Juniper Tree Types: How to Find the Best One

The special thing about junipers: they thrive in dry climates

Juniper tree

The Spruce / Christopher Lee Foto

The juniper tree is made up of roughly 60 different species of trees and shrubs in the Juniperus genus, within the cypress family of plants. Although some junipers use the word "cedar" in their common names, juniper and cedar are not the same. Here are a few examples of what makes juniper trees special:

  • Different from cedar: Junipers are not members of the Cedrus genus. The leaves of these evergreen conifers usually take the form of flattened scales in the mature plants, though they may be needle-like in juvenile plants.
  • Ideal landscaping tree: The common juniper (Juniperus communis) is one of the best junipers for landscaping, but other species are just as beautiful. Junipers grow best in sunny spots with good soil drainage.
  • Best for rocky outcroppings: Junipers have a resinous sap that is quite combustible. This is not a species to plant en masse within dense residential areas where there is an ongoing danger of wildfires. They can, however, be an excellent choice as specimen plantings for rocky outcroppings where there is little combustible material in the immediate area.
  • Drought resistant: Most junipers offer at least some level of drought resistance, making them a good choice in more arid climates. But precautions should be taken in areas prone to wildfires.
  • Dioecious species: Many species are dioecious, meaning plants produce male or female parts but not both. It is generally the female plants that produce colorful berries, which are actually modified cones.
  • Useful berries: The berries/cones of common juniper are used to flavor gin. Juniper fruits can also be used as a spice in cooking, and they are very attractive to many birds and other wildlife.


Do not plant juniper in your yard if there are apple trees within a mile or two. The eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and other species host the fungus, cedar-apple rust (Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae). The fungus transfers from juniper trees to apples, crabapples, hawthorn, and quince, causing damage to all plants.

Here are 12 types of juniper shrubs and trees that might suit your landscape.

  • 01 of 12

    Alligator Juniper (Juniperus deppeana)

    Alligator Bark
    AvatarKnowmad / Getty Images

    The alligator juniper is named for its distinctive bark that resembles the rough, checkered skin of an alligator. This species can either be a shrub or a tree depending on the growing location and conditions. Other common names include checkerbark juniper, oak-barked juniper, thick-barked juniper, western juniper, and mountain cedar. This is a good plant for dry, rocky conditions. 'McFetter' is the most common cultivar used in landscapes; it is used in hedges or for buffer screening. It's native to Central and northern Mexico, and the southwestern United States.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 7 to 9
    • Mature Size: Up to 60 feet, more typically 20 to 40 feet tall
    • Light: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Dry, well-drained
  • 02 of 12

    California Juniper (Juniperus californica)

    California Juniper

    Danita Delimont / Getty Image

    California juniper is usually found as a large shrub in the Southwest, though it can sometimes grow to be a medium-sized tree in the wild. It features scale-like blue-gray leaves and reddish-brown cones. In landscaping, it is used to create wildlife habitats and in drought-tolerant gardening. It is very tolerant of alkaline soils and is often used to provide erosion control on dry slopes. It is also often used in bonsai.

    This species has also been classified as Juniperus cedrosianaJuniperus pyriformis, or Juniperus cerrosianus. Another common name for this shrub is desert white cedar.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 8 to 10
    • Mature Size: 10 to 15 feet; occasionally 35 feet or more
    • Light: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Sandy, loamy, clay, well-drained
  • 03 of 12

    Chinese Juniper (Juniperus chinensis)

    Chinese juniper tree with densely covered branches with needle-like leaves

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Native to Japan and China, one variety of the Chinese juniper, 'Toruloso', is known as the Hollywood juniper. As it matures, it creates an intriguing twisted form that works well as a specimen plant. There are many other varieties composed of different shapes and colors. The leaves on Chinese juniper are needle-like when the plants are young but assume the shape of scales as the plant matures. This is one of the junipers with good tolerance for urban conditions, but it does not like wet soils.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 9
    • Mature Size: Varies greatly depending on variety; many are ground covers and shrubs
    • Light: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Moist, well-drained
  • 04 of 12

    Common Juniper (Juniperus communis)

    Common juniper tree with upright branches covered with needle-like leaves

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    As the name suggests, this juniper shrub is commonly found throughout much of the world. It grows well in both alkaline and acidic soils, as well as adapts to many locations, such as windy sites. This plant can take many forms depending on its environment. Some cultivars are low-growing shrubs suitable for use as ground covers, while the species form may take the form of small upright trees. This is a rare juniper that has needle-like leaves, rather than scales.

    The tree is native to North America, Europe, northern Asia, and Japan. J. communis is so common that it carries many different regional common names, including dwarf juniper, prostrate juniper, mountain common juniper, old field common juniper, ground juniper, and carpet juniper.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 8
    • Mature Size: Varies by cultivar; the shrub usually matures to around 15 feet tall; it can sometimes reach 30 feet tall
    • Light: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Well-draining
    Continue to 5 of 12 below.
  • 05 of 12

    Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis)

    Creeping juniper as ground cover with crawling needle-like leaves near gravel path

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Creeping juniper lives up to its name and works well as a ground cover. It is very adaptable and can handle many different soils and situations. The leaves begin needle-like but become scales when the plants mature. The cones are blue-white berries with a waxy coating. There are more than 100 cultivars of this plant available, including varieties with yellow foliage. Native to the northern U.S., Canada, and Alaska, regionally, this plant may also be known as trailing juniper or creeping Savin juniper.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 9
    • Mature Size: 1 to 2 feet
    • Light: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Well-draining, tolerates dry soil

