Thursday, January 31, 2013

Permaculture Plants: Juniper

Junipers are a unique addition to a Forest Garden 
(Juniperus communis)

Common Name: Juniper
Scientific Name: Juniperus species
Family: Cupressaceae (the Cypress family)

Most people associate Junipers with arid climates...
but as long as the soil is well-drained, they can grow in a wide variety of locations.
(Juniperus occidentalis) 

Common Species:
  • Common Juniper (Juniperus communis) - large shrub to small tree
  • Alligator Juniper (Juniperus deppeana) - small to medium-sized tree
  • Syrian Juniper (Juniperus drupacea) - medium-sized tree
  • Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) - groundcover
  • One-Seed Juniper (Juniperus monosperma) - medium-sized tree
  • Western Juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) - medium-sized tree
  • Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) - small to medium-sized tree
  • Eastern Juniper or Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) - small to medium-sized tree

Junipers are such common landscape plants, we can easily forget they have other uses.

The Junipers are a group of evergreen plants, from small shrubs to tall trees, well known for their berries which are eaten fresh, used as a spice, and are famously used to give gin its characteristic flavor. Junipers are used around the world for landscaping, and J. virginiana (a.k.a. "red cedar") is used extensively in wood working and is notable for its aroma. These plants can be hedges, windbreaks, groundcovers, and sources for wood, to name but a few of their uses. A versatile plant for the Forest Garden.

Common Juniper (Juniperus communis)

The Junipers are a genus of plants containing between 50-70 species. Native to the northern hemisphere, they are likely the most widespread evergreen plant in the world. Prehistoric people used these shrubs and trees for wood, fuel, and food, and their popularity has never ceased.

  • Juniper "berries" are actually modified cones... yes, like the typical pine cones.
  • Most berries are blue when ripe, but some species produce red to orange berries.
  • Juniper berries are the primary flavoring in gin. The name "gin" comes from the Dutch word for juniper, geniver.
  • Most Junipers have two types of leaves: needle-like on young or new growth, and scaled leaves on older growth.
  • Most Juniper berries take about 18 months to ripen.

Eastern Juniper or Eastern Redcedar has beautiful, highly aromatic wood.
Here is a great article on sawmilling cedar (Juniperus virginiana

Gin gets its distinctive flavor and aroma from Juniper.

Primary Uses:
  • Berries (modified cones) - Most species not mentioned here (and also the fruit of the Common Juniper, J. communis) have fruits which are too astringent and bitter to eat raw. However, the fruits of the species listed here, especially J. drupacea, can be eaten fresh. The berries are most common dried and then crushed, and are considered a highly regarded spice. A little goes a long way. Used as a flavoring in many vegetable and meat dishes. Also used as a flavoring agent in some beers and, most famously, gin.
  • New Leaf Shoots - used as flavoring and used for tea
  • Seeds - roasted seeds have been used as a coffee substitute (J. communis, J. scopulorum)

Secondary Uses:
  • General insect pollen plant
  • Wildlife food
  • Windbreak
  • Pioneer Species - this is a slow growing species, so it is not ideal for land that we desire to turn into a Forest Garden right away; however, it can be used on the outskirts of these areas that are more "wild", i.e. Zones 3 and 4. If used in a Forest Garden, take into consideration the time it will take to grow.
  • Drought Tolerant Plant
  • Hedge Plant
  • Groundcover - really just the Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis)
  • Some species have highly aromatic woods (especially Eastern Juniper/Redcedar)
  • Larger species produce great wood for fence posts (especially Eastern Juniper/Redcedar)
  • Wood may also be used for lumber, tools, crafts, firewood, and traditional bows

Yield: 20-25 lbs (9-11 kg)
Harvesting: Autumn (October-November). Berries are picked when they are at about 18 months if the plant is in its native range, some will be ripe at 12 months, but some can take up to 3 years to mature. Berries are ripe when they darken.
Storage: Use fresh berries right away. Dried berries can last for years, but lose potency the longer they are in storage.

Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) makes a stunning groundcover in the right setting.

