By: Teo Spengler
With feathery and graceful foliage, juniper works its magic to fill in empty spaces in your garden. This evergreen conifer, with distinctive blue-green foliage, comes in a variety of forms and grows in many climates. If you live in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zone 4, you may wonder if juniper can grow and thrive in your garden. Read on for the information you need about junipers for zone 4.
Cold Hardy Juniper Plants
Zone 4 regions of the country get pretty cold, with winter temperatures sinking well below 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-17 C.). Yet, many conifers thrive in this zone, including cold hardy juniper plants. They grow in many regions of the nation, thriving in zones 2 through 9.
Junipers have many plus factors in addition to their delightful foliage. Their flowers appear in spring and subsequent berries attract wild birds. The refreshing fragrance of their needles is a delight, and the trees are surprisingly low maintenance. Zone 4 junipers grow well in the ground and also in containers.
What types of junipers for zone 4 are available in commerce? Many, and they range from ground huggers to tall specimen trees.
If you want groundcover, you’ll find zone 4 junipers that fit the bill. ‘Blue Rug’ creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) is a trailing shrub that only grows 6 inches (15 cm.) tall. This silver-blue juniper thrives in zones 2 through 9.
If you are thinking of growing junipers in zone 4 but need something slightly taller, try golden common juniper (Juniperus communis ‘Depressa Aurea’) with it golden shoots. It grows to 2 feet (60 cm.) tall in zones 2 through 6.
Or consider ‘Grey Owl’ juniper (Juniperus virginiana ‘Grey Owl’). It rises to 3 feet tall (1 m.) in zones 2 through 9. The tips of the silver foliage turn purple in winter.
For a specimen plant among zone 4 junipers, plant gold juniper (Juniperus virginianum ‘Aurea’) that grows up to 15 feet (5 m.) tall in zones 2 through 9. Its shape is a loose pyramid and its foliage is golden.
If you want to start growing junipers in zone 4, you’ll be happy to learn that these are easy to cultivate. They transplant easily and grow with little care. Plant junipers for zone 4 in a full sun location. They’ll do best in moist, well-drained soil.
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Junipers can be confusing plants when you first start gardening. Someone will casually say, “It’s a juniper” when pointing at almost anything from a tall tree or a narrow, upright shrub, to something a few inches tall creeping across the ground. It might have fuzzy or smooth leaves, and it could be green, blue, yellow, gold or any combination of those colors. Naturally this is a bit puzzling to beginnings. Let’s sort out these plants, because junipers are undoubtedly among the toughest and most reliable of evergreens, able to thrive in both cold and heat, and in poor soil too, with few pests or problems. Even deer usually leave them alone.
Before exploring the world of junipers, let’s consider why you will almost certainly want to use them in your garden and landscaping. For starters, there are junipers for almost all climates. Even in zone 3, where evergreen choices are very limited, a whole host of junipers will thrive. At the other extreme there are junipers that revel in the heat and dryness of zones 9 and 10, and that take extreme drought conditions. For exposed situations, especially hot, sunny places, junipers have to be a top choice plant. The same is true of soil. Sandy soils, as well as heavy clays, don’t bother most of them, and if you have rocky, poor-soil areas that need plants, they should be high on your list.
The only thing junipers don’t like is shade and wet soil. Save them for sunshine and dryness. They will tolerate a little shade for a few hours a day, but the growth will be thinner, and the colors noticeably weaker. Wet soil is the leading cause of juniper blight – a nasty disease that causes the tips of the shoots all over the plant to turn brown. Sometimes this will kill the whole plant, and its certainly makes it unattractive. Make sure the place you are thinking of is well-drained and sunny.
A second good reason to use junipers is their remarkable range of sizes and shapes. No matter what you are looking for, from a thin pencil of foliage making an exclamation point in your landscape (Skyrocket Juniper for example) or a low-growing plant to cover the ground and cascade over rocks (e.g. Blue Rug Juniper), with everything in between, there is a juniper for every purpose. Some can be clipped into neat formal shapes (Spartan Juniper makes great cone-shaped specimens), while others become twisted, exotic, eye-catching focal points (the Hollywood Juniper).
