I Saved the Old Junipers Despite your Advice

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In a post last fall I asked, “Can these Junipers be Saved?” about the old, overgrown ones used as foundation plants in front of my coop’s office building. Above, the very sad “before” look, showing a lot of dead parts due to shearing that was done to keep branches away from the sidewalks. It was the sadly common problem of using plants that become too large for their space.

So the staff yanked out the junipers nearest the sidewalk, which revealed large dead areas on the remaining ones, where they’d been crowded and shaded.

That’s when I asked GardenRant readers here and on Facebook to weigh in, which they sure did. The majority were in favor of removing ALL the old junipers:

  • I would say just remove them and start fresh.
  • Low growing evergreens like junipers tend to break or spread under a load of snow. So, when you remove the lower limbs, you’ve removed the support for the upper limbs making the juniper more prone to snow breakage. Besides, I personally am not a fan of the ornamental look. I’d remove your junipers. I’d place more open evergreens
  • Sometimes, the better question is not “can they be saved,” but “should they be saved?” And I’m a vote for “not saved.” No more spraying for bagworms, no more (in my case) worrying about whether the pack rats are moving in for shelter, no more browning underneath, no more overgrown monstrosities harboring trash and potential muggers. Out! Out, I say!
  • I am with many of the others. Remove the entire lot of juniper, start over and select plants that will be appropriately sized for what you want.
  • No, they cannot and should not. My neighborhood was developed in the 60s and some of the lovely homes still maintain borders and slopes of juniper, which also harbor rats and skunks. A couple of the worst hold-outs paint the exposed brown a too-bright green annually, to compensate!
  • They could be, but there are so many more attractive alternatives.
  • Pull them out and plant more attractive shrubs. (To which I asked, “What shrubs would you suggest?” but there was no response.)

Just two voted for saving the remaining junipers:

  • I had this problem at my property here in Provence. I have some landscape training, and decided to do a modified Japanese style, exposing the good parts of the structure and thinning and shaping the upper branches. Looks beautiful and I get many compliments. I even added a stone lantern.
  • I really like the sculptural look and haven’t had or seen snow load problems (mind you we don’t get the lake affect snow upstate New York gets). The issue may be what to do in the area under the branches.

I guess I like a “sculptural look” because that’s what I’d call the result you see here, after I spent several hours over the winter removing all the dead juniper parts. I also like using plants that are already in place when possible (a principle of sustainable gardening that doesn’t get enough attention) and saving money for my coop. Replacing all these foundation evergreens would have been pricey and it would have taken years for them to look established.

But what about the problems the commenters warned me about?

  • To my knowledge, these junipers have no bagworm problem and are never sprayed.
  • Limbed-up like this, they don’t harbor rats, skunks, trash or potential muggers.
  • The only concern that applies here (again to my knowledge) is that some of the remaining branches aren’t holding themselves up well now, without the support of the dead branches underneath. The drooping adds a bit of drama to the sculptural effect.

In April the effect of daffodils blooming with the limbed-up junipers was nice but awfully sparse-looking. I can’t wait to show you what the make-over looks like now, with 18 new shrubs and dozens of perennials, mostly donated and full-size.

Okay, that’s an understatement. I’m so excited about this garden I can hardly keep from checking on it every day.

19 COMMENTS

  1. I love it; I think it looks terrific! It has a Japanese, cloud-pruned vibe to it. Plus, I totally agree that there is too much tendency to rip everything out and start from scratch when less costly, less wasteful solutions are possible and might produce even better results. Can’t wait to see what you’ve added. Hope you post soon!

  2. That was me! The one who suggested modified Japanese pruning! I think they look fine and I agree with your comments about keeping what’s there. As time goes on you can further refine them. If you cut bits that hang down and emphasize what’s going up, it helps. I read that in some Japanese pruning book …..
    bonnie in provence

  3. Wanted to leave a general shout-out to all the writers on Garden Rant, especially the founders and long-time ones, including Susan Harris. I just bought a landscape/planting/design book and felt it was pitched to make an argument in an inside landscaping debate I wasn’t party to. Appreciate having Garden Rant and other good gardening blogs here to go to – smart and informed gardening talk for us gardening millions.

    • Ditto! Thanks for articulating what many Garden Rant readers, no doubt, feel. I especially enjoy the give and take, back and forth conversational feel that the Comments section encourages.
      Thank you ALL, writers and readers alike.

      • P.s. For those who might not know the wonderful gardening/ foodie /foraging Blog of the indomitable Marie Viljoen, I highly recommend a visit to 66 Square feet at blogspot. It’s a gem! I believe she’s also found on Instagram.

      • Thanks so much Diane and Ellen! I’ve loved that about writing here and really miss the early days when we’d get as many as 100 comments sometimes, before Facebook. So when a topic like this one starts a conversation it’s so fun.

        I’ll post photos soon, when the black-eyed susans are blooming.

  4. It’s a wonderful feeling when you do something you think MIGHT work, and it does. It’s an even more wonderful feeling when the result excites you so much that you check on it daily. Great decision, great results!

  5. I’m so impressed with the result and with you for opting to keep the junipers. We gardeners are opinionated folks at times and it’s often difficult to follow our own instincts what with all the advice and recommendations available. The overall look is so in sync with the house – its scale and style. Good work! One of my favorite Garden Rants!

    • I’m pretty sure sweet autumn clematis would but that would become a problem. We want to keep the under-juniper area open also to keep it from harboring people animals and trash.

  6. Thanks, Pat! I love that you and other readers know exactly what I’m talking about – the excitement of making gardens. This one’s especially fun b/c it’s so public. Already the staff and lots of members tell me they like it. Potential homebuyers go to this building, and beautifying it could help members sell their units. That’s a big argument we’re making for beautification – it helps even the residents (we call members) who don’t care about it.

  7. Hi Susan – I’m so happy you saw my ‘sculptural look’ comment! And I love and appreciate what you say about sustainable gardening – a great portion of the shrubs and perennials in my garden were originally destined to be thrown away by others; can’t bear to see that happen.

  8. Not surprisingly, the results are positively brilliant. And beautiful. Perhaps all the naysayers should consider another hobby.

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