Junipers are hardy, rugged plants.
(Juniperus communis)

USDA Hardiness Zone:
  • Common Juniper (Juniperus communis) - Zone 2
  • Alligator Juniper (Juniperus deppeana) - Zone 8
  • Syrian Juniper (Juniperus drupacea) - Zone 7
  • Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) - Zone 4
  • One-Seed Juniper (Juniperus monosperma) - Zone 4
  • Western Juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) - Zone 5
  • Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) - Zone 3
  • Eastern Juniper or Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) - Zone 4

AHS Heat Zone:
  • Common Juniper (Juniperus communis) - Zone 6-1
  • Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) - Zone 9-1
  • Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) - Zone 7-1
  • Eastern Juniper or Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) - Zone 9-1

Chill Requirement: no reliable information can be found

Plant Type: Medium to large-sized Shrubs; Small to medium-sized Trees
Leaf Type: Evergreen
Forest Garden Use: Canopy Layer, Sub-Canopy (Understory) Layer, Shrub Layer, Groundcover
Cultivars/Varieties: Many species, hybrids, and varieties available.

Pollination: Plant is dioecious (has male and female plants). Typically one male for up to eight females are used. Pollinated by the wind.
Flowering: Summer

Life Span:
Years to Begin Bearing: 2-3 years
Years of Useful Life: Potential to live over 800 years!

Unripe berries on Eastern Juniper or Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana)

An awful application, but useful example, of a solid Juniper hedge.

Size: these are average or common sizes; many specimens can get significantly taller under ideal conditions and with advanced age
  • Common Juniper (Juniperus communis) - 30 feet (9 meters) tall and 13 feet (4 meters) wide
  • Alligator Juniper (Juniperus deppeana) - 60 feet (18 meters) tall
  • Syrian Juniper (Juniperus drupacea) - 50 feet (15 meters) tall and 6 feet (2 meters) wide
  • Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) - 3 feet (1 meter) tall and 9 feet (3 meters) wide
  • One-Seed Juniper (Juniperus monosperma) - 60 feet (18 meters) tall
  • Western Juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) - 60 feet (18 meters) tall
  • Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) - 32 feet (10 meters) tall and 13 feet (4 meters) wide
  • Eastern Juniper or Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana): typically 16-66 feet (5-20 meters) tall and 26 feet (8 meters) wide, but can get to 90 feet (27 meters) tall

Roots: Juniperus species can grow deep root systems, often with a tap root. If a deep root system does develop, it will develop a shallower lateral root system as well.
Growth Rate: Slow to Medium

There are a variety of shapes and sizes of Junipers
(Juniperus virginiana)

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Some species tolerate light shade (J. communis) but most do not
Moisture: Medium soil moisture preferred, but these are very resistant to drought
pH: most species prefer fairly neutral to alkaline soil (6.1 - 8.0), but it can grow if very acidic to very alkaline soils.

Special Considerations for Growing:
It is likely that all species tolerates juglone (natural growth inhibitor produced by Black Walnut and its relatives). Consider using this tree as a buffer between your walnuts and other plantings.

Easily from seed. Seeds need about 6 months stratification for germination, which can be slow. Can be grown from cuttings taken in Spring. May develop roots from branches that are buried which can later be divided from the mother plant.

Weeding around the plant is needed for the first few years in the slower growing species. After that, not much maintenance is needed.

  • Many species are very intolerant to fires... meaning they spread forest fires well. This also means it is a pretty good fuel wood.
  • Some people can have seasonal allergies to the pollen.
  • Some species can spread too easily from seeds (mainly by birds) and can become locally invasive.


  1. here's another great use! Finish Beer

  2. Hi John,
    Thanks for all the great info you have here! I will be including a link to your info for my PDC exercise for Geoff Lawtons online PDC.
    An interesting point about Juniper that I recently discovered is that having Juniper around pear trees can cause problems with pear trellis rust! They both act as hosts. Some info says not to have juniper within 1000' of pear trees.

    Stephen Hindrichs

  3. Thanks for a truly first rate website!

    Just wanted to add that juniper might well be a problem also for apples. A permaculture consultant told me 20 years ago not to plant junipers since apples are important for me in my garden. Junipers can harbor cedar apple rust which might damage the apple crop.

  4. We have eastern red cedar and they get cedar apple rust which shows up on our apples. Not great but we use the apples anyways.

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