What is a Juniper Bush?

N. Phipps

The juniper bush, Juniperus communis, is a coniferous evergreen shrub or shrub-like tree, depending on the particular species. It has silvery-green to bluish needle-like foliage. There are many types of juniper bushes, varying in both size and shape. They may appear as low-growing shrubs that provide ground cover or as columnar-shaped trees, reaching heights around ten to twenty-five feet tall (3-7.6 meters).

Juniper berries give gin its flavor.
Juniper berries give gin its flavor.

The common juniper bush is widely distributed throughout Europe, southwestern Asia, and North America. While native to dry, rocky terrain, it is adaptable to a variety of soil types so long as it drains freely. Juniper is commonly grown in the home landscape and provides many uses. In fact, juniper bushes can provide year-round interest, especially when using them with plants of various shapes and textures.

Junipers are evergreens with silvery green or bluish green foliage.
Junipers are evergreens with silvery green or bluish green foliage.

In addition to accents, the juniper bush can be used to fill in empty areas or wherever space is limited. Planted in groups, the bush makes an excellent screen or windbreak. Juniper bushes can also be grown in containers. This is ideal for topiary or bonsai plantings. However, those wanting to trim juniper bushes for this purpose should do so while they are young and continue with yearly maintenance.

Since the juniper bush does not have dormant buds, pruning and shaping the shrub while it’s young and performing annual maintenance over its life reduces the need for more severe pruning methods. These shrubs rarely, if ever, respond well to hard pruning, remaining bare and unattractive. In fact, old, overgrown junipers cannot be rejuvenated but instead they should be replaced. Any pruning should be performed in early spring.

Another reason for growing juniper is its berries. However, it’s important to note that these berries are only found on female plants. Therefore, both male and female plants must be grown in order for berry production to take place. While it generally takes anywhere from two to three years for the green berries to ripen, the blue to purplish-colored berries can be quite attractive. They are also quite useful, commonly used as ingredients for gin, marinades, and sauces.

The juniper bush has an extensive history that includes medicinal purposes. Used for purifying and ritual cleansing, it was commonly burned to ward off evil spirits. Many parts of the bush have also been used to maintain health or cure sicknesses. These range from gastrointestinal ailments like cramps and indigestion to bladder and kidney infections.

Growing a juniper bush is easy. It can be grown in nearly any soil and in various conditions. The only major factor to consider is water. These shrubs do not like soggy or overly wet soil. Therefore, it’s important that the planting location be well draining. It’s also important not to over water these plants. In fact, as they are native to dry areas, juniper bushes are ideal for arid and drought-like conditions.

Planting depths vary, depending on the size of bush. However, the hole should be large enough to accommodate the root ball. The same applies for containers. When planting junipers, it is helpful to add some organic matter in the bottom of the hole, such as leaf mold, well-rotted manure, or garden compost.

The berries that grow on juniper bushes are used to flavor gin, various meats, cabbage, and sauerkrat.
The berries that grow on juniper bushes are used to flavor gin, various meats, cabbage, and sauerkrat.

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