Pinyon-juniper woodlands are the largest forest cover type in NM, comprising 14.6 million acres and representing 65% of NM forests (according to USGS Gap Analysis Program–Land Cover Data). In contrast, the next largest forest cover types in NM are ponderosa pine at 5.2 million acres (23%) and mixed conifer at 1.5 million acres (7%). When it comes to junipers, New Mexicans either love them or hate them.
Those who dislike them talk about allergens and how junipers are overused, get sheared within an inch of their life and smell like urine. Those who like them appreciate their low water needs, climate adaptation, long lifespans and evergreen qualities.
Hate them or love them, Junipers are here to stay. They have so many useful qualities in our New Mexican gardens that they should be on everyone’s plant list. Choose females for no pollen, which is what is sold in local nurseries.
Below are some of the local favorites:
Carpet Juniper, Juniperus horizontalis. Blue chip, low allergen, beautiful color, low growing, does best in part shade. The species Juniperus horizontalis “Plumosa Compacta’, Andorra Juniper, is low growing 18”-20”, spreads 8’-10,’ green during growing season, burgundy in winter, looks great when planted in mass. Blue Chip is another great spreader that has beautiful year-round silver-blue foliage.
Blue Point Juniper, Juniperus chinensis Blue Point. This blue-green stately tree is pyramidal in form and has dense evergreen foliage. It makes a great windbreak when planted in lines and is a very nice front lawn Christmas tree, perfect for winter lighting. It reaches 12’ tall and is 8’ wide.
Rocky Mountain, Juniperus scopulorum, tall and narrow, dark green, tall. Pruning destroys the natural shape so it’s best to plant this in a place where it has room to grow up to 40’ tall and 20’ wide. There are many beautiful cultivars. Whichita Blue Juniper, Juniperus scopulorum ‘Whichita Blue’ is a beautiful shade of steely blue, year-round growing 10’-15’ tall and only 4’-6’ wide. ‘Skyrocket’ is a bluish-green narrow columnar tree growing 15’ tall and only 4’ wide, making it the narrowest of the juniper trees.
Alligator juniper, Juniperus deppeana, has blue-gray leaves. This tree has a thick trunk with bark that resembles that of an alligator. Unlike most junipers it has a stout, not conical, shape with great character and color. It can tolerate pruning.
Let’s give junipers a chance. If we let them follow their natural shape, these adaptable conifers are attractive, evergreen and sustainable survivors that provide habitat for birds and are quite useful in our landscapes.
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