The juniper is a versatile evergreen shrub or tree known for its feathery, needled branches. With cultivars available in a wide variety of growth habits, from pyramidal trees to creeping groundcovers, there are junipers to fit nearly any landscape space.
While pruning is not necessary for good health, people do prune junipers occasionally to keep them compact, maintain a desired shape or increase the density of foliage. Proper juniper pruning will prevent irreversible damage to the health and beauty of your specimen.
How to Prune Junipers
Start young. It's best not to cut older juniper branches if you can avoid it. Begin training your juniper to the shape and height you want while it is still young.
Set your goals. Never prune a tree or shrub without a specific reason. Do you need to remove dead branches, reduce size, create a specific shape or establish a central leader? Your goals will determine how best to proceed.
Time your pruning. In general, the best time for pruning junipers is in the early spring before new stems and leaves appear. The new growth will help hide the unsightly cuts. If you prune a juniper after its spring burst of foliage, the leaves you cut will not be replaced by new foliage until next year. This can rob the tree of energy and slow down its growth. If your goal is to maintain a compact shape, however, pruning after spring growth may be a good strategy.
Determine which branches to cut. Examine the juniper carefully and decide which branches to prune based on the goals you've set. Sometimes you can significantly control size and change the shape of the juniper with just a few cuts.
Make your cuts. Using a hand-held pruner or lopping tool, cut the limb back to one of its lateral branches. This encourages the lateral branch to grow and results in a natural appearance. The lateral branch you choose will depend on how much of the limb you need to eliminate. If you need to remove an entire branch, cut just beyond the point where it attaches to the trunk.
Things You Will Need
- Hand pruning tool
- Lopping pruner
- To reduce time spent pruning, choose a juniper variety that will fit your space when it matures.
- Do not randomly cut branches with hedge shears. This results in bushy clumps of foliage sprouting from branch ends. This dense exterior foliage looks unnatural and can shade out growth on the interior of the tree or shrub.
- Avoid cutting the lower branches shorter than higher branches. The higher branches will shade the lower limbs and may cause them to die back.
- Don't cut back to portions of the branch that are bare of needles. If you do, these branches may not produce new growth and you will be left with bare stumps.
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