Creeping Juniper Ground Cover Care Guide

Ed Wike
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Overview

Creeping junipers are recognized for rapid growth and fast ground coverage. They are an excellent landscaping ground cover, due to their ability to take harsh conditions in stride. They can thrive in many different growing areas, including U.S. Department of Agriculture Hardiness Zones 2 to 10 as well as in many different climates.

The plant is a low-lying coniferous shrub. It is categorized as a juniper, but it is not related to the high juniper bushes that are common in ranch landscapes.

The plant is commonly used as ground cover. Their leaves are known to be very aromatic. Even though they are a soft to the touch, it is wise to dress in gloves when pruning. The creeping junipers do not have spines, so it is safer to encounter the plant head on while pruning.

The plant is evergreen. Even in winter, the plant retains strong dark green colors.

The shrub can also be used to create beautiful rock gardens and as a foundation border to give your garden a natural look.

Here are some tips to give you the most out of these valuable plant.

Types of Creeping Juniper

Juniperus communis stays green even through the coldest winters, making it a green year-round choice for gardeners. Creeping junipers are hardy plants that are ideal for covering parkways and walkways as well as planting in wildflower gardens in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 7.

Low-maintenance and with few growing requirements, creeping junipers are an excellent selection for many gardeners. They require full sun and low to moderate water and can tolerate rocky soil conditions. These plants can grow to create a dense, low evergreen cover.

The creeping juniper is the most popular juniper plant. Its narrow, needle-like blue-green leaves and its slow growth habit make it ideal for covering bare areas and for low hedges and barriers. The variety creeping juniper sports yellow berries that persist through winter, and produces purple-brown bark on mature plants. This is one of the few types of junipers that does not grow in Utah.

The prostrate juniper is an excellent ground cover that likes sandy or rocky, well-drained soil. The plant has a horizontal growth pattern with low-hanging branches. It falls under the creeping juniper plant description because it spreads outward by long horizontal stems that fall to the ground and root into the earth to become new shrubs.

Creeping Juniper Care

To get the most out of a creeping juniper (commonly called a ground cover or evergreen groundcover), you have to treat it right. Here are some tips to take the best care of your creeping juniper. You’ll enjoy this low maintenance low growing little ground cover for years to come.

Creeping Juniper Care Tips

Creeping junipers are perfect for training on fences, covering walls, under decks, and in your landscape beds.

In early spring is the best time to plant your creeping juniper. This is generally when you’ll find them for sale in nurseries or garden centers.

Set them about 4 inches into the soil and water well.

When using a creeping juniper as a ground cover, give it plenty of room to spread. Keep it about the width of your hand apart.

If you let it grow too close together, it will lose its shape and form.

It will grow from 1/2 inch to about 1 1/2 inches a year, depending on the conditions. Generally it grows faster in the spring and fall and slower in the heat of summer.

Light

The strands of this creeping climb plant grow in soft, evergreen tufts. The prickly needles on these soft strands allow the juniper’s blue-green hue to develop a soft, yellow-green color. The color of the Juniper depends on the availability of light. If the plant is planted in a bright area, it will develop a yellow-green color. If it is placed in an environment that is darker, the color will appear greener. Juniper is easy to grow and thrive in the shade and isn’t picky about the type of soil as long as it is not dry. This is a beneficial trait because soil choice isn’t a big factor when you’re trying to develop ground cover.

Another benefit of this creeping ground cover is the amount of sunlight it tolerates. While it can grow in full sunlight, this juniper tolerates shade. If you have a shaded area that you’d like to use for ground cover, this juniper is a good option.

Planting it along the driveway or landscape should help to hold soil in place. The slightly prickly foliage growing along your driveway will lower the risk of mud and have the added benefit of giving your eyes something green and interesting to look at.

Water

Creeping juniper ground cover don’t require too much water. The ground cover has the “ground” in the name because it is a ground cover. It is designed to grow in lower watering conditions. Although letting your ground cover get too dry is not preferred, over watering is even worse.

Too much water will let the plant rot and become a very deadly environment for your plant.

Soil

Creeping Junipers love well-drained, sandy soil. They will grow in full sun or partially-shaded areas. They do well in arid landscape designs.

CJ will grow well in most soil types with few notable exceptions. CJ is allergic to salt and high South-facing slopes.

Once your CJ is planted, water it deeply, but be cautious not to over-water it. Creeping Junipers, as with most plants, prefer a well-moist soil all year, but especially during the growing season. Water regularly to have happy Juniper.

Don’t apply any fertilizer. Creeping Junipers are tough and only need water and sunlight to thrive.

To make your Creeping Junipers even easier to maintain, use the plant feeder attachment to water your plants. After watering, you'll can see the effects of the nourishing solution absorb right through the leaves.

Fertilizer

Creeping juniper is a fast-growing, dense ground cover with rounded, blue-green needles. It is native to Africa, but it is a popular ground cover for the landscape in both the United States and Europe due to its low-maintenance nature. Creeping juniper grows best in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) zones 7 through 9 where extremes in environmental conditions are not possible. It can last a long time, but needing a top dress or trim every few years is a common characteristic of the plant. Creeping juniper is accustomed to growing in poor soil conditions, but you do not want to fertilize the plant too much. The product you choose should promote blooming while nourishing and conditioning the ground cover.

Fertilizer

Commercial names include:

  • Creeping juniper fertilizer
  • Creeping juniper food
  • Creeping juniper fertilizer, time released

Buying creeping juniper fertilizer is the first step in caring for the plant. Shop for creeping juniper fertilizer at a garden retailer that provides the latest products. Ask other gardeners or landscapers which products are the best to use. Choose a product that helps the plant to thrive and that encourages flowering. Look for a product with a fertilizer option. If you do not have creeping juniper existing, look for a high-nitrogen option that promotes growth.

