About Creeping Junipers – Tips For Growing Creeping Juniper Ground Cover

By: Jackie Carroll

If you’re looking for a low-growing ground cover that thrives on neglect, give creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) a try. These graceful, aromatic shrubs spread to fill sunny areas and they can be used as foundation plants or accents in flower borders. Use them near decks, porches and garden seating where you can enjoy their pleasant fragrance. Learn more about creeping juniper care and how to use creeping juniper ground cover in your landscape.

About Creeping Junipers

Creeping juniper is a low-growing evergreen shrub that is often used as a ground cover. It features plume-like branches that extend horizontally. The foliage often has a blue-green cast in spring and summer and plum-colored tint in winter.

Male and female flowers grow on separate plants, and the female plants produce berries. Neither the flowers nor the berries are particularly ornamental. The height varies depending on the cultivar. They may be as short as 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm.) or as tall as two feet (61 cm.). Each plant can spread as much 6 to 8 feet (2 m.).

Creeping juniper ground cover is ideal for xeriscaping. Growing creeping junipers on slopes and hillsides helps prevent soil erosion as well.

Creeping Juniper Requirements

Creeping juniper adapts to almost any soil, including those that are hot, dry and poor in fertility. In fact, these little shrubs flourish in hot, dry conditions near walls and sidewalks where most ornamentals won’t survive. You can also take advantage of their drought-resistance by planting them in areas where irrigation isn’t always possible.

While it thrives in clay, compacted and sandy soils where grass refuses to grow, the shrubs prefer well-drained soil and a sunny location.

Creeping Juniper Care

As with most juniper shrub care, creeping juniper is a low-maintenance plant that never needs pruning or cutting back. In fact, creeping junipers won’t tolerate a lot of pruning. However, you can remove some of the plants if it spreads beyond its boundaries, though it may be easier to select a species or cultivar that naturally grows to a height and spread to fit the site you have in mind.

Watch for insects and diseases. Control bagworms and webworms by removing and destroying the bags and webs. Control scale insects, spider mites, leaf miners and aphids with insecticides labeled for the target insect.

Creeping juniper is susceptible to several fungal diseases that cause yellowing, browning and dieback. Cut off infected parts of the plant and use a fungicide labeled for use on junipers.

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Plants→Juniperus→Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis 'Plumosa')

General Plant Information (Edit)
Plant Habit:Shrub
Life cycle:Perennial
Sun Requirements:Full Sun
Water Preferences: Mesic
Dry Mesic
Soil pH Preferences:Strongly acid (5.1 – 5.5)
Moderately acid (5.6 – 6.0)
Slightly acid (6.1 – 6.5)
Neutral (6.6 – 7.3)
Slightly alkaline (7.4 – 7.8)
Moderately alkaline (7.9 – 8.4)
Minimum cold hardiness:Zone 4a -34.4 °C (-30 °F) to -31.7 °C (-25 °F)
Plant Height :24 inches
Plant Spread :8 to 10 feet or more
Suitable Locations:Beach Front
Resistances:Deer Resistant
Rabbit Resistant
Drought tolerant
Salt tolerant
Propagation: Seeds:Self fertile
Propagation: Other methods:Cuttings: Stem
Stolons and runners
Miscellaneous:Tolerates poor soil

This is the Andorra Creeping Juniper that was introduced by Andorra Nurseries in Philadelphia, PA into the trade in 1907 and is gray-green in color during the warm season. It used to be very popular in the 1950's through the 1970's, but it has mostly been replaced by the Youngstown Compact Andorra Creeping Juniper that is a little shorter of about 18 inches high and that does not get hit hard by the Phomopsis Juniper Blight that can damage the original Andorra Juniper a lot. It is a male clone that does turn purple-bronze during the cold part of the year.

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How to Plant Juniper

Part One – Gathering Cones

Before you can plant juniper seeds, you must first extract them from juniper berries, which are the berry-shaped cones that are formed on juniper plants. In late autumn, gather cones (juniper berries are actually cones, not berries, but are called berries because of how they look, which is actually quite similar to blueberries) which are two years-old and dark blue, and sometimes have a waxy, white coating.

Young juniper cones are green, sometimes with light blue highlights. Leave young cones on the plants to mature. Take only the mature cones, which will feel soft when you press them between your fingers. Mature berries are easy to pick off the plants by hand, or if you are harvesting from a large shrub or tree, you can also shake the plant mightily to get the berries to fall, which should loosen mostly mature cones that are ready for harvesting.

Part Two – Seed Extraction

To get the juniper seeds out of the berries, you have to perform an extraction. To do this, first soak the cones for several days in a diluted citrus-based hand soap, such as Gojo, or Fast Orange. Soak them until the stickiness is removed, then take them out of the cleaner water and rinse them off well to remove any soapy residue. Next, spread out your cones on a paper towel to dry.

