Description & Overview

Creeping Juniper is an evergreen native to sandy areas in Wisconsin, namely along the dunes of Lake Michigan, the central sand counties, and along the banks of the Mississippi River. Creeping along the ground, this shrub only grows about 10″ in height, but spreads much further. The blue-green foliage will don blue “berries” that have a white bloom and turn an attractive reddish-purple to bronze in winter.

You may also know Creeping Juniper as Trailing Juniper.

Core Characteristics

Category: Conifer

Wisconsin Native: Yes

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 3

Mature Height: 6-12 inches

Mature Spread: 6-8 feet

Growth Rate: Slow

Growth Form: Prostrate, mat-forming, groundcover

Light Requirements: Full Sun

Site Requirements: Average, dry, well-drained, or sandy soils.

Flower: Strobili,1/16" to 1/8" long. Dioecious. Wind pollinated.

Bloom Period: April – May

Foliage: Blue-green, needles, juvenile and adult.

Fall Color: Reddish-purple, bronze

Urban Approved: Yes

Fruit Notes: ¼" blue “berry" that takes two years to mature, persisting through winter. Contain one to six seeds.

Suggested Uses

Creeping Juniper is a tough plant that can handle tough sites. It’s tolerant of salt, air pollution, heat, deer, drought, and dry, inhospitable soils. These are iconic plants in dunes like those along Lake Michigan, but just about any dry, open ground will do as they are also found on cliff faces of limestone escarpments, clay bluffs, and edges of old fields. The only real requirements for Creeping Juniper are full sun exposure and dry soil. This is a very useful, low-maintenance plant that provides interest year-round.

Creeping Juniper looks great spilling over a rock wall or meandering within a rock garden. The foliage creates the perfect contrast in texture and the overall effect is quite pleasing. It can be difficult to find the right plants to thrive amongst rocks, as they can reflect the light and heat, cooking many other plantings. Creeping Juniper will have no problem.

This low-growing species will naturally continue to spread as long as space allows for it. Branch tips that touch the ground can root, eventually forming a large colony. It is a low-maintenance, practically effortless groundcover that stays green all year round.

Massed on slopes will help stabilize soils with its shallow and spreading roots, adding greenery where other plants seem to fail. It also feeds birds! An important colonizer of sandy areas, the Creeping Juniper is one of a few species that show up first in these communities. The long branches reduce erosion and branches can reach lengths of 10-20′ or more!

Wildlife Value

When customers ask about the benefits for wildlife that Creeping Juniper provides, birds are the first to come to mind. Wild turkey, Northern Flickers, Mourning Doves, Grouse, Cedar Waxwings, Robins, Starlings, Chipping Sparrows, Brown Thrashers, Hermit Thrushes, Catbirds, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Black-billed Cuckoo, and Crossbills enjoy the cones. The dense groundcover also provides shelter to smaller species from predators.

Creeping Juniper is extremely tolerant of animal browsing. Prairie voles eat and cache the berries and galls for later while Meadow Voles gnaw on the bark in winter. Deer will nibble on the foliage on rare occasions, and only when other food sources are scant.

Creeping Juniper is the host plant for the Evergreen Bagworm Moth (Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis), and Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus).

Maintenance Tips

Good drainage is paramount. Root rot will occur if sited in wet, poorly drained soils.

Any overhanging trees should be trimmed back and nearby undergrowth should be kept at a minimum to prevent casting shadows as Creeping Juniper is intolerant of shade.

Pests/Problems

Black Walnut Tolerant: Yes
Deer Resistant: Yes
Rabbit Resistant: Yes

Occasional pests can include aphids, scale, webworms, and spider mites though they are minor and not detrimental. A quick blast of water will wash away any pests.

During wet springs, Juniper Blight (caused by the fungus Phomopsis juniperovora) can affect the branches of the plant, turning them brown. Snip off diseased parts with clean shears and dispose of the branches.

Junipers are alternate hosts to Cedar-apple rust – a rust disease that bounces between apples and Junipers. Do not plant near crabapples or apples, hawthorn, and serviceberry.

Leaf Lore

The genus Juniperus comes from the Latin name for “juniper” white the specific epithet horizontalis refers to the horizontal branching structure.

Creeping Juniper has been noted to hybridize with Juniperus virginiana, Eastern Red Cedar.

The Ojibwa use the bark and wood to make cradles, mats, wigwams, houses, and fencing and have used the leaves to make tea. An infusion of the seed helped ease kidney troubles, fever, and tonsillitis. Boughs were infused and taken as a sedative while the leaves were burned to help promote the delivery of a child or to ‘remove the fear of thunder.’ The roots were soaked in water and used as a bath for horses to promote a shiny coat.

Companion Plants

Creeping Juniper adds texture and contrast to many other plants that do well in similar sites including Sand Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata), Sand Cherry (Prunus pumila), Western Sand Cherry (Prunus besseyi), Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), Hoptree (Ptelea trifolia), Old-field Common Juniper (Juniperus communis var. depressa), Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Black Oak (Quercus velutina), Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), and Hoary Vervain (Verbena stricta).

Other companions include Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum), Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Kalm’s St. John’s Wort (Hypericum kalmianum), Tall Cinquefoil (Drymocallis arguta), New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus), Upland White Goldenrod (Solidago ptarmicoides), Leadplant (Amorpha canescens), Starry False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum stellatum), and Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa). The options are endless!

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Written by Beth DeLain