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Garden Q&A: winter challenges upright junipers

| Saturday, June 29, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Q: I planted some upright junipers in the front of the house in between the windows. They grew well and looked very nice. The problem is that when we have heavy snows, they bend down to the ground and sometimes break off. Is there a different variety of upright juniper or other tall, thin trees that would withstand the weight of the snows without breaking or bending over? I saw some pictures of “Skyrocket” junipers, which I thought seemed to be more compact. Would they be a good choice?

A: There are several upright juniper cultivars that would suit your needs. While none is completely snow-load resistant, selecting an upright variety with narrower, denser growth will provide you with more protection from winter breakage.

That being said, to practically eliminate bending and breaking due to heavy snows, wrap your upright junipers with one or two strands of jute twine each fall. Wrap the twine in a spiral, starting at the base of the tree and working your way up to the terminal point. The twine helps hold the branches together and keeps them from flopping open. Once the danger of snowfall has passed, simply cut the twine off and allow the natural growth to resume.

Juniper varieties that fit the requirements for narrow, dense growth include:

“Blue Point”: A very stiff and thick selection that is incredibly fast growing. It has a lovely blue color and is noted to withstand high winds and drought. “Blue Point” reaches 10 to 12 feet in height.

“Robusta Green”: With deep green foliage, this upright juniper is somewhat twisted and contorted. It offers a unique appearance but is slower growing and fairly rigid. It matures at 10 to 15 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide — but it takes a long time to get there.

“Iowa Juniper”: A great selection with excellent snow-load resistance, this variety is wider at its base than other upright junipers. It grows 10 to 15 feet tall and has a moderate growth rate. It is a little less pencil-like than some of the other selections.

“Blue Arrow”: Among the tallest and narrowest upright junipers on the market, “Blue Arrow” offers a lovely blue color, extremely fast growth, and is straight as a bean pole. It reaches 12 to 15 feet in height but is only 2 feet wide.

“Skyrocket”: Probably the easiest upright juniper to find in the nursery trade, this selection also is a good choice. It is very fast growing. It matures at a slightly taller height than “Blue Arrow,” maxing out at 20 feet, and is also a foot or two wider at its base.

One of the most important factors to consider when making your choice is the eventual height combined with the placement of the mature plant. Make sure it isn't going to wind up growing into the eaves of your house or pushing up into the soffit. Topping upright junipers isn't a good idea as it encourages fungal diseases and stresses the plant (not to mention how silly the plant looks with its “head” chopped off!).

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Grow Organic” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to tribliving@tribweb.com or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

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