After they dry, use a colander with a metal screen, or some other piece of screening, to rub the dry cones onto the screen, which will scrape off the skin, revealing the seeds inside. Be careful not to damage the seeds inside when scraping off the outer layer of the cones. Inside the cones is a mass of usable seeds, pulp, and older seeds, which have likely gone bad within the seed.

To separate the usable seeds from the pulp and the unusable seeds, just soak the opened cones in water. The good seeds will float to the top so that you can easily collect them with a spoon, while the heavier pulp and old seeds will sink to the bottom. There is typically between one to four harvestable and plantable seeds in each cone.

Once you have extracted the good seeds, lay them back out on a paper towel until they are dry and put them in an airtight container, such as a jar or good tubberware, and store them in the refrigerator until you are ready to use them.

Part Three – Stratification

Juniper seeds must be stratified before you can have any success growing them, as they must be brought out of their dormancy before planting or the seeds will fail to sprout. Different species of juniper require different stratification techniques. One technique involves placing the seeds in a colander under the faucet in the kitchen sink. Give the seeds a bath with a light stream of water from the faucet and leave them under the water draining through the colander beneath them for 48 continuous hours.

Then put the still wet seeds into a plastic bag in moistened sand or peat moss and seal the bag. Keep the sealed bag of seeds in an area that is kept at room temperature for two months, followed by three months in the refrigerator. After three months in the fridge, your juniper seeds will be ready to plant. This method works for most juniper varieties, as it mimics the weather of the passing seasons that juniper seeds are exposed to in order for their seeds to break dormancy in the wild.

Eastern Red Cedar varieties need to soak for four days in a one percent solution of citric acid before undergoing the stratification process. Alternatively, Eastern Red Cedar seeds can be sown in August without any stratification.

Part Four – Planting Juniper

Once you have your juniper seeds ready to plant, either plant them outdoors in a partially shady location during the spring or summer, or plant them in a planter with a peat-based potting soil mix and excellent drainage. Outdoor juniper plants will grow better in full sun, but seedlings need partial shade to develop. Amend the planting site with sphagnum peat moss to give your juniper a soil with an acidic pH. Indoor juniper should be given a bright but indirect light source and kept between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep their soil moist at all times, as seeds are prone to going dormant if the soil around them dries out completely. The seeds should germinate in approximately one month.

Care for Juniper

Established juniper plants are very drought tolerant and like drier soil conditions. They still require water, but you can let the soil dry out between waterings once the plants are established. Do not plant junipers near lawn sprinklers, as they will likely cause overwatering. During the first three months, newly planted junipers should be watered two times per week in the absence of rainfall. New juniper plants will need weekly waterings during their first summer in order to grow their intricate and extensive root system. After the first summer goes by, the majority of junipers can thrive with only natural irrigation.

Junipers will grow in infertile soils, but not as vigorously as they should, or are capable of. Junipers benefit from fertilization twice per year, in the early spring and again in late summer. Apply a half pound of general purpose fertilizer for every 100 square feet of space. Slightly nitrogen heavy feeds like 16-4-8 or 12-4-8 will work nicely. Rhododendron fertilizer for evergreen plants will work as well. To feed your junipers, sprinkle fertilizer on the soil around your plants right before it rains or just before you plan to water your soil to get the feed moving through the soil towards the roots.

Unless you are growing your juniper as a bonsai, you won’t need to do any extensive pruning, as junipers don’t respond well to heavy trimming. New green growth does not emerge from mature juniper wood, so never cut back to bare wood. Instead of pruning junipers into the size you wish them to be, select the right juniper for the location and move mature plants where they are desired. The only extensive pruning that junipers should receive is the removal of dead branches. When dead branches are taken, also trim the needles from the underneath part of the plant in order to increase air flow through the branches.

How to Propagate Juniper

Juniper is typically propagated by cuttings or by layering, but can also be grown using the seeds in a juniper berry. For more information on growing juniper from seed, consult the, “How To Plant Juniper,” section above. To propagate juniper from cuttings, use the following steps:

Step One – Fill a six-inch container with one teaspoon of slow-release, all-purpose fertilizer topped with a soil blend of equal parts chopped bark and peat moss.

Step Two – Use a sharp, clean pair of garden pruners to cut about seven, five to six-inch stem cuttings from an established, healthy juniper plant. Ideally, take new stems which are still green and slightly firm. Remove leaves from the bottom third of each cutting by pinching them off. Leave only three to four sets of leaves on the top of each cutting.

Step Three – Roll the base end of the stem in rooting hormone (the hormone gel will likely stick to the surface better, even after irrigation, but any kind of rooting hormone should work). Plant your cuttings around two inches into the substrate with the leaves sitting slightly over the top of the potting soil. Space cuttings out one and a half inches apart. Water gently to help settle the soil around the plant.

