in September. However, we must bear in mind that frequent pruning will not allow the appearance and ripening of the “berries”.

Our main goal will still be to maintain the form by working exclusively on the apexes. We never cut live branches over two years old: this could cause widespread drying up to the foot of the specimen.

Over the years it may be necessary to intervene to remove older and damaged branches to stimulate a gradual renewal: in this case we work at the end of winter and cover the wound with abundant mastic.

Harvesting and use of berries

Juniper berries are harvested from November to January when they have taken on the typical bluish colour. Let’s avoid pricking ourselves using gloves: let’s drop the crop in a basket shaking the branches. Then we will have to remove the small spines from the fruit: they will then be placed in the shade, in a warm and well ventilated place so that they dehydrate slowly.

Juniper – Juniperus communis: Species and varieties

In nature we find up to 60 species, but only 8 are used in horticultural level: from these we have come to many interesting hybrids and cultivars.

Ideally, they should be classified according to their use.

Soil cover variety

Juniperus conferred “Blue Pacific” reaches a maximum height of 30 cm and can cover up to 2 m2. The young leaves are of a nice acid green colour and then turn to glaucous.

Juniperus Conferred Schlager up to 40 cm high, covers an area of 2 m2. The foliage is pointed, metallic blue.

Juniperus x media “Gold Star” grows to 50 cm and occupies about 2 m2. Beautiful golden leaves.

Juniperus communis “Green Carpet” Up to 40 cm, dark green leaves with purple highlights.

Juiperus sabina up to 80 centimeters, very slow growth. Beautiful glaucous foliage, excellent for rocky gardens.

Juniperus Procumbens Nana up to 40 cm high, pointed leaves with purple highlights in winter

Dwarf varieties suitable for small hedges or containers

Juniperus pingii “‘Hulsdonck Yellow’ Conical deportment, up to 1 m high.

Juniperus communis ‘Tablet’ up to 80 cm high and 35 cm wide, columnar posture. Glaucous foliage.

Juniperus communis ‘Sentinel’ up to 150 cm, glaucous foliage.

Juniperus Chinensis Armstrong Gold up to 1 meter, upright posture. The foliage is pointed and golden at the apexes. Very resistant.

Medium and large trees

Juniperus chinensis ‘Stricta’ up to 250 cm high with conical bearing. Soft foliage first green then metallic blue.

Juniperus Communis Oblonga Pendula grows to 4 metres; the branches are pendulous and have beautiful green-blue foliage with bronze tips.

Juniperus communis ‘Hibernica’ up to 4 metres high, with columnar deportment and dark green foliage. Very fast growth. Suitable for high hedges or tree-lined avenues.

Juniperus virginiana ‘Blue Arrow’ up to 5 meters high, glaucous leaves with metallic highlights.

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