If you really don't enjoy spending a lot of time maintaining your garden, or you aren't a fan of mowing the lawn, then creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) could be a perfect choice. This hardy, low-growing evergreen shrub can be used as an alternative ground cover, although it doesn't cope well with high footfall.
A versatile and popular shrub, creeping juniper is often used on rocky slopes where other plants struggle to survive, and it can help to prevent soil erosion. This drought-tolerant species is also commonly used in dry regions where xeriscaping is popular. It thrives even in hot-summer climates, isn't too picky about its soil, isn't bothered by many pests or diseases, and is unlikely to be eaten by deer or rabbits.
The foliage is aromatic and an eye-catching blue-green hue through the spring and summer. In the winter, it often takes on a purplish tint. This is a good shrub for growing along the edge of a retaining wall, adding color to a rock garden, or growing in seaside gardens where salty air can be a problem for many other plants. It's best to plant creeping juniper in the spring, although fall planting is also acceptable.
|Common Names||Creeping juniper, creeping cedar|
|Botanical Name||Juniperus horizontalis|
|Plant Type||Shrub, groundcover|
|Mature Size||1.5-3 ft. tall, 8-10 ft. wide|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral|
|Hardiness Zones||3-9 (USDA)|
|Native Area||North America|
Creeping Juniper Care
Creeping junipers appeal lies in the fact that it's a fast-growing and low-maintenance shrub. Once established, it doesn't have any complicated care requirements and grows vigorously. Drought-tolerant and not fussy about soil types, just about all this shrub requires to look its best is full sunlight, heat, and not too much water.
Creeping juniper needs full sun—at least six hours of direct sunlight each day—to thrive. If planted in a shaded location, it will not spread or have vibrant color.
Part of the appeal of creeping jupiter is the fact that it's so adaptable. While it has a preference for sandy soil with light to medium moisture, it isn't particularly fussy. It will grow in poor quality, dry, compacted soils where other species won't. The only thing it asks is that the soil be well-drained. Overly wet conditions can result in root rot.
This drought-tolerant shrub copes in hot, arid conditions well. When young plants or seedlings are being transplanted into the ground is the only time you'll want to ensure the soil is kept consistently moist. Once established, creeping juniper will generally be happy with just natural rainfall, unless you experience a particularly long and intense hot and dry spell. During this period a once a week watering should be sufficient.
Temperature and Humidity
Creeping juniper is popular in part because of its ability to thrive in a mix of temperatures. Arid, hot summers aren't a problem, and it can cope with cold, snowy conditions too; this plant is hardy down to USDA gardening zone 3, where winter temperatures can be as cold as 40 degrees below zero.
Creeping juniper doesn't need much fertilizer, and thrives even in poor soil. It should not be fertilized at all for the first year after planting. After that, if desired, you can apply an all-purpose fertilizer once per year in the fall.
Types of Creeping Juniper
There are over one hundred cultivars from the Juniperus horizontalis species. They all vary in terms of their height, spread, and foliage color, although all are fairly low-growing plants with a moderately wide spread.
Some of the most popular cultivars are outlined below.
- Juniperus horizontalis 'Wiltonii,' commonly called blue rug juniper, is the most popular of all the creeping juniper cultivars. It grows up to about six inches tall and can spread to around eight feet. It has an attractive blue-gray color.
- Juniperus horizontalis 'Pancake' is perfect if you're looking for a very low growing cultivar. It rarely grows above three inches tall. Its color is a rich, deep green.
- Juniperus horizontalis 'Lime Glow' is an unusual yellow-green in color. It's also a smaller variety than many other creeping junipers, usually only spreading three feet or so.
- Juniperus horizontalis 'Blue Acres' spreads further than most other creeping junipers, often reaching as much as 20 feet wide. Its foliage is bluish-gray.
Creeping juniper does not require regular pruning. If it grows larger than you'd like, you can trim it back to fit your space, but it's best to choose varieties that are appropriately sized for your growing area whenever possible.
Propagating Creeping Juniper
Although technically it is possible to propagate creeping juniper from cuttings or grow it from seed, it is very difficult to reliably do either, and even if propagation is successful, it will take years before the plant grows to a size suitable for transplanting into the garden. This plant should be purchased from a nursery or garden center, where you'll usually find a wide variety of species in both 1-gallon and 5-gallon planting containers.
How to Get Creeping Juniper to Bloom
Like most members of the juniper family, creeping juniper is a dioecious plant, which means that there are separate male and female plants, and one of each is required to produce viable seeds. While male and female creeping junipers look the same in terms of foliage and growth habits, they show their difference in their flowers. The male flower is a cone-like structure with yellow-brown scales. These are generally 1/10 to 1/8 inches long. Female flowers are around half that size, have a bud-like shape, and are white to pink. Both male and female creeping junipers produce their flowers in the spring.
If wind carries pollen from a male plant's flowers to a nearby female plant's flowers, fertilization can occur. The female flowers will then eventually produce blue-gray, small berries, each containing two or three seeds. It can take up to two years for the berries to mature. Not all cultivars reliably produce berries, however.
Common Problems With Creeping Juniper
Although creeping juniper is a hardy plant with few issues when grown in a suitable location, like any plant, it can have problems on occasion.
Brown or Yellowing Foliage
Several issues can cause a creeping juniper to develop yellowing or browning foliage, but fungal diseases are especially common. Fungi usually take hold on plants that are receiving too much water or are in an overly shady location. Trim away any affected foliage. You can then treat the plant with a fungicidal spray, which are available in nurseries or garden centers.
Can you walk on creeping juniper?
Although creeping juniper is often grown as a groundcover, it cannot withstand foot traffic. Plant this spreading shrub where it won't cover walkways or be stepped on.
Are creeping juniper berries edible?
While the berries of some juniper species are edible—juniper berries are used as a flavoring in gin, as well as in some meat dishes—creeping juniper is not one of the species used for this purpose.
Is creeping juniper invasive?
Although some varieties of creeping juniper can spread as much as 20 feet, the majority remain much smaller. This isn't a plant that is prone to aggressive spreading or invasive behaviors. If your plant becomes too large for the space in which you are growing it, you can trim it down to the desired size.