Step Four – To provide a greenhouse-like environment for your cuttings, cover the planter with plastic, using a bag and a small rubber band. Poke or cut four to five small holes or slits into the plastic bag to provide some air flow.

Step Five – Keep the planter in a bright but indirect light, checking moisture level weekly and watering lightly when the substrate is dry. Too much water will cause your cuttings to rot, so be sure not to overwater or let soil get soggy. Though you may see your stems start to root by the end of winter, you shouldn’t see any new growth on the plants until early summertime.

Step Six – Now that your cuttings have developed roots, move each one into a three-inch planter lined with a blend of two parts potting soil, one sand, and one peat moss. Keep your pots in a shady location for three to five days to allow time for your roots to relax, then the pots can be moved into a full sun location.

Step Seven – Provide indoor shelter for young juniper plants for one full season before moving the shrub outside. Larger shrubs will have a better chance of surviving outdoors. If your juniper plant begins to outgrow the container it’s in, switch to a bigger container, just remember to use a blend of soil, peat and sand in the bigger container as well.

Japanese Garden Juniper

Another prevalent species of low-growing juniper is Japanese garden juniper (Juniperus procumbens). Japanese garden juniper grows in a low, spreading pattern and bears silvery, light green needles. Indigenous to Japan, this elegant shrub is commonly used to make. Some varieties of this juniper can grow up to 2 feet tall. The popular Nana cultivar typically attains a mature height of 1 foot or less.

  • Native to Alaska, Canada and the northern United States, creeping juniper is accustomed to dry, cold, rocky conditions.
  • The popular Nana cultivar typically attains a mature height of 1 foot or less.

Japanese garden juniper is hardy in growing zones 4 to 8. Like creeping juniper, it enjoys full sun. This shrub is adaptable to many soil conditions, and is easily transplanted.

How to Remove Junipers

Juniper can change the look of a landscape by adding an evergreen element to the design, but sometimes that isn’t the look you want. Often junipers are left where they are to avoid the hassle of removing them, and frequently new homeowners find them to be the unwelcome house guest left behind in the yard. If you catch a juniper early, you may be able to transplant it, but if the juniper has been growing in the same location for years, it will be a bear to remove and killing the plant is usually the only way to remove it.

Cut back the majority of growth from the plant using a chainsaw for bush varieties or lopping pruners if you are removing a creeping juniper. You can completely remove most of the branches, but leave a few at 6 to 8 inches long to give you “handles” to work with.

Use a pickaxe or Maddox knife to bust up the ground 1 to 2 feet in diameter around the base of the juniper. The roots can be as dense and thick as the branches, so be prepared for hitting what feels like solid ground.

  • Juniper can change the look of a landscape by adding an evergreen element to the design, but sometimes that isn’t the look you want.
  • If you catch a juniper early, you may be able to transplant it, but if the juniper has been growing in the same location for years, it will be a bear to remove and killing the plant is usually the only way to remove it.

Cut through the roots to sever them from the plant. If the ground is particularly dense with roots and a regular pickaxe isn’t making much of a dent, you may need to switch to a Dutchman’s hoe, or over-sized pickaxe, which should break through harder areas.

Rock the juniper back and forth to test how loose it is becoming in the soil. The process of digging at the soil may take a long time, so regular rocking will not only tell you how loose it is, but also where the plant is still securely in the ground.

Use a shovel once the plant seems very loose jam the head of the shovel underneath the bulk of the root ball. Force the handle of the shovel down like a lever to lift the juniper up, while someone else pulls, hopefully bringing the juniper out of the ground.

Continue to work and repeat steps two through five until the juniper is out, and discard it appropriately. The process of removing the juniper can take hours depending on the plant and how well established it is.

  • Cut through the roots to sever them from the plant.
  • The process of digging at the soil may take a long time, so regular rocking will not only tell you how loose it is, but also where the plant is still securely in the ground.

Be sure to wear sufficient protective material such as gloves, hats, boots and safety glasses, as well as keep plenty of drinking water on hand to avoid dehydration.

While many people will tell you to wet the soil around the juniper thoroughly and attach it to a truck with a chain to yank the plant out, this can be damaging to not only your vehicle, but also your yard. Use extreme caution if you choose this method.

Juniperus horizontalis 'Pancake' / Pancake creeping juniper

Juniperus horizontalis 'Pancake' is arguably the lowest growing of all creeping junipers. Barely ever growing any more than 3 inches (7.5 cm) tall, its layered branches with rich blue-green scaly foliage covers the ground, rooting along the way. After 10 years, a mature specimen will have spread up to 32 inches (80 cm) in all directions, making for an ideal living coniferous ground cover.

