Taylor juniper bushes (juniperus virginiana) and jeans on our backyard fence

Taylor Juniper bushes: Backyard evergreen hedge

by May 7, 200915 comments

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.

Backyard landscaping: Stump removal of shrubs before planting junipers

Stump removal

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.

Taylor Juniper bushes and bed of retaining wall blocks

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.

Online evergreens

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!

Updates: Our growing junipers

Backyard garden beds: Raised bed, tomato bed, Taylor juniper bed in Racine, Wisconsin
Above is our backyard 1 year and 2 months after the top photo, showing our growing junipers reaching and surpassing the 6-foot fence.

Backyard with Taylor junipers
Next is our backyard 5 years and 2 months after the top photo. The fence is 6 feet high, and the junipers are more than twice that.

Taylor Junipers in winter
This winter shot shows the tallest junipers reaching about 18 feet, 7 years and 7 months after planting.


    • Mark Czerniec

      Thanks. Those neighbors have since moved.

  1. Mango Chutney

    How far apart did you plant them?

    • Mark Czerniec

      They’re planted 41.5 inches apart to divide the space equally, and hoping that they would eventually touch each other near the bottom. They’re not quite touching yet. The fence blocks southern light, and I suspect the foliage would be a little thicker at the bottom without the fence.

      • Mango Chutney

        Thanks for the FAST reply! I’m purchasing some that are 12-14 feet tall, but I was thinking of going 5′ apart. I’m just laying it out today, and 4′ seemed a little close. I should go look at them in the flesh at the tree farm. I’m in Iowa, just across the river from Omaha, Nebraska.

        • mary hanaway

          Where did you purchase your Taylor junipers? Are you pleased with them? I’m consider using them in my landscape plan. Thanks

          • Mango Chutney

            I got them from a large tree farm near Omaha. They had maybe 50 at the time, which they purchased from another grower. The tree farm transplanted them in late April.
            By late May they were dropping needles on the inside.
            In July I visited a horticulturist at U.Nebraska who said they were either too wet or too dry, but the symptoms are the same. I was advised to dig down beside the rootball and feel the soil, but I also bought an expensive 3′ long water meter. The soil felt damp/wet, and the meter registered the top of the wet scale (although it seems to do that just about everywhere.) I noticed that a downspout from my house was letting rainwater drain off alongside them, so I piped it away.

            I had tried to follow the seller’s watering instructions with allowances for rain.

            Now three of them have died and completely browned out. The other two are green, but I’m unsure if they will survive. I haven’t watered, except for rain, since July. Generally it has been dry since then.
            The tree farm offered to replace them, but only have two of these large trees left in stock. I doubt there will be any more.

            I met a friend in Denver this week who used to be the head of the horticulture department in a California junior college. He berated me for purchasing and planting them without his advice, saying I’d “put a $10 tree in a $2 hole” after I showed him pictures of the transplant job the tree farm did with a large auger.

            He said I needed to do what is recommended for small potted trees–dig a much bigger hole, mix the native silt soil with lighter garden soil and put them in that. The hole the tree farm dug was only big enough to fit the existing root ball.

            He also told me, as did the U.Nebraska person, that the wire cage and burlap holding the root ball intact should have been removed. When the crew from the tree farm planted them they said they leave those things on. But the U.Nebraska person said they have better luck taking them off, even if the root ball falls apart.

            Although he wasn’t familiar with Taylors, my California friend also said that smaller trees generally outperform bigger ones at rooting and growing, although he understood that I wanted an instant screen. But I wouldn’t have needed these to grow–just to survive.

            I did plant 14 other evergreens about the same time–9 arborvitaes in one-gallon pots and 5 false cypress in two-gallon pots. I used the large hole with mixed dirt method recommended. They have all done well.

          • Diana Gogu

            Hi Mango Chutney,

            Will you please tell me the name of the tree farm where you bought your Taylor Junipers? Thank you!

          • Mango Chutney

            Contact me in private. nocirc2@gmail.com.

  2. Natalie Ivanova

    Hi Mark, this is the most helpful article on Taylor junipers! How are yours doing now, in 2021? Have they grown big enough to touch each other? We just ordered a few and want to make a solid privacy fence out of them. Trying to find the optimal planting distance. Hope we have as much success with them as you had with yours!

    • Mark Czerniec

      Thanks, Natalie! Today, just about 13 years after transplanting, our junipers are a full two stories tall — so 20 feet, I suppose. They do touch somewhat in the lower portions, but of course they’re tapered as you go up, so a solid wall would be hard to achieve. The fence is 6 feet high from the ground, and I planted the junipers 41.5 inches apart. They grew to be exactly what I wanted.
      Taylor junipers

      • Lauren T

        I’d love to see an update on your beautiful Junipers. I just planted 16 to blocked noise and nosy neighbors.

        • Mark Czerniec

          There’s not much to update, Lauren. The junipers have reached their full growth, so they don’t look any different from the last photo.

  3. San Luc

    Hi Mark. Your Junipers are just beautiful and so healthy looking. I have read that Taylor Junipers must have full sun. I’m curious what is your lighting condition for your Junipers? I would love to grow these but only have part sun in my yard.

    • Mark Czerniec

      Hi, San. The fence runs along the south edge of our backyard. There are no large trees in the next yard, so our junipers get full sunlight except at the very bottom where they’re shaded somewhat by the six-foot fence. The foliage does seem a little sparse against the fence.


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