|The Magic of Gardening|
|Overgrown Junipers Source of Marital Strife|
I recently had a question from a gentleman who had decided to drastically prune his junipers sprawling into his driveway. After the fact, his wife became very upset at how they looked and he asked me for backup that he could convince his wife he had done the right thing.
I am not a marriage counselor so I can’t help with the marital issue, but a night out at her favorite restaurant might be a good time to share the following information. And, if he is real smooth, he might be able to make it look like he knew what he was doing all along.
I suggested he slip the following comment in between the main course and dessert: "Honey, the county agent said winter is the perfect time to prune junipers, but I may have cut them back a wee bit too far. In either case, he said the plants likely needed to be replaced anyway, so no real harm was done," I don’t guarantee this will work, but it’s worth a try.
Pay attention to the rest of this article so I don’t have to come up with clever ways of getting you out of trouble as well. Since narrow-leaved evergreens produce new growth in spring and fall, and do not grow much in summer, winter is a good time to prune them, as mentioned earlier. The only exception to this rule is pines, which should be pruned just before the new growth develops in the spring.
In general, most narrow-leaved evergreen trees and shrubs need little to no pruning and they should only be pruned to maintain their natural growth habit. This requires pruning individual stems rather than shearing. Always make your pruning cut to an upward-growing side branch. We call this type of cut a thinning cut which allows better light penetration, but does not stimulate heavy branching. In contrast, shearing or large heading back cuts not only ruins the natural shape but also reduces good light penetration, resulting in excessive foliage drop.
Remember, there are certain rules applying to narrow-leaved evergreens that are quite different than other evergreens like hollies. For instance, many broad-leaved evergreens can tolerate severe renewal pruning like the gentleman did to his junipers. Unfortunately for him, junipers and other narrow-leaved evergreens will not come back after this type pruning. If you must prune narrow-leafed evergreens, you should start when they 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 an issue unless you bought a variety just way too big for the site. In that case, you will eventually have to replace the plant.
This gentleman had a common spreading evergreen called pfitzer juniper. It is not unusual for this plant to grow 12 to 18 inches or more 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. In other words, you are thinning the plant back into the canopy to points still green behind your point of removal.
In summary, the reason these plants can’t be pruned heavily is because they lack dormant (adventitious) buds other plants have in abundance. Since these adventitious buds are lacking, his plants are likely damaged beyond recovery. Most broad-leaved plants have plenty of these dormant buds and they will often sprout back from the stump if they are cut to the ground. That is why it’s hard to kill privet or hollies by cutting them too severely.
On the plus side, for him, severely-overgrown evergreens should be removed and replaced with more appropriately-sized plant materials. If he emphasizes this point to his wife, he may be able to come out smelling like a rose (pun intended) on this whole episode.
Remember, if you are unsure about landscape maintenance issues, call your local Extension office or the toll-free Master Gardener helpline at 877-ALA-GROW or visit our website (www.aces.edu).
Tony A. Glover is a County Extension Coordinator in Cullman County.