The Q&A Archives: Removing/Replacing a Blue Juniper

Question: I have a rather ugly carpet looking thing in my yard that I believe is some sort of Blue Juniper. I have always hated this bush and I noticed that it was turning brown in some places and have decided to remove it. My first question, how extensive is the root system of these plants? I would like to pull them out with a truck, however I worry about the sidewalk that buts up next to this plant. My next question is what would be a suitable replacement? I'm looking for something that is low maintenance, full-sun tolerant, and doesn't grow more that 12

Answer: The roots of your Blue juniper should be found in the top 12" of soil and will probably be a mass of feeder roots with a few anchor roots to hold it in place. Before getting out the big guns, try pruning back the top and digging down to explore the root area. You may find that it is compact enough that you can dig it out rather than try to pull it out (and possibly damage the side walk). You may even be able to cut the plant away from the roots and then paint the fresh cuts with a non-selective herbicide such as Round-Up. This should effectively kill the roots and the plant should not resprout. If it does, cut it back or dig the roots out.

According to the University of Minnesota, the following groundcovers are hardy in your region:
Wineleaf Cinquefoil (Potentilla tridentata) grows 6 - 12" in full sun, in poor acidic, rocky or sandy soils. It is almost prostrate and the foliage turns wine-red in fall.

Crownvetch (Coronilla varia) grows 1 - 3' and can withstand dry, infertile soils. Can grow on clay. One plant can cover 6' in 2-3 years. Attractive flowers. Long-lasting.

Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) grows 4", low & compact with edible fruit.

Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) grows 1 - 2' and tolerates most soils. Mainly used on steep dry banks. Tolerates acid soils. Attractive foliage, flowers, & fruits.

Or, if you're interested in grasses, the following grasses can be used in poor sites and in low maintenance situations. They need not be mowed.

The following native grasses can be used for permanent cover. You can mix them with other native flowering plants for a more pleasing effect if you wish. Canada wildrye (Elymus canadensis) covers the ground rapidly, spreading from underground stems, and has attractive nodding heads. It is fairly shade-tolerant. Sheep fescue (Festuca ovina) is commonly found in sandy soils and is quite drought- and shade-tolerant. It is bunchy, but it can be seeded with a close but nonnative relative, red fescue (F. rubra). This common lawn grass also is quite site-tolerant. Side-oats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) is a common dry prairie grass that will form sods and does well on steep slopes. It needs at least partial sun. Sand dropseed (Sporobolus cryptandrus), another dry prairie grass, can be planted either in sand or on heavier soils. It is a pioneer on disturbed areas and is deep-rooted and very drought-tolerant. A nonnative, smooth bromegrass (Bromus inermis) is used commonly by highway departments on poor sites because it covers slopes rapidly. However, the site must be chosen carefully: bromegrass is very invasive and will replace native vegetation. This is why it is not a good choice where native material is available, particularly at lake homes. Another nonnative ornamental grass, Chinese silvergrass (Miscanthus sinensis), makes an excellent ground cover up to 8' tall. It is a strong growing plant with feathery plumes borne at the top of the plant late in the growing season. It is tolerant of wet and dry sites, sun or shade. Propagation by division is very easy.

Hope this information helps you decide on just the right groundcover.

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