Ground Cover Plants The Benefits of Growing Junipers as Ground Cover, Landscaping Plants
Junipers come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, from large trees to prostrate ground covers. Their drought-resistance, ease of care, and attractive appearance, make the ground cover species particularly essential for dry climate gardeners.
There is a wide variety of Juniper forms grown as landscaping plants, ranging from trees, shrubs, high-growing and very low-growing ground cover plants. All are evergreen conifers, with needle-like foliage, and fleshy berrylike fruits instead of the wooden cones typical of coniferous plants.
With increasing water shortages in hot, dry climates, many gardeners are looking for alternatives to water guzzling lawns and flowers, and drought-tolerant ground cover plants are often thought of as a possible answer to the problem. As drought-resistant plants, the ground cover varieties of Juniper, although not without some drawbacks, are often excellent candidates for the job.
Junipers constitute a stable element in the garden. Most species, but not all, are relatively pest and disease-free, while established plants require virtually no care and maintenance through the year. If grown under suitable conditions, (more about that in a moment) they are probably amongst the easiest of plants to grow ideal for the home gardener pressed for time.
The main disadvantages though, are that they are slow growing, while they need to be planted at a distance from each other that almost corresponds to the final width of the species or variety. This, in some cases can be quite considerable, as with the Bar Harbor Juniper (J.horizontalis Bar Harbor) which spreads to about 3 meters. (9-10 ft)
It is a mistake to over-plant Junipers or to fill in the gaps with ephemeral plants such as annuals or short-lived perennials. There is no alternative but to be patient and wait for the new plants to cover the ground, which can take a few years or so.
This leads to another drawback. Small specimens, planted at large distances not only look poor, but are easily taken over by weeds. On the other hand, the option of planting large specimens ends up being very expensive indeed, because Junipers, as slow growing plants, are not cheap.
The Importance of Mulch
To overcome the problems associated with planting relatively small specimens, it is essential to spread a good layer of organic mulch, such as decorative wood chippings, between the plants. This will not only improve the general appearance of the garden, but suppress weeds, and help to keep the root zone cool a considerable benefit in hot summer climates. The improved growing conditions that result from an organic mulch, help the Junipers to survive the first difficult year, and cover the area more rapidly.
What Junipers Need
Junipers are tolerant of most soil types, including the alkaline soils typical of dry climate regions, but they must have decent drainage. In hot summer areas, they prefer deep, widely spaced watering to frequent, shallow irrigation. Remember that they are more susceptible to a lack of air in the root zone, than a lack of moisture.
Adding copious amounts of well-rotted compost into the soil prior to planting, together with a decent layer of organic mulch on top of the soil, will of course, improve the air/moisture balance in the root zone. Organic soil amendments should also take care of all the feeding requirements of the Junipers. The genus is sensitive to excessive nutrient levels, and so applying chemical fertilizers is undesirable.
Despite some of the drawbacks involved in the first few years, Juniper ground covers are attractive, drought-resistant, easy maintenance, and relatively pest-free landscaping plants. For dry climate gardeners therefore, they are particularly important.
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