Questions on: Juniper

Ron Smith, Horticulturist, NDSU Extension Service


Q: I have two Medora and two Wichita junipers. They are doing very well. I think they are doing well because they are growing next to my house. I was considering a row of Medora junipers on the north side of my property. I would like to use it for privacy and a windbreak, so I would like a tight grouping, but still healthy. What kind of spacing would you recommend? (West Fargo, N.D.)

A: These native junipers would be the perfect choice for what you want. I would suggest 3-foot spacing for a tight fit.


Q: I have a number of juniper bushes bordering my house. Our city was doing sidewalk repairs, so they cut the bushes back. Now I have wood branches sticking out. Is there something I can use to help them become green again or do I have to remove them? Thanks. (Rancho Cordova, Calif.)

A: Generally, when evergreens are pruned back to bare wood with no green foliage remaining, that is the way they will stay. So your choices are to accept the poor appearance or replace the bushes. I vote for replacement!


Q: I just purchased a house. The previous owners planted creeping juniper on the west and east side of the house. I hate the looks of it and would love to get rid of it, but I have no idea how to kill it. If you have any suggestions on how to get rid of creeping juniper, I would very much appreciate it. I’m assuming it was planted as a ground cover. I’m not even sure if creeping juniper is the correct name for what I’ve got, but it definitely smells and looks like creeping juniper. My dad suggested using Roundup, but there are small bushes in the same areas that I don’t want to kill. (Bismarck, N.D.)

A: Get a strapping teenager who wants to get in shape for football or another sport and have him dig them out with a pick axe. I've done it many times. I’ve found it to be effective and you don't have to worry about chemical drift.


Q: I have seven juniper bushes in my front yard that I hate and would like to have removed. What is the easiest way to remove them? Can I tie a chain around the base of the bushes and pull them out with a truck? Any assistance is greatly appreciated. (e-mail reference)

A: You can use a truck to pull out the bushes, but be sure you don’t tear up your turf doing it! If you live in the South where the root system can grow all year long, you might be surprised at how extensive the root system of this plant can be! Because I couldn’t use a truck, I chopped some out of my front yard a few years ago using a Dutchman’s hoe. It was backbreaking work!


Q: We are looking for a good privacy hedge variety. The area we are looking at has poor, rocky soil and gets full sun. We would like to plant a fast-growing hedge. We also need to find a variety that will not poison our dogs. (Bitterroot Valley, Mont.)

A: You are in juniper country. Visit a local garden center to see if it has a selection of junipers. In general, junipers can tolerate the soil conditions you described. You may want to consider a Medora juniper because it is a North Dakota native.


Q: Are juniper berries harmful to dogs and cats? (e-mail reference)

A: They will probably throw them up after eating, but they are not known to be toxic.


Q: I have not dealt with juniper trees and I don’t have anything in my office that would tell me what problem this tree has. The top of the tree is totally brown and the bottom looks as healthy as ever. No pesticide was applied in the area and the damage has just shown up in the past few months. A rain spout is right by the tree, but recently the spout was redirected away from the tree. I don’t think that matters because we hadn’t received any rainfall when the symptoms started. Could the absence of the extra water from the roof have caused the problem? (Carson, N.D.)

A: It could be bark beetle or borer damage. The stems are girdled by the feeding insect resulting in the death of the plant tissue above the girdle. The other possible cause is stem canker. In either case, the tree is toast and should be disposed of. There is no coming back from this extreme.


Q: The needles on my creeping juniper have started to turn brown. I think the problem is webworms, but I can’t find any worms. (e-mail reference)

A: It could be any number of causes such as disease, environment or pollutants in the air. Take a sample of the plant to a local, competent nursery. If they don't know, contact the local state or county Extension office for some assistance.


Q: Three years ago, I bought two moonglow junipers that had been sculpted in pretty corkscrew forms. Of course, for the pretty shapes I paid a pretty price. They were approximately four feet tall when purchased and are probably five feet tall now. They’ve done well, although they haven't grown much. We’ve changed our original landscape plans so we'd like to move them. Is it feasible to hand dig them? If it’s too risky, we could hire someone with a tree spade to come in and do it for us. Would it be possible to pot them in large containers instead of putting them into the ground? (e-mail reference)

