How To Prune Junipers & Other Conifers

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This article teaches you how to prune junipers and other coniferous evergreens.
by Brett · All Zones · Pruning · 0 Comments · September 18, 2010 · 19,969 views

Pruning Junipers & Conifers

Assorted junipers

Pruning junipers is easy. Just follow the steps below:

When to Prune

Since junipers and other narrow-leaved evergreens produce new growth in spring and fall and do not grow much in summer, prune them in early spring in warm regions or early summer in cooler areas. The only exception to this rule is pines, which should be pruned before the candle growth develops in the spring.

How to Prune Junipers & Coniferous Evergreens

Prune evergreens according to their growth habits. It is best to allow these plants to assume their natural shape. Pruning is a matter of cutting the branches so that a more desirable plant is attained through compact, controlled growth. This requires pruning individual stems rather than shearing. Shearing not only ruins the natural growth habit but prevents light from penetrating into the center of the plant resulting in foliage drop.

There are certain rules to follow for various types of narrow-leaved evergreens:

  1. Start pruning when evergreens are small, usually the first year after they come from the nursery. Then, if they are pruned a little each year, severe pruning is not necessary.
  2. Remove dead branches whenever they occur. New foliage from surrounding branches will fill in these gaps.

Pruning Techniques for Various Types of Evergreens:

Upright Spreading Forms:The spreading forms of junipers should have the tip ends of their growth trimmed each year. This holds the plants in check and induces a compact growth habit. An example of a vigorous-growing, spreading evergreen is pfitzer juniper. It is common for this plant to grow 12 to 18 inches or more in height each year. To maintain the natural shape of this plant, it is necessary to cut back to growing points. It also may be necessary to cut back into the previous year's wood to maintain the plant's size and shape.

Upright Pines, Junipers and Other Evergreens: For the narrow-leaved, upright evergreens, such as pines or junipers, little pruning is required. When pruning any narrow-leaved evergreen do not cut into bare wood behind the foliage on the tips. Since few adventitious buds are formed on older twigs, the plants may be damaged beyond repair. Do not cut the central leader (top vertical branch) of these plants except to remove a multiple leader. This may occur when the plants are young. Remove all but one of the stems, leaving the straightest and strongest. When pines are young and growing vigorously, the top growing point may outdistance the rest of the plant, resulting in an open space between the main body of the plant and the growing tip. To encourage the plant to branch and be more compact, cut the top back to a dormant bud located near the main body of the plant. If this cutting back is done when the plants are young, there is little effect on plant appearance. It is better to select a compact or dwarf form of narrow-leaved evergreen than to do a lot of pruning.

Prostrate, Groundcover Junipers:When the right variety of groundcover juniper is selected and planted, no pruning should be necessary. These are low-growing plants that should never require pruning, except for a stray or broken branch. That being said, we often plant groundcover junipers in areas in which they will spread beyond their boundaries over driveways, sidewalks or into the lawn. When this happens, simply prune them back.

TIP: When planting a groundcover juniper near a walk or driveway, choose the lowest growing variety you can find that will grow good in your area. Matt-forming junipers, such as Blue Rug juniper, are much easier to prune or edge. Nothing looks worse than a sheared-off Blue Pacific or Shore juniper!


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