The Q&A Archives: Pruning and Care of Junipers in AZ

Question: I just bought a new house with many extremely healthy junipers. I would like to keep them looking as nice as the previous owners. One is a fairly large tree (maybe 15 feet tall). There are also hedge type (maybe 1 1/2-2feet tall, not completely square, but nicely shaped) and shrub type (maybe 2-3 feet tall with 1-2 foot spacing in between shrubs. I am interested in proper regular pruning-when and how, and other care such as watering, fertilizing, etc.

Answer: Junipers do well in northern Arizona with minimal help from us. Fertilize with a low nitrogen fertilizer or a slow release fertilizer in early spring just before growth starts. Water soil thoroughly before and after applying to prevent burn.

Southwestern soils and water both contain salts, which can accumulate in the root zone over time. This salt buildup forms where the water stops penetrating. If you ?sprinkle? plants lightly and frequently, salts will build up in the top layers of soil and damage or kill your plant's roots. Deep watering?or leaching?prevents this by flushing the salts past the root zone.

Roots also need oxygen to survive and soil that is continually wet doesn?t provide it. Use a soil probe (any long, pointed piece of metal or wood to poke into the soil) to check how far water has penetrated. The probe moves easily through moist soil, but stops when it hits hard dry soil. For trees, water should reach about 2-3 feet deep or throughout any plant's rootzone. There are numerous variables involved for watering schedules, such as type of soil, how fast or slow it drains, sun and wind exposure at your site, temperature, age and condition of the plants and much more. It?s important to learn the specific needs of your landscape, both for its health and your water bill. Use the information above to determine how moist the soil is before automatically applying more water. Allow the soil to dry between irrigations. As a guideline, every 10-14 days in summer and once a month in winter should suffice for established plants. Adjust for rainfall, etc.

As for pruning, you can very lightly trim junipers year around to help maintain their natural form and avoid overgrowth. Cut back to an existing side branch, don't just shear off foliage. If heavier pruning is needed, it should take place in February or March. Never cut more than 1/3 of a plant in a season. It's too much of a loss and can be a shock to the plant.

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