What to do with an overgrown juniper?


Hi there,
I just bought a cottage but am a new gardener and I have a large old juniper bush that is so overgrown that there is a large open space in the middle, down by our dock. The whole plant is about 10′ in diameter, but the empty space is easily 5-6′ wide, and filled with low-lying, extremely thick roots and branches. All the juniper limbs are long due to little to no pruning, and only get bushy towards the ends. It is right near the lake, so the soil is very sandy but wet, and it gets full sun for most of the day. There is also a mature pine to the right, giving some additional structure to the bed.
I would like to keep the juniper by some how pruning more life into it, but I know that cutting it back too far will kill it. The alternative I’m considering is planting something in the centre to hide the bald spot, but am not sure what would work best. There are some grasses growing there now, but I would like to add some colour, structure, texture, etc.. I am also considering cutting my losses, and removing the juniper to start fresh. What would you advise?

Please ignore the picture, it is way too far away to see the juniper in about the centre of the image, but I cannot remove it now that I’ve added it. At least it gives a sense of the structure that I’m working with for the view of the lake.



Thank you for contacting the Toronto Master Gardeners with your inquiry concerning your overgrown Juniper.

Proper pruning can renew or rejuvenate overgrown, deciduous shrubs. However, when it comes to large, overgrown evergreen shrubs, it becomes more difficult since they cannot develop new growth on old wood. Junipers usually possess bare or dead zones in their centers. If Junipers are cut back past the  living green growth, into the old wood  they will not come back. As a result, when a juniper has become too large or  unattractive it is advisable to have it removed making way for new shrubs.

If you decide to try and save your juniper, the best time to begin your pruning is in the early spring. The following websites give step by step instructions on how to properly prune your overgrown evergreen: How to Trim  Overgrown Juniper, How to prune a Sprawling Juniper Bush

If you do decide to remove your juniper it would improve your view of the lake and the mature pine tree will also be benefit, not having to compete with the juniper for water and nutrients. Adding some architectural interest with the addition of some tall grasses would add variety to  the bed. One of our archived posts titled Ornamental Grasses and Shrubs Full Sun Hot Yard gives a few examples.

You might also like to peruse the following  Gardening Guides: Drought Tolerant Perennials, Perennials for Sandy Soil, Perennials for Full Sun