Then there is color. Most Junipers have a bluish tint to their green leaves, but some are super-blue, like the Blue Star Juniper, or the Wichita Blue Juniper. Others are brilliant gold, like the Sea of Gold Juniper, and this usually lasts all winter, unlike many other golden evergreens, that fade to light green by late summer. All in all, there are lots of good reasons to love junipers!
One less obvious point about junipers is their variable foliage. When fresh from the seed all junipers have short, pointed leaves that stick out from the stems, but this juvenile foliage is normally lost soon, and becomes scale-like instead, clinging tightly to the stems. Some special forms retain juvenile foliage, like the Blue Star Juniper, and this gives them a softer, ‘fuzzy’ look. It also makes them look very unlike most other junipers, which can be confusing.
Growing the Gold Lace Juniper
Size and Appearance
The Gold Lace Juniper is a spreading evergreen shrub, which grows 6 to 12 inches a year, reaching a height of 4 or 5 feet and spreading up to 7 feet across. It has an attractive mounding form, with semi-pendulous branch tips that hang downwards in a graceful way. The fine, lacy foliage gives it a softer texture, and best of all the leaves are wonderful shades of pure gold not just at the tips of the branches, but all across the bush, throwing a carpet of gold across the brown earth. The color holds through winter and summer, bringing a stable element to your design, and lifting the colors of the green shrubs around it. The leaves are small, pyramid-shaped and pointed, growing outwards from the stems. In Junipers this is called ‘juvenile foliage’, and it gives the bush a softer look and a lacy effect which is delicate and attractive in the garden. Older bushes may develop round berry-like cones. These are juniper berries, but they are not the type used for cooking or making gin.
Using the Gold Lace Juniper in Your Garden
On banks or level ground, as part of your foundation planting or out in your garden beds, the Gold Lace Juniper is incredibly versatile and useful. Plant it in front of larger shrubs to create that essential layered look in your beds, or use it alone to cover slopes, where the foliage and roots prevent soil erosion. Plant it between stones on a rocky slope, or beside manholes and other ugly features, to hide them. Use it with other interesting conifers to fill sunny and dry areas with color and interesting shapes. For group planting, space plants up to 4 feet apart to create a solid covering in a few years.
The Gold Lace Juniper is very hardy, thriving even in zone 4, and yet growing well all the way into zone 9. It is a plant for all American gardens.
Sun Exposure and Soil Conditions
Although the Gold Lace Juniper will grow in shade, the gold coloring develops best in full sun, and plants in full shade will produce thin, pale green foliage. So plant it out in the sun and enjoy those great gold colors. It grows best in any well-drained soil, but avoid areas that are wet, especially places wet through winter. It enjoys open, sandy soils and rocky ground, but on slopes and banks it will grow in clay soils too. Alkaline soils and saline soils are also tolerated, and this plant is resistant to salt spray, so it’s a good choice for coastal areas. Established plants are very resistant to long periods of drought.
Maintenance and Pruning
Pests and diseases are virtually unknown on the Gold Lace Juniper, and deer normally ignore it. Some evergreen fertilizer is beneficial in spring to maximize the growth of young plants. It grows naturally dense and looks most attractive untrimmed. It can, if you wish, be sheared into a low hedge, but you must start trimming when young, because bare branches, with no needles on them, will not re-sprout. To keep it more compact, remove the ends of the branches, cutting beneath an upward-facing shoot to hide the cut end, keeping a natural look.
History and Origin of the Gold Lace Juniper
Back in 1866, a French missionary and botanist called Armand David was exploring Inner Mongolia. There he found an unusual juniper, which he sent back to Europe. That original plant is still growing at the Späth Arboretum in Berlin. It was at first thought to be a form of the Chinese Juniper, Juniperus chinensis. In 1947 the American plantsman Peter Jacobus Van Melle studied that species, and realized that the Späth Arboretum plant was a natural hybrid between the Chinese juniper and the savin juniper, Juniperus sabina. Both of them grow naturally in Mongolia. He named it Juniperus x media, but later botanists renamed it Juniperus x pfitzeriana, the Pfitzer juniper, which today is its correct name.
