Chinese Juniper Plant Profile

Chinese juniper shrub sheared into pompoms

David Beaulieu

Chinese juniper (Juniperus chinensis) is an adaptable evergreen plant that’s native to countries in East Asia. In the wild, it’s often seen as a cone-shaped tree that can exceed 40 feet tall and 20 feet wide. Its prickly, dark green needles remain attractive year-round. And many varieties have berry-like fruit in the late summer and fall, which tends to attract birds. Chinese juniper has become a popular ornamental landscape shrub or tree and has more than 100 cultivars. Some shrubs are even pruned into pompoms to add visual interest to the garden.

Botanical Name Juniperus chinensis
Common Name Chinese juniper
Plant Type Evergreen shrub or tree
Mature Size 2 to 40+ feet tall, depending on variety
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Average, medium moisture, well-draining
Soil pH Neutral to slightly acidic
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Yellow to bronze (no ornamental value)
Hardiness Zones 4 to 9
Native Area East Asia

How to Grow Chinese Juniper

Chinese juniper has many uses in landscaping, including as hedges, privacy screens, ground cover, shade trees, and specimen plantings. It's best not to situate it where you'll often be brushing against it, as the foliage is rather coarse and prickly. However, because Chinese juniper is tolerant of salt, it can be used near sidewalks, driveways, and roadways. It is also rarely damaged by animals, such as deer.

When planting Chinese juniper, make sure you pick a location that will fit the mature size of the plant, as this will minimize the pruning you’ll have to do down the line. Also, ensure that the location has excellent drainage and gets ample sunlight. If you’ve purchased a container plant, dig a hole roughly as deep as its root ball and twice as wide. Place the plant in the hole at the same level it was growing in the container, and firmly pack soil around it. Then, water it thoroughly. 

Light

Chinese juniper grows best in full sun. It prefers at least six hours of direct sunlight each day.

Soil

This plant is tolerant of many different soil types, including sandy, rocky, and clay soils. It does best in average garden soil with a neutral to slightly acidic pH. Good soil drainage is critical. Slow-draining soil can cause root rot and other issues for the plant.

Water

Along with adequate drainage, Chinese juniper grows best in moderately moist soil. Water young plants around once or twice a week to maintain soil moisture. But unless you live in a dry climate or go through stretches with no precipitation, you likely won’t have to water a mature plant. Once Chinese juniper is established, it is fairly tolerant of dry soil and drought. 

Temperature and Humidity

Chinese juniper can handle temperature fluctuations within its growing zones, and certain varieties have even more cold tolerance than others. The plant also is tough in both humid and dry conditions, as long as its roots aren’t sitting in soggy soil.

Fertilizer

Fertilizer usually isn’t a necessity for Chinese juniper unless you have nutrient-deficient soil. However, it can help to boost the plant’s growth. Many gardeners choose to feed their juniper annually or every two to three years in the early spring with a complete, slow-release fertilizer.

Pruning

Size and shape vary widely among Chinese juniper plants, and this will dictate your specific pruning needs. But in general, pruning is typically best done annually in the late winter or early spring just before growth begins. Prune off any dead, broken, or diseased branches. And then trim back leggy branches to maintain the plant’s shape. Aim to selectively prune branches around the entire plant to increase the amount of light that can reach its center. 

If you're looking to form pompom shapes out of a Chinese juniper shrub, some people opt to fashion a circular guide for themselves out of wires. You also can find pre-made guides at garden centers for this purpose. Simply place the guide over your plant, and remove the foliage outside of it.

Moreover, you can eyeball the cuts if you're comfortable doing so. Chinese juniper tends to be very forgiving of slight pruning mistakes. So if you prune a bit too much, just give the plant a little growth time to correct your mistake. For pompoms, prune around three to four times a year to promote denser growth.

Varieties of Chinese Juniper

There are many cultivars of Chinese juniper that serve different landscape purposes. They include:

  • Blue Point Chinese juniper (Juniperus chinensis 'Blue Point'): This plant grows in a dense pyramid shape at least 8 feet tall and features blue-green foliage.
  • Gold Lace Chinese juniper (Juniperus chinensis 'Gold Lace'): This is a compact shrub with golden foliage, growing only to around 3 to 4 feet tall with a little wider spread.
  • Pfitzer Chinese juniper (Juniperus chinensis 'Pfitzeriana'): This shrub grows around 5 to 10 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide, and it features sage green foliage.