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A Japanese garden juniper, scientific name Juniperus procumbens, is an extremely low growing, coniferous, evergreen shrub. It is native to areas of Asia and is cultivated in many areas with warm climates for outdoor use. It is frequently used for indoor bonsai plantings as well. It is relatively easy to care for under the right conditions.
Considered a dwarf plant, the Japanese garden juniper typically only grows to a height of 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm). Depending on the conditions, it can spread very far, reaching widths of 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 1.8 m) across. It has woody stems and sends long branches in many directions, growing in a horizontal manner rather than vertical, low and close to the ground.
Due to its short stature, the Japanese garden juniper often takes on the appearance of a densely matted surface of evergreen needles. These needles are short and very fine, with a bluish green, smooth appearance. They grow in bunches of three that cluster closely together at the ends of the branches. The Japanese garden juniper does not produce flowers, but it does bear very small berry-like cones that usually contain two to three seeds.
The native area of the Japanese garden juniper is Asia, including the small islands off the Japanese coast, in southern Japan, and in coastal Korea. In the wild, they tend to grow in mountain areas with a warm temperate climate. They are popular as an outdoor ornamental plant in Japan and other parts of the world with mild weather.
In outdoor applications, the Japanese garden juniper is often utilized as a groundcover plant, in rock gardens, borders, sloping areas, and growing over walls. The ideal location is sunny, and it can tolerate a variety of soil conditions, but good drainage is essential. It does not require much water, and thrives when it is hot and dry. Overwatering can cause root rot, and the plant can be afflicted with blight if the weather is very wet and rainy.
As an indoor plant, Japanese garden juniper is often used in the ancient Japanese art of bonsai, which is the practice of growing very small trees or woody shrubs shaped as trees in decorative containers. The plant is often encouraged, or trained, to grow in specific shapes and directions. This is usually accomplished by gently shaping and wiring the plant while dormant and through careful pruning. The plant should be kept in a sunny location, watered as needed, and allowed to dry out between waterings. If it is wired, care needs to be taken to be sure the wires do not cut into the bark as the plant grows.