How to Grow California Juniper

An Ideal Specimen For a Xeriscaping

California Juniper in a desert setting

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The tough California juniper (Juniperus californica) is a small tree or shrub that grows well in gardens that experience dry heat and drought conditions. It's perfectly suited to xeriscape spaces where water is in short supply or needing to be conserved.

Slow-growing and very long-lived, this tree can be found in the rocky, infertile, dry, slopey, desert landscapes around California where other plants don't survive. These regions still have mild winters and the trees store up their moisture during this season.

As the tree matures, the trunk becomes misshapen and forked, and the thin bark has a gray hue and shredding quality. The distinctive blue-gray foliage stands out in any garden. The bluish berries, actually the cones found on female trees, have a white and waxy hue.

Although California juniper isn't a particularly tall tree, because of its spreading habit, slow-growth rate, and shrub-like appearance, it's often used as a hedge or privacy screen. It can also work well in aiding the stabilization of slopes prone to erosion.

The tree has grown in popularity as a large bonsai species that is ornamentally sculpted. It can withstand the aggressive pruning required, and the deadwood forms interesting shapes.

The berries found on the female trees can be eaten raw or cooked. They have a sweet taste and fibrous texture. Traditionally, they were also dried and ground up to add as flavoring to a variety of dishes or for medicinal purposes.

Botanical Name Juniperus californica
Common Name California juniper
Plant Type Evergreen, tree, shrub
Mature Size Up to 25ft. tall
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Sandy, loamy, clay, well-drained
Soil pH Acid, neutral, alkaline
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Blue berries with a white waxy sheen
Hardiness Zones 8 - 10, USDA
Native Area California, Southwestern North America
Close up of California Juniper Tree berries
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Plant Care

Providing it's planted in a dry and hot landscape, your California juniper will require little to no maintenance. Drought-tolerant and slow-growing, the juniper is a hardy species that's interesting to look at.

Light

It won't come as a surprise, given its native desert habitat, that the California juniper needs a full sun position to thrive.

Soil

This tree can cope in a variety of soils, providing they're well-drained. It'll appeal to people who have gardens with rocky and infertile soil where other plants struggle to grow. It even does well in strongly alkaline soils.

Water

A drought-tolerant species, this tree prefers a dry or slightly moist soil. It requires little to no watering — ideal for lazy or forgetful gardeners.

Temperature and Humidity

The regions that this tree is native to have temperate, sunny, and moist winters, and the long summers are dry and incredibly hot. This is the type of conditions that the California juniper is best suited to.

In the driest regions, California juniper will grow much more slowly, and its mature height will be considerably less than in a region that receives more water.

Propagating California Juniper

It's possible to propagate California Juniper from mature wood cuttings, although it can be exceptionally tricky and requires patience.

It's best to take healthy cuttings during the fall, and they can take up to twelve months to take root.

Pruning

Because of its slow growth rate and hardy disease-resistant nature, the California juniper doesn't require much pruning.

It is, however, a popular bonsai specimen and many people chose to shape it into an ornamental feature in their garden. Consequently, it can handle hard pruning without any difficulty.

How to Grow California Juniper From Seed

It's also very difficult to successfully grow California juniper from seeds. First off, because it's a dioecious species, you need a male and a female tree to get seeds that can be used. Secondly, the seeds are tiny and are known for having a low and slow rate of germination.

Seeds should be subject to a significant cold stratification period. It's recommended that they are cold stratified for around two months and then they should have a couple of months being exposed to warm conditions, before a final further couple of months of cold again.

Unlike the mature trees, which aren't shade tolerant, seedlings need to be kept in the shade to thrive.