Taylor Juniper bushes: Backyard evergreen hedge
Pictured above is our neighbor’s fence at the edge of our backyard. It’s six feet tall. When we bought our house, there were old and gnarly shrubs hiding the fence — a mundane and invasive honeysuckle, a feeble forsythia, a wild weigela. While the weigela did attract hummingbirds two days a year, these bushes mostly took up space. More importantly, since they grew only about a foot above the fence, they did nothing to hide the unsightly utility pole and its web of cables tangled against the sky. Nor did the shrubs offer any relief from the sun, which beats down most summer days from this direction. So I thunk and I Googled and I thunk some more — and I finally found an answer which seemed like it would work.
Juniperus virginiana “Taylor”
A March 20, 2005 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article by Maryalice Koehne (which is no longer online — why do they do that?) named the Taylor juniper (Juniperus virginiana Taylor) the “Plant of the Week.” I quote from the JSOnline archive:
Tourists who fall in love with cypress trees in Tuscany often are crestfallen that they won’t grow in Wisconsin. However, they can take heart because a good substitute is a variety of juniper that grows just 25 feet tall and 3 feet wide. The Taylor juniper is one such variety that works well in the landscape either as a specimen or for screening or grouping.
Bingo! We have been to Tuscany and loved those cypress trees, and this juniper would be perfect: 25 feet is more than four fence-heights — a good two stories tall. The wires would be hidden, and there would be more shade. Plus, birds love junipers and rabbits don’t, and they’re drought tolerant. You can get a better idea of their looks from the photo with a 2003 University of Nebraska story (PDF). These evergreens are named for Taylor, Nebraska, where they were discovered in 1978, so they’re also obviously hardy.
The good news keeps coming:
The qualities of Juniperus virginiana “Taylor” do not stop with its growth habit. It has been found to be disease resistant and tolerant of a wide variety of soil and environmental conditions. These attributes give it great value as a landscape plant. The Taylor juniper can be used as a sentinel to a doorway or as an effective and orderly screen or border. It can add a vertical element to the horizontal facade of a building. Taylor is comfortable in tough urban sites such as narrow planting beds next to brick walls and concrete.
Cedar Apple Rust
Okay, there is the drawback of potential Cedar Apple Rust, but except for that, these junipers are so great that I’ll just keep my fingers crossed. After all, would Maryalice Koehne and the esteemed Milwaukee Journal Sentinel name them Plant of the freakin’ Week if this rust was such a problem? We’ll trust in their disease-resistance.
The first thing we did last spring was dig out the old shrubs. I found some outstanding tree stump removal instructions online, and ordered a good heavy spade — not a big-box garden center spade, but a Wolverine Steel Handle Spade like a contractor would use. Amy found the Post Hole Digging / Tamper Bar at Lee’s True Value Hardware, and I bought some steel-toed Work n’ Sport® shoes at Farm & Fleet. It was really hard work, with a lot of jumping onto the spade’s blade to cut through pesky roots. I sweated, and I huffed, and my legs were all bruised from the handle — but it was very rewarding when the old roots finally popped free. After they were all out, I loosened the soil as deep as the spade would go.
Building the new bed
Then it was on to Menards to buy all the retaining wall blocks that would surround our juniper bed. I had to calculate how many blocks our VW Jetta Wagon could handle at a time. We ended up making about ten trips to and from Menards, wearing gloves to load and unload the blocks from the car. For the soil, I read somewhere that junipers would like 40 percent topsoil, 30 percent sand, 20 percent peat, and 10 percent composted manure. The difficult item here was the sand. We settled on torpedo sand from Erikson’s Landscape Supply out there on Highway C in Union Grove. I wanted 22 cubic feet, so we loaded up the back of the car with 5-gallon plastic buckets, and made another five or six one-hour round trips, shoveling sand into buckets, then driving home and carrying the buckets to the back fence.
The Taylor junipers themselves came via UPS from Sooner Plant Farm in Park Hill, Oklahoma. We shopped numerous local nurseries, but never once saw the Taylor cultivar. We unstapled the little shrubs from their cardboard box and planted them. They grew some over the summer, and grew some more through the winter. Amy ran out to them in a panic when the last wet snow and high wind had them bent over to the ground. She carefully brushed them clean and straightened them, and today they’re about twice as tall as they were when they were delivered here.
2009 brings laundry
Now, however, we have this new eyesore. Without the old shrubs, it turns out, our neighbor’s fence has become an ideal laundry drying spot. Jeans and shorts and T-shirts adorn it for several days each week. Dear Abby, how does one gracefully dissuade one’s neighbors from drying laundry over the fence? Or is this their universally accepted prerogative? Oh, well. I suppose we’ll just smile, silently willing our junies to grow, grow, grow!