How to Grow and Care for Utah Juniper

Gnarled Utah Juniper on the side of a high cliff.

Christian Handl/Getty Images 

The Utah juniper is a short, tree-like, irregularly shaped evergreen shrub with bushy upright growth and rough green foliage. Utah juniper is slow-growing and highly adaptable, surviving in rough and inhospitable places such as rocky crevasses, on the face of cliffs, and in desert conditions that bake in the harsh, hot sun. This tree's tap root extends 15 to 25 feet down into the ground in search of moisture so even in the windiest, driest, and most intense conditions, the roots of the Utah juniper will keep it alive.

Common Name Utah juniper
Botanical Name Juniperus osteosperma 
Family  Cupressaceae
Plant Type Tree, shrub
Mature Size 10-25 ft. tall and wide
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type Sandy
Soil pH Neutral
Hardiness Zones 5-9 (USDA)
Native Range North America

Utah Juniper Care

Here are the main care requirements for growing a Utah juniper.

  • Plant seedlings or saplings from a regional nursery specializing in native plants; Utah junipers are extremely tough to propagate.
  • Carefully choose a location for the tree where it cannot hamper the growth of other plants with its allelopathic traits.
  • Plant in full sun or part shade but consider that this tree is not shade tolerant.
  • Stake and protect the trunk of the tree for the first year or two of the tree's life.
  • Use any type of soil, though loose inorganic and less acidic is preferred.
  • Water infrequently as its moisture needs are low.


The Utah juniper prefers full sun but can handle part shade. This is an adaptable plant like most desert junipers. It grows in extreme locations and adapts to its conditions.


The ideal soil for this plant is a loose inorganic mix that is neutral to slightly alkaline. A sandy, gravel pumice mixture is perfect if you are looking to add to your soil to make a more hospitable mix. Again, this tree is adaptable, and it is not particularly picky. 


Water to establish young plants, but a maturing Utah juniper does not require much watering since it is very drought-tolerant. This plant is perfect for xeriscaping or waterwise gardens.

Temperature and Humidity

The Utah juniper prefers hot dry climates. It is frost-hardy and will do well in zones 5-8, but its native range is the desert Southwest.   


The Utah juniper requires no fertilizer. If, after testing the soil, you find it to be too acidic, amendments can be added to increase alkalinity. 


A Utah juniper needs light pruning to remove dead material and retain its shape. Prune to avoid branching issues, like double-header stems that could cause the tree canopy to appear split; choose a main leader from the two branches and prune off the other one.


It's difficult to propagate a Utah juniper. That's because the plant doesn't produce berries and seeds until it matures, which could be decades. Even when the seeds are available, propagation is not usually successful. But propagating with cuttings may offer a small chance of success. However, for the best rate of success, you will need to find a stock tree from a nursery that can help you obtain a cutting from a young Utah juniper plant. The best time to take a cutting is in the autumn. If you are able to get a cutting, here's what to do with it:

  1. Strip leaves from the bottom of a 4- to 6-inch long cutting.
  2. Create a wound at the bottom of the cutting by stripping away a 1/2 inch of bark.
  3. Dip the stem into rooting powder.
  4. Put the cutting into a pot with moist rooting substrate, such as a coir and peat blend.
  5. Put the pot on a plant heating mat with a clear or white plastic bag over the plant to keep it moist.
  6. Mist the inside of the plant frequently during the day, about three times.
  7. Water the pot once a week.
  8. When the cutting is well-rooted (after about four months), then you can transplant the tree into its permanent home.


Very young Utah junipers need a little TLC but only if you are expecting an extremely dry winter season. Monitor the root ball of a young sapling to see if it needs water over the winter. Young trees will need moisture in dry winters to become established.

Common Plant Diseases

Mistletoe, a parasitic plant, seems to be the only type of notable abnormal and benign growth that Utah junipers tend to experience. The mistletoe grows on the juniper to obtain water from the branches. There are two types of mistletoe that appear on the tree: juniper mistletoe (Phoradendron juniperum ssp. juniperum) and dense mistletoe (P. bolleanum ssp. densum). The impact of mistletoe growth on the tree is minor.

Common Problems With Utah Juniper

Utah junipers are remarkably tough trees. But that doesn't mean it is immune to dieback, though it is rare. But this extremely drought-tolerant shrub has experienced stress in recent years because of acute droughts, causing the canopies to unexpectedly die back. The dieback does not seem to be associated with insects or plant diseases.

  • How fast does a Utah juniper shrub grow?

    It is extremely slow-growing, and often looks stunted, especially in severely dry conditions. The shrub grows a fraction of an inch in diameter annually. A fun fact: a Utah juniper may be 50 years old, but only 5 feet tall. Utah junipers have been known to live hundreds of years, but they never grow taller than 30 feet.

  • Are Utah juniper berries edible?

    Yes, they are edible, but they are not popular for human consumption because of their strong, bitter taste. However, the berries are popular with birds and wildlife, such as jackrabbits and coyotes.

  • Are junipers native trees only to Utah?

    Junipers are native to the dry soils that dominate the southwestern United States, including Utah, but also Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and other states.

  • What trees are similar to Utah juniper?

    Not all junipers are exactly alike. Utah juniper and Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) are often mistaken for each other. Utah has gray-brown bark and Rocky Mountain has reddish-brown bark. The Utah juniper is often confused with its geographic neighbor, the one seed juniper (Juniperus monosperma), mostly due to location. The easiest way to distinguish these two plants is by looking at the berry-like cones. J. monosperma has “juicier” cones, whereas J. osteosperma has drier cones (dry as a bone).

Article Sources
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  1. Nurturing Native Plants: Utah Juniper. Utah State University Extension.

  2. Species: Juniperus osteosperma. USDA Forest Service's Fire Effects Information System.

  3. Juniper Mistletoe. United States Department of Agriculture.

  4. Rapid and surprising dieback of Utah juniper in the Southwestern USA due to acute drought stress. School of Biological Sciences, University of Utah.

  5. The Indomitable Juniper. National Park Service.

  6. The Indomitable Juniper. National Park Service.