A: The most challenging thing about transplanting trees is minimizing root damage and root loss. When you pick up a tree to move it, either by hand or with a tree spade, you lose a good part of the root system, sometimes as much as 90 percent! Since these trees have been in the ground for three years, they're probably just adjusting to the site and have expanded their root systems well into the native soil. Root systems of established trees can be spread as far as one and a half to two times the height of the tree. So whether you dig by hand or use a tree spade, there will still be a lot of roots lost. And it will take about a year of recovery time for each inch of tree caliper (diameter at ground line). Be aware of these issues when you make your decision. If you decide to put them in large containers, they will require a lot of watering. (JZ)


Q: I looked at a creeping juniper in a yard that was planted two years ago. The center of it has a lot of dry needles and appears to be dying out. Would an application of Miracid help? There do not seem to be any factors in the yard affecting the area. The other plants are doing well so I don?t think it is a lack of water. The junipers are on the east and northeast side of the house so they do not get the intense afternoon heat. (Forman, N.D.)

A: Creeping junipers have a nasty habit of doing that as they age, just because they age! Applying fertilizer will not force new growth from the center but a pruning may. This is one of these tightrope operations. The plant isn't going to look any better being left alone, so you might as well prune it to see if any new growth emerges. If it doesn't, then the plant is dead and can be replaced.


Q: I planted 500 Rocky Mountain junipers this spring and have found a weed on them I cannot identify. It is like a vine and has elongated heart shaped leaves. When weeding, it seems the root system is almost like a vine underground as well. I've been cultivating between the rows then tilling between the plants and finally hand weeding around the trees. Is there a weed killer available to take care of the problem? (E-mail reference)

A: The weed sounds like creeping jenny, or in some circles, better known as field bindweed.

The best approach is to paint the leaves carefully with Roundup avoiding, as much as possible, getting any on the juniper foliage. This will take persistence on your part, as the root system is quite extensive and will take several re applications to kill it off. Try your best to keep it from going to seed.


Q: I have removed a 25-year-old low juniper from the front of my house and am looking for a replacement that can tolerate alkali soil. In a column from a previous year, you recommended compact pfitzer juniper. The Neche greenhouse says juniper is for zone 4. I live 17 miles south of the Canadian border and about 50 miles west of the Minn. border west of Langdon. Will the compact pfitzer grow here? If so, where can I purchase one? Is there something else you would recommend? It will have an east exposure. My foundation plantings consist of native plants such as lilac and globe carrigana. (Wales, N.D.)

A: The greenhouse was correct -- it will grow here in Fargo and south but not much further north without protection. I would try the "buffalo" cultivar of the Sabin juniper. It is hardy to zone 2 which goes well into Canada. More commonly available are the arcadia and the scandia junipers which are hardy to zone 3. All three will spread 6-8 feet and get a little more than 12 inches in height, fitting in nicely in a landscape situation. The local nursery should have one or all of these or should be able to tell you how to get them.


Q: I have three blue arrow junipers approximately 10 feet tall and planted about six feet apart along the back side of a garage. How and when would be the best time to prune them? I would like to maintain their shape, but need to find a way to strengthen their trunks and maintain a manageable height. They are very susceptible to being whipped around by the wind; the tops sometimes droop and separate. (E-mail reference)

A: Try tying them up with cloth strips to give them support. Don't use wire or rope. Junipers respond well to pruning as long as it isn't overdone. However, you can prune the new growth almost all the way. Leave a wisp of green that parallels the branches you are removing. Whatever you do, never shear a juniper or arborvitae -- that literally ruins the natural form of these otherwise graceful plants.


Q: I am trying to plant a sierra juniper (western juniper). I have seeds or can get cuttings if that will work. Any other info would be great. (E-mail reference)

A: Go for the cuttings and don't plant them too deep. Water it well, and don't allow it to go into winter dry. No fertilizer needed.


Q: I have a couple dozen small juniper trees (8 to 16 inches tall) growing under my Russian olive trees in my shelterbelt. I assume the birds planted them. I'd like to transplant them. When is the best time and what is the best way to do that? (Bismarck, N.D.)

A: The best time is sometime this fall before freeze-up takes place. Be sure to give them ample water. While a ball is not necessary, try to keep a slurry of wet soil or peat moss around the roots to keep them from drying out.


Q: When spring comes we often see or have juniper trees that are brown. From what I understand there is a spray that can be applied in the fall to help prevent some of the browning. I was wondering if this spray is called anti-desiccant and how and when should it be applied. (Steele, N.D.)

