Juniper trees have bushy branches with distinctive needles.

Juniper Tree Facts

by Susan Lundman

With 60 different species and hundreds of varieties in all forms from spreading ground covers to large and small shrubs to trees, junipers (Juniperus) add evergreen color and interesting shapes in any home landscape. Juniper trees grow from 20 to 60 feet tall depending on the variety. While fewer juniper trees appear in home gardens than the other forms, they offer plenty of benefits for those who do grow them.

1. Unusual Needles and Berries

Unlike other conifers that have either needles or scales, juniper trees have both, sometimes on the same branch. The needles have sharp edges and a pungent, distinctive scent. Resembling blueberries, juniper berries also appear in red or copper, and are in fact soft cones. Like typical hard and prickly conifer cones, juniper berries also contain the tree's seeds.

2. Native Habitat

While juniper trees grow in different U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones depending on the variety, many are native to high and low deserts. Growing up to 50 feet tall, alligator juniper (Juniperus deppeana) for example, is native to Central and Northern Mexico, and the Southwestern U.S. It also grows in USDA zones 7 and 8. Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma), which grows to 35 feet tall, is native to the Southwestern U.S. and grows in USDA zones 1 through 10b.

3. Benefits

Juniper trees bring toughness and beauty to the landscape. Because most of the trees are native to desert regions, they are hardy and drought-resistant wherever you plant them. The trees also give your landscape an interesting visual focal point with their fibrous and furrowed bark, twisting trunks, and attractive needles. While you probably won't use them for this purpose, dried juniper berries provide one of the ingredients giving gin its distinctive flavor.

4. Junipers and Water

While juniper trees aren't particular about the type of soil they grow in, whether acidic or alkaline, heavy or light, they do need well-draining soil and little supplemental water once they are established, unless summers are very dry. Avoid planting a juniper near your lawn to reduce the chance that its roots might rot, turning the needles yellow and killing the tree. Junipers grow in full sun or part shade.

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