Bill Janssen of Collectors' Nursery, Battle Ground, Washington introduced this cultivar in the 1990s and it has proven to be a select and desirable garden conifer.

Juniperus horizontalis 'Pancake' / Pancake creeping juniper

4 (-20 to -30 F / -28.9 to -34.4 C)
8 (10 to 20 F / -6.7 to -12.2 C)

COLOR: Blue Green
GROWTH SIZE: Dwarf: 1 to 6 inches (2.5 – 15 cm) per year / 1 to 5 feet (0.3 – 1.5 m) after 10 years

Explore other Juniperus horizontalis trinomial

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Junipers are subject to a number of pests and diseases. Among the most serious pests are bagworms (foliage is stripped), twig borers (branch tips turn brown and die), juniper scale (no new growth and foliage yellowed) and juniper webworm (webbing together and browning of foliage). Spider mites, leaf miners and aphids may also attack junipers. All of these can be controlled with a recommended pesticide.

The following fungal diseases may occur on juniper:

  • Cedar apple rust. This disease alternates between junipers and apple trees, producing galls and causing twig dieback.
  • Foliage or tip blight.
  • Phomopsis dieback. Dieback of leaves and twigs occurs in the spring. Eventually leaves may shed.
  • Root rots, caused by the fungi Pythium and Phytophthora. The root cortex sloughs off, roots rot and the entire plant dies.

These diseases may be prevented by growing disease-resistant cultivars.

Junipers resistant to phomopsis twig blight and cedar rusts are the Chinese juniper cultivars ‘Femina, ‘ ‘Keteleeri,’ ‘Mint Julep’and ‘Pfitzeriana’ common juniper cultivars ‘ Aureospica,’ ‘Suecica,’ ‘Broadmoor,’ ‘Knap Hill’ and ‘Skandia’ Eastern red cedar cultivar ‘Tripartita’ and creeping juniper cultivars ‘Wiltoni’ (‘Blue Rug’) and ‘Plumosa’ (‘Andorra’). Control may be obtained by using a recommended fungicide.

The following list of junipers describes a few that are well suited for a South Carolina landscape.

‘Bar Harbor’ creeping juniper.
Karen Russ, ©2008 HGIC, Clemson Extension

  • Chinese juniper (J. chinensis). Grows very large (50 to 60 feet in height and 15 to 20 feet in spread) with an erect, conical narrow tree form.
  • J. chinensis ‘Procumbens’ or Japanese garden juniper grows to a height of 2 feet and spreads 12 to 20 feet. Plants have feathery, blue-green foliage on long, wide-spreading, stiff branches.
  • Common juniper (J. communis) grows 10 to 12 feet tall with an 8- to 12-foot spread. Common Juniper has reddish-brown bark and gray-green foliage. Several cultivars are available.
  • Shore juniper (J. conferta) is a favorite groundcover, which should be planted 5 to 6 feet apart. Plants grow 12 to 18 inches high with a 6- to 8-foot spread. ‘Blue Pacific’ has ocean green foliage and is heat tolerant. ‘Emerald Sea’ is bright green. Shore juniper makes an excellent groundcover near the seashore because it is salt-tolerant.
  • Creeping juniper (J. horizontalis) is mainly used as a groundcover, since it grows up to 2 feet high with a 6- to 8-foot spread. There are many landscape uses with different cultivars.
  • ‘Bar Harbor’ is low spreading and fast growing. Feathery, blue-gray foliage turns plum color in winter. It tolerates salt spray.
  • ‘Plumosa’ or ‘Andorra creeping juniper’ is 2 feet by 10 feet, creeping, gray green in summer and plum color in winter.
  • ‘Wiltonii’ or ‘Blue Rug’ is 4 inches high by 8 to 10 feet wide, very flat and creeping. The foliage is an intense silver blue.
  • Eastern red cedar (J. virginiana) is a picturesque tree with dark green foliage that turns reddish in cold weather. The tree grows to a height of 40 to 50 feet, tolerates drought and poor soil. Small trees are Christmas tree favorites.
  • Southern red cedar (J. silicicola) is very similar to Eastern red cedar, though often more open and wide-spreading. This tree is salt-tolerant and grows well in sandy soils. It is well suited for coastal conditions.

More information on juniper shrubs and trees is available by requesting HGIC 1068, Juniper.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at [email protected] or 1-888-656-9988.


Marjan Kluepfel, Former HGIC Horticulture Information Specialist, Clemson University
Bob Polomski, PhD, Associate Extension Specialist, Clemson University

This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement of brand names or registered trademarks by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied, nor is any discrimination intended by the exclusion of products or manufacturers not named. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.

Watch the video: All About Groundcover Junipers - Erosion Control Planting On A Slope

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