A: The anti-desiccant that is commonly found on the market is Wilt-Pruf. It should be sprayed on when the plants have been "shut down" by a series of autumn frosts, but when the air temperature is in the mid-forties or higher. A re-application is strongly recommended in the late winter or early spring on one of the "thaw" days. What often happens is the soil is either still frozen or so cold that water cannot be transported to the aerial tissue, which is being dried out by the warmer spring winds. A spray then would help prevent that as most if not all of the fall spraying has either washed off or broken down in the winter sunlight.


Q: When is the best time to cut back my juniper bushes? Can I do it now or would I be better off to wait? Is there a product on the market I can use to spot treat the quackgrass in my lawn without killing the other grass, which is mostly Kentucky bluegrass? (Jamestown, N.D.)

A: You are better to wait until next spring before new growth begins on the junipers.

On the quackgrass control, no, sorry, there’s nothing on the market.


Q: Attached is a picture of an orange jelly-like substance that is growing on a juniper bush. Could you please identify and suggest control measures? (Stanley, N.D.)

A: A good photo of the cedar-apple rust gall development. It seldom causes great harm to the juniper but is devastating to the alternate hosts--anything in the Rosaceae family, like apples, pears, hawthorn and juneberry. I suggest that all such galls be harvested as soon as possible and destroyed.


Q: My mother has an upright juniper next to her house. It stands some 20 to 25 feet tall. The bottom growth is not bad, the middle is really bare and then the top isn't too bad. One side is rather thin all the way down. What she is wondering is, if we try to prune this should we severely prune it or would it be a waste of time and effort? Would we be better off trying to dig it out and start with something new there? We have kept it pruned over the years, but it really is starting to look really thin in some spots and really overgrown in others. (E-mail reference, Bismarck, N.D.)

A: I suggest removal. A juniper 20 to 25 feet tall right next to the house is overgrown for the site, unless it is a huge house on a large lot. Any "dress-up" pruning you may do will only be unsatisfactory, and you will end up taking it out anyway. Save yourself the frustration. Get it out of there and replant with something new.


Q: I have two questions. I have four junipers in front of my house and have kept them trimmed and shaped to a rounded top. Last summer one started turning brown, and the county agent diagnosed it as needle blight. I sprayed with Daconil, which was recommended. Now I have noticed that the other three are also turning brown. What do you recommend that I do? My other question is, my husband is buried in a cemetery about 40 miles from where I live. I had two tall evergreens cut down from beside his grave, since the roots were growing and pushing up the monument. I need to have something else planted in that spot this spring. What would you advise? The cemetery does not allow any tree or shrub which would grow as tall again. (Jamestown, N.D.)

A: At this stage, and with no further analysis, I suggest removing the junipers. They will never look good again, so get rid of them and save yourself the aggravation. Concerning the graveside planting, I suggest daylilies. They are tough and maintenance free. Another one would be the ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass. This is a beautiful ornamental that needs very little care and is not invasive. In our plantings around the state they get between 4 and 6 feet tall.


Q: Please identify the enclosed evergreen for me. Many of them come up in my garden, but I don’t know where the parent tree is located. They are a nice green during warm weather, but turn purplish for the shorter days. (Jamestown, N.D.)

A: Your evergreen is a juniper. The seed is eaten by the birds, and once it passes through their digestive system they readily germinate.


Q: Can you tell me what is wrong with my juniper and my spruce? The juniper is more yellow than the rest of them that I have. (Pollock, N.D.)

A: I could find nothing wrong with your juniper sample; no spider mites, no environmental damage and no pathogens. I suspect that you may be looking at individual differences between plants or perhaps even a difference in species. Unless plants are cloned, differences in color, texture, rate of growth etc. are likely to exist.

The spruce has a bad case of needle cast. If the entire tree (or most of it) is in this state, there is little you can do, except remove the tree. If this disease is just starting, then there may be some hope of arresting the disease spreading any further. You can make twice-a-year applications of a product known as Bravo (chlorothalonil)--in May and again in June.


Q: Enclosed is a leaf from what I think is a tree that is growing in my flowerbed. Can you tell me what kind of tree it is? Can Prince Consort black currants from a nursery in Canandaigua, N.Y. be grown here? I would also like to know what causes cabbage to get brown leaves? I planted three junipers in with my apple trees. Will this hurt the apple trees? (Lisbon, N.D.)

A: The leaf looks like it came from a crabapple.

You mention Canadaigua, N.Y. As a teen, I used to go boating and camping therea beautiful spot! But, to grow your desired currant here is not very likely. It is probably a cultivar of Ribes sanguineum, which is hardy only to zone 5.

