Juniper is reputed to be a tough plant. It certainly is…but it’s not immune to poor soil conditions. A common problem occurs with junipers growing on a steep bank. The plants at the top look fine, the ones in the middle look “peaked” and the ones at the bottom are dying.
The usual reason is that the soil is dryer at the top of the bank and more soggy at the bottom. In addition, soil on the bank has usually not been amended before the junipers were planted. They’re tough plants, but junipers, like other plants, need a well-drained soil in order to thrive.
“What?!” You say. “They’re growing on a steep bank. Water runs right past them. They ARE well-drained!”
It is important to remember that “well-drained” usually refers to soil through which water rapidly soaks, not soil over which the rain travels.
If you’re planting on a bank, add soil conditioner to each planting spot. If the soil is mostly clay, add 1 cubic foot of conditioner to a three-foot diameter area. Use three bricks to make a mini-terrace to hold the soil in place after the juniper is installed.
With a little attention to the planting area, juniper can thrive and become an excellent bank cover.
Q: Our Blue Rug junipers on a south facing slope are not growing well; the ones on the west slope are doing better. We haven’t done much to care for them but we want them to cover the earth faster.
A: Blue Rug juniper is an excellent ground cover for a sunny slope. But most slopes are hard, poorly drained or nothing but red clay. To give the junipers a jump start now, run soaker hoses under them along the slope and water regularly. In addition, apply a ‘slow release’ fertilizer such as Osmocote or Nursery Special to each plant. Pamper them this summer and they should respond rapidly.