Junipers often produce branches that have mutated, and look different from the rest of the plant. In 1923 a Pfitzer juniper at the D. Hill Nursery in Dundee, Illinois sprouted a branch with golden foliage, which became a popular plant, called ‘Pfitzeriana Aurea’. In 1983 a group of those plants were growing at the wholesale nursery J.C. Bakker & Sons Ltd. In St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. A unique branch was seen on one of the plants and new plants were made from pieces of that branch. Its more compact, lower growth, and persistent, uniform gold color made it unique, and it was patented in 1993 with the name ‘Gold Lace’. That patent expired in 2013.
Buying the Gold Lace Juniper at the Tree Center
You will love the graceful way the Gold Lace Juniper covers the ground, and its vibrant gold coloring, which is so stable through the year. It is a big improvement over older gold junipers, and always in high demand. Order the plants you need right away, as we won’t have it on the farm for much longer.
Creeping Juniper Characteristics
Creeping juniper, sometimes also called creeping cedar, is a low lying evergreen groundcover. Within the taxonomy of the plant kingdom they are referred to as juniperus horizontalis. Although there are several varieties, they all grow usually no more than 2 feet tall, and will spread and extend roots as they do so. Most will spread about 8 feet. Some extend to 10 feet or more. If they are in a container or on a ledge, they will continue growing and “cascade” over the side. Creeping junipers usually expand their width by 1 to 2 feet each year.
- Stems and Branches: Creeping juniper will start with a main, thicker trunk that is brown or gray. Smaller branches will grow off in different directions from that one, staying close to the ground. Those branches, once established, will have the same color as the trunk. New growth stems will be yellowish green. As the plant “creeps,” its new shoots will extend shallow roots that anchor it to the ground.
- Foliage: The leaves of creeping juniper are fine, green to blue feather-like needles. Many cultivars exist, and some are truer green while others are closer to a blue-gray hue. The leaves turn scaly as the plant matures. In the fall and winter, they turn to a purplish red color, but return to green when spring comes.
- Fruit: Female plants will produce bluish purple berries, which are actually the “cones” of this conifer. These berries are edible. Juniper berries are used to flavor gin. Some people also use them to make sauces.
A close up look at the foliage.
The color isn’t the same
The color of the needles is the next small difference between Skyrocket and Blue Arrow.
Skyrocket has a grayish-green shade of needles. Sometimes it can even be a little silvery. This juniper looks especially beautiful when the sun is shining very bright.
Blue Arrow does not have a silver glow of needles, but it has a richer blue hue. Sometimes it can be bluish-green, and sometimes the blue is very pronounced.
The reason why these junipers have this unusual color is the wax coating on the needles. It protects the needles from intense sunlight, and the less sunlight there is, the greener the Skyrocket and Blue Arrow will be.
To get the exciting colors, you need to provide these plants with enough sun. For 4-6 USDA hardiness zones, they should get at least 10-12 hours of direct sunlight. If you live in the south (7-9 zones), give them 6-8 hours of sun.
Otherwise, both of today’s competitors will be green and may even have a loose structure as there won’t be enough sunshine to grow branches to form a dense plant.
In general, Blue Arrow has a more exciting foliage color than Skyrocket.
Name: Juniperus procumbens nana aka green mound juniper
Type of Plant: A ground cover juniper…truthfully, the only one I commonly recommend. Hardy zone 4 to 9.
Why I Love/Hate this plant: In general, junipers are really great plants that are misused and abused by people who plant them. But some are better than others, and green mound, Juniperus procumbens nana, is the pick of the litter when it comes to groundcover. In my opinion and experience, of course. Why this one instead of ‘Blue Rug’ (which I HATE, btw) or ‘Blue Star’ (nice enough when located and treated well)? I prefer green mound because it grows thickly enough to out-compete weeds. A ground cover, in my opinion, is a plant that is weed smothering, attractive and not so aggressive that it takes over the entire landscape and makes a play for your house later on. Green mound meets this criteria and has the added advantage of being drought tolerant and thriving in full, hot sun.
A Word to the Wise: Don’t plant any juniper where it gets hit by automatic irrigation more than once a week. Less often is better. Place junipers in full sun and initially mulch around the new plants so that they can start to get established without weeds in their early days. Green mound isn’t really fast, but it’s not a poky plant either. Plant it and be patient.
Green mound junipers are light in color which makes them perfect with other conifers that have darker green or bluish tones.
Unlike other ground cover junipers such as Blue Rug (I hate that plant), green mound grow so thickly that weeds don’t grow into and through their branches. Yay!