Concerning the cabbage, it sounds like grey mold, a fungus that commonly develops on stored cabbage. Cabbage needs to be stored cold, but without freezing and at a relative humidity of 98 percent or higher.

Just because you have apples and junipers on your property doesn't mean you'll automatically have cedar-apple rust. I've had the two on my property for the last 13 years with no dire results. Just keep your eyes peeled.


Q: A couple of weeks ago you answered a question about propagation of juniper from seed. How are these propagated by cuttings? What other trees can be propagated this way? (Dickinson, N.D., e-mail)

A: Junipers root easily from current season's growth and last year's growth in a pure sand media. Simply make cuttings about 9 inches to 12 inches long and strip off any foliage from the lower 3 inches. Insert in clean sand and keep moist. They should form roots in about four to six weeks or less.

Others that can be propagated that way are mulberry, magnolia, St. John's wort, viburnum, crabapples, dogwood, holly, some birch and juneberry (with patience and practice!). Pines do not root from cuttings. Their seeds have no dormancy and can be germinated upon collection. In some cases, better luck is obtained by using a rooting hormone such as IBA. The cut ends are simply dipped into a talc containing this material then stuck in the medium.


Q: I have a juniper shrub that is almost 20 years old alongside of our house. I have pruned it before, but it is getting overgrown again. Is now a good time to prune, or should I wait until next spring? (Oakes, N.D., e-mail)

A: Put off pruning your juniper until next March or April, and then give it a good hard pruning. If the plant was healthy and vigorous prior to pruning, it will shoot up all kinds of growth next spring, which you can easily control with touch-up pruning.

The reason for not doing it now is because we are too far along in the season for proper and complete healing to take place prior to winter setting in. This could lead to winter die-back of some of those branches.


Q: We have five scandia juniper in the front of our house that are getting so grown together that they are hard to keep a manageable size. There are many dead branches on the bottom and I am wondering if we cut the original bushes down to ground level, would they grow back? (New Rockford, N.D.)

A: Always cut juniper branches back to a little wisp of green foliage. This may require loppers first, to be followed up with hand clippers.

This treatment is drastic, usually leaving the plant looking nothing like the original specimen, and the homeowner bewildered. But, they (both the shrub and homeowner) usually survive.

If you want to be less drastic, take about one-third of the old branches back now, and for the next two years, and this will give you the same eventual result.

Junipers respond to annual pruning in summer quite well.


Q. I have a problem with one of our apple trees. I am not sure what kind of apple it is. I am enclosing the leaves from this tree. They get this way every year and don't bear very many, if any. There is another tree which is a Haralson that does not get these kind of leaves on it. Was wondering what is causing the problem.

My other sample is from a pine tree or cedar tree whichever it is that gets these little clumps all over. This spring it had these all over about as big as small eggs. We pulled them all off, but this fall they are coming back. Is this normal, or is there something I should be doing to prevent this? The cedar tree and the apple trees are both in the same area. Is there any connection to the two problems, and if so why does it affect the one apple tree and not the others?

I have never used any spray on any of the trees. Is there something I should be using?

I enjoy your column in the green sheet every week. (Wessington Springs, S.D.)

A. Your apple tree has scab, and the juniper has female cones. Apple scab develops on some tree species due to weather conditions and the vulnerability of some trees. Haralson and Red Duchess are good examples that are resistant.

The fungus overwinters in infected leaves, so autumn sanitation is the first step in control. Get all fallen leaves removed. Next, spray in the spring before leaf-out with lime sulfur, covering the entire tree, if possible. Then as the leaves unfold spray with Captan. See the enclosed extension publication, PP454, "Diseases of Apples and Other Pome Fruits," for more information.

The juniper is simply making normal sexual expression bearing fruits.

Thank you for writing.


Q: I am looking for a juniper that can tolerate alkali soil. I have a compact juniper in this alkali soil that is barely surviving after three years. (Carrington, N.D.)

A: Why not try the compact pfitzer juniper? It can grow in anything outside of concrete. They grow 1-2 feet tall. ‘Broadmoor’ juniper is another one to consider, staying even lower. There are dwarf honeysuckles that will also do quite well. ‘Miniglobe’ and ‘Clavey’s’ dwarf are two good examples to consider. While Andorra junipers are nice, they need more refined soil conditions to look decent. Be sure to follow good soil prep procedures before replanting.


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