Propagation

Creeping juniper, also known as “running juniper,” is a perennial plant, but is mostly known for its low maintenance landscape use. Creeping juniper is effectively a juniper shrub that never stops growing, but as its name implies, it creeps rather than grows skyward and eventually forms a low dense mat of growth 12 to 20 inches in height. Metal pruning tools work best, or maintenance shears are also good.

The key to successful creeping juniper ground cover use is to continually remove any shoots above the ground level. A frequent complaint of owners is that they have not been able to stop the creeping juniper mat from taking over their entire yard. This is 100% preventable! Every time a shoot pops up just cut it at ground level.

A ground cover uses low light, so they tend to thrive in shady areas. You can also grow them under the cover of hedges and trees. A creeping juniper ground cover is lush in appearance, shaped much like a traditional juniper shrub.

Pruning

Creeping juniper has a reputation for taking over the garden. Although this is true in certain circumstances, it is possible to keep these shrubs in check. The key is to prune correctly and trim rarely. Pruning once or twice a year will control size and shape and discourage a leggy appearance. The best time to prune is right after blooming when the plant is dormant.

You can use creeping juniper as a ground cover or as a hedge. We recommend the former for more mature plants that will be slow, but easy-to-control ground cover. For smaller, bushy junipers that will grow more quickly, you can use them as hedges, but you will need to mist prune them regularly. That is, cut back to a lower branch just as if you were shaping a bush.

Finally, you will need to stake older plants to prevent them from drooping. This is especially true in heavier soils or in heavy shade where they may not ever reach the ground.

Problems

Junipers can be anywhere from 1 to 50 feet tall and can spread from 3 to 20 feet wide. Once a juniper has established itself, it will often fill in and take over the spot in which it is planted. It can also become a perfect home for pests such as ticks, snails, and slugs. Junipers are evergreens and live up to 120 years and come in a range of colors, too, so they definitely have their place in the garden.

Contrary to popular belief, a juniper is not poisonous to animals and humans, but it can cause health problems. It grows berries that are considered a juniper delicacy eaten by juniper birds, hawks, and many others. The leaves contain a compound called ginkgolic acid. While the compound is not harmful to animals and humans, it could become an issues when eating the berries. It is also not effective for repelling pests, as may be advertised on the web.

Growing Problems

Problems with creeping juniper include diseases like Pythium blight. The fungus can also attack the foliage. Look for brown spots on the foliage or stems, which can develop into a yellow brown border and eventually cause the leaves to fall off. Another fungal disease, Cylindrocladium, attacks Juniper, turning the leaves brown. To avoid these problems, provide a moist, well-drained environment, ensure proper air circulation, and avoid overwatering.

Another problem with Juniper are scale insects. These slender insects have small bodies with soft shells containing small eggs. The female dies after she lays her eggs, and the eggs hatch within 48 hours of being laid. This means that you'll need to apply a scale insecticide to stop the cycle. Repeat the treatment regularly to keep these scale from coming back.

Pests

Proper care, nutrition and a balanced environment will form the basis for a healthy creeper vine. As beneficial as junipers can be, they are not entirely pest free. Insects, diseases and plant competition can be problems if not tended to. Keeping your juniper healthy will allow it to resist a myriad of pests.

Insects and diseases are prevented with proper care. Common to all creeping junipers is the prevention of sun scald. Junipers are evergreens, so they lose leaves in winter. If the sun isn't blocked by trees and landscaping, sun scald is likely. Sun scald is easily observed by dead tissue and a color change in the leaves. More sun exposure, high winds, and low areas increase the risk factor for these problems.

Keep your juniper away from the wind, make sure it is receiving enough water, and feed it healthy slow release fertilizer. Proper balance will minimize the amount of problems and prevent advanced problems.

Diseases

There are no specific diseases or pests that affect Creeping Juniper plants. Other common juniper plants are affected by several fungal or insect diseases. These diseases can be spread to private or public lands, which can destroy the trees.

Creeping Juniper plants are excellent to use in the landscaping design of an area. Not only do they provide a non-threatening element to wildlife, but they also provide excellent cover for the many animals that inhabit the area and also provides food for them to eat. They can be used for privacy screens, screens for fences, for rock walls, and for riverbanks. Creeping Juniper is a very hardy tree and can grow on many different kinds of soils.

To grow Creeping Junipers in a favorable environment, you need full sunlight, well-drained, deep, sandy soil. It is a very resistant tree to drought because it can survive on poor soil and in a dry and hot environment. Large populations of juniper surround areas that have experienced years of drought and poor soil and have not succumbed to the conditions.

You also need to keep your Junipers away from high traffic areas. If you have a high-traffic area around your trees, the roots can get worn. This will cause the tree to lose its roots and your tree will die.

FAQs

What is Creeping Juniper?

The creeping juniper shrub is a type of juniper plant that is evergreen and is typically used as a ground cover. It naturally grows anywhere from three to six feet tall but can be kept at a specific size by pruning it. It has a dense foliage that makes it great for use as a protective barrier in places where it can create a natural barrier. It can also be used to anchor a bed of flowers or other ground cover plants. Creeping juniper plants can be used in almost any type of soil but they prefer sandy ones. They do not like having their root zone's submerged in water for long periods of time and they also do not like excessive moisture levels in the soil.

Where do you Grow Creeping Junipers?