Overgrown junipers at entranceway

In a post last fall I asked, “Can these Junipers be Saved?” about the old, overgrown ones used as foundation plants in front of my coop’s office building. Above, the very sad “before” look, showing a lot of dead parts due to shearing that was done to keep branches away from the sidewalks. It was the sadly common problem of using plants that become too large for their space.

Overgrown junipers at entranceway

So the staff yanked out the junipers nearest the sidewalk, which revealed large dead areas on the remaining ones, where they’d been crowded and shaded.

That’s when I asked GardenRant readers here and on Facebook to weigh in, which they sure did. The majority were in favor of removing ALL the old junipers:

  • I would say just remove them and start fresh.
  • Low growing evergreens like junipers tend to break or spread under a load of snow. So, when you remove the lower limbs, you’ve removed the support for the upper limbs making the juniper more prone to snow breakage. Besides, I personally am not a fan of the ornamental look. I’d remove your junipers. I’d place more open evergreens
  • Sometimes, the better question is not “can they be saved,” but “should they be saved?” And I’m a vote for “not saved.” No more spraying for bagworms, no more (in my case) worrying about whether the pack rats are moving in for shelter, no more browning underneath, no more overgrown monstrosities harboring trash and potential muggers. Out! Out, I say!
  • I am with many of the others. Remove the entire lot of juniper, start over and select plants that will be appropriately sized for what you want.
  • No, they cannot and should not. My neighborhood was developed in the 60s and some of the lovely homes still maintain borders and slopes of juniper, which also harbor rats and skunks. A couple of the worst hold-outs paint the exposed brown a too-bright green annually, to compensate!
  • They could be, but there are so many more attractive alternatives.
  • Pull them out and plant more attractive shrubs. (To which I asked, “What shrubs would you suggest?” but there was no response.)

Just two voted for saving the remaining junipers:

  • I had this problem at my property here in Provence. I have some landscape training, and decided to do a modified Japanese style, exposing the good parts of the structure and thinning and shaping the upper branches. Looks beautiful and I get many compliments. I even added a stone lantern.
  • I really like the sculptural look and haven’t had or seen snow load problems (mind you we don’t get the lake affect snow upstate New York gets). The issue may be what to do in the area under the branches.

Correctly pruned old junipers

I guess I like a “sculptural look” because that’s what I’d call the result you see here, after I spent several hours over the winter removing all the dead juniper parts. I also like using plants that are already in place when possible (a principle of sustainable gardening that doesn’t get enough attention) and saving money for my coop. Replacing all these foundation evergreens would have been pricey and it would have taken years for them to look established.

But what about the problems the commenters warned me about?

  • To my knowledge, these junipers have no bagworm problem and are never sprayed.
  • Limbed-up like this, they don’t harbor rats, skunks, trash or potential muggers.
  • The only concern that applies here (again to my knowledge) is that some of the remaining branches aren’t holding themselves up well now, without the support of the dead branches underneath. The drooping adds a bit of drama to the sculptural effect.

Correctly pruned old junipers

In April the effect of daffodils blooming with the limbed-up junipers was nice but awfully sparse-looking. I can’t wait to show you what the make-over looks like now, with 18 new shrubs and dozens of perennials, mostly donated and full-size.

Okay, that’s an understatement. I’m so excited about this garden I can hardly keep from checking on it every day.