    Watch Now: How to Grow and Care for Creeping Juniper

  • 06 of 12

    Drooping Juniper (Juniperus flaccida)

    Dropping juniper


    MichelR45 / Getty Images

    The drooping juniper gets its name because of the way that the branchlets droop down. As juveniles, these upright trees have needle-like leaves that become flattened scales in the mature plants. This tree has a reddish-brown or gray bark that sheds in strips, and the cones are greenish berries that mature into purplish-brown. The tree is native to Texas, Mexico, and Guatemala.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 8b to 11
    • Mature Size: 35 to 40 feet
    • Light: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained, tolerates dry, rocky, or sandy
  • 07 of 12

    Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana)

    Eastern red cedar tree branch with green scale-like foliage and yellow buds

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Native to eastern North America, red cedar is a form of juniper that is especially fragrant, a quality that is sometimes used to repel insects. (The wood is often used in cedar chests.) This is an upright tree with dark blue-green scale-like foliage. The bark is gray to reddish-brown and often shreds in vertical strips; the trunk is sometimes fluted at the bottom. It is used as a specimen tree or in large screen plantings. Do not plant this tree near apple trees, as it is a host to cedar-apple rust fungus. Unlike many junipers, this tree has a fairly good moisture tolerance, though it does not like to soak in boggy soil.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 2 to 9
    • Mature Size: 30 to 40 feet tall; occasionally to 65 feet
    • Light: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, dry to moist, well-drained
  • 08 of 12

    Greek Juniper (Juniperus exelsa)

    Greek juniper


    possum1961 / Getty Images

    The Greek juniper is a large shrub or tree that is often found growing alongside the stinking juniper (Juniperus foetidissima)a species with a similar appearance but which is lighter green. The tree is native to eastern Mediterranean regions. These hardy trees can even grow on the sides of rocky cliffs. Like many junipers, the leaves on juvenile Greek junipers are needles that become flattened scales as the tree matures. The foliage is gray-green, and the trunks can be quite massive—up to 6 feet in diameter. The cones on female trees are purple-blue berries.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 to 9
    • Mature Size: 20 to 65 feet tall
    • Light: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Moderate to dry, well-drained
    Continue to 9 of 12 below.
  • 09 of 12

    One-Seed Juniper (Juniperus monosperma)

    One-Seed Juniper


    ES3N / Getty Images

    One-seed juniper is a large shrub or tree that usually has multiple stems with a dense-rounded crown. The leaves on mature plants are flattened scales, and the cones are dark-blue berries with a waxy white coating. The bark is gray-brown, shedding in narrow vertical strips that expose reddish wood underneath. The plant gets its name because the cone/berry typically contains just one seed. (Other common names include single-seed juniper and cherrystone juniper.)

    This tree is now quite rare over much of its native territory in Mexico, but it is very common in New Mexico and other portions of the U.S. Southwest. This plant is rarely planted as a landscape specimen, but the wood is often used for fence posts and other purposes.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 8
    • Mature Size: Usually 6 to 20 feet; sometimes taller
    • Light: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Sandy, gravelly, loose rock
  • 10 of 12

    Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum)

    Rocky mountain juniper tree with blue-green scale-like foliage covering branches

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    This is a close relative to the eastern red cedar, and it is sometimes known as the mountain red cedar, Rocky Mountain cedar, or Colorado red cedar. It's native to Rocky Mountain regions of western North America. The Rocky Mountain juniper is a small to medium-sized tree that usually grows a pyramidal shape. The leaves are scale-like in the mature trees, and the cones are the familiar blue-green berries with a white waxy coating found in many junipers. 'Skyrocket' is an especially narrow variety that is bluish-green. This is one of the juniper species that is particularly susceptible to cedar-apple rust.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 8
    • Mature Size: Cultivated varieties usually 5 to 15 feet; may grow to 60 feet in the wild
    • Light: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Sandy
  • 11 of 12

    Utah Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma or J. utahensis)

    Utah juniper
    Michael Weber/Getty Images

    The city of Cedar City, Utah, and Cedar Breaks National Monument got their names because of these shrubby trees, which grow abundantly in Utah and do well in its alkaline soils. You can also find this juniper growing in Arizona and other areas of the western U.S., where it may be known as bigberry juniper or desert juniper. This tree has foliage that is a lighter yellow-green than what is typical of junipers. The mature foliage is scale-like, and the cone/fruit is bluish-brown. The stems and branches are quite thick, and the gray-brown bark may exfoliate in thin strips.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 7
    • Mature Size: 10 to 20 feet tall; occasionally 25 feet
    • Light: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Sandy, gravelly, loose rock
  • 12 of 12

    Western Juniper (Juniperus occidentalis)

    Western juniper
    Tyler Hulett / Getty Images

    Found in the mountains of California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, the western juniper (also known as the Sierra juniper) provides food for a variety of wildlife throughout the year, especially birds such as cedar waxwings that feast on the berries. The wood was used for many different tasks during the pioneer era. This plant generally grows as a large shrub or small tree, with its growth habit determined largely by the conditions in which it grows. It is widely distributed in the wild but is rarely planted as a landscape specimen.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 to 8
    • Mature Size: 15 to 30 feet tall
    • Light: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Dry to medium moisture, rocky

Are Juniper Trees Good?

Juniper trees are good for the environment not only because they are aromatic and handsome, but also because they are tough, adaptable, and fairly easy to grow since they are self-pruning (meaning they shed their diseased and dead branches without human intervention). If you're interested in other beautiful evergreen conifer trees for your yard, check out the Colorado blue spruce and the Virginia pine tree.