Overgrown junipers

My latest gardening obsession is making over the landscape in front of my housing co-op offices, where the top priority is to do something about the overgrown junipers. Planted too close to the sidewalk and doors, they’d been sheared back, which caused much unsightly needle-browning.

The problem wasn’t just that they were encroaching onto sidewalks, either. Their looming presence over the doors made the female staffers feel less than safe as they exited, especially at night. Something had to be done, and right away.
Overgrown junipers

So the team of staff and volunteers working on this decided to have the junipers closest to the sidewalk removed, and it was super-gratifying to watch those bad boys being yanked out of the ground by a Bobcat excavator.

Unfortunately, this exposed even more dieback and browning in the adjacent junipers (above). So ugly.

But man, I live for pruning projects like this! Oh, the mountain of dead juniper branches I gleefully (obsessively) compiled, ignoring the dozen or so cuts on my arms, blood and all. Who notices these things when they’re absorbed in the job? (And with industrial-grade loppers, too!)

Overgrown junipers

These next two photos show the junipers after I’d removed all the dead parts. Kinda sculptural, right? And I’ve been telling everyone that when spring comes, these bare trunks will “green up” and look new.

Overgrown junipers

Except apparently they won’t. I went back to Google to double-check on that bit, homing in on a source I trust – Bert Cregg, an actual “Garden Professor,” in Fine Gardening Magazine. The relevant text and photos from his article “How to Prune Conifers”:

I’ll be writing to the good Professor Cregg about the “few exceptions,” in hopes that our junipers quality.

A bit more research yields more bad news, though, this time from SFGate’s Home Guide on the subject:

When trimming junipers, not cutting down to bare stems is crucial: always leave some green foliage, because bare wood will not grow foliage.

Cut down overgrown junipers if pruning will result in mostly bare wood. It is easier to replace such junipers with new, smaller shrubs than to try to rejuvenate old, nearly bare wood shrubs.

Crap! Our only hope may be to cover those bare trunks with the fast-growing flowering shrubs we’re planting in front of them – Ninebarks and Spireas – and going all in on turning those junipers into sculptures.

SF Gate’s guide went on to criticize the shearing of junipers, but with an even curiouser qualifier:

Shearing is not recommended for junipers, although it is often practiced for pyramidal junipers when a formal look is desired. Shearing causes dense outer growth, which shades the interior of the shrub and makes it more susceptible to needle browning and branch dieback caused by drying winds.

That bit in italics makes me wonder why shearing of pyramidal junipers wouldn’t also result in the dreaded needle browning and branch dieback. But if true, it explains how this landscape contractor somewhere in the Balkans can do this with impunity: