Garden dectective: Pruning a juniper

Published: Saturday, Aug. 11, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 9CALIFORNIA LIFE

We have a large shrub juniper in our yard. Is it possible to prune it to a smaller size?

The variety is sea green. If it is possible to prune, where do you make the cuts?

– Joe Kuka, Lincoln

Yes, junipers can be pruned and shaped with ease, according to the UC master gardeners.

Use thinning cuts to remove branches at their origin (where they sprout out of the trunk or another branch). This cut should be just outside the branch collar as close to the trunk as possible so the wound can heal properly.

Use heading cuts (sometimes called topping) to shorten branches to lateral growth, the buds that will sprout new branches. These cuts need to be made with care because they can dramatically affect the shrub's future growth. Leave about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of wood above the lateral bud.

The late UC Master Gardener Bill Pierce offered this advice on pruning:

Study the tree or shrub before you begin to cut and try to picture how you want it to look. Then, start cutting by removing two or three branches. Then, step back and see if this is going to create the effect you want.

Continue cutting and stepping back to look and study until you are satisfied with the appearance of the tree or shrub.

Working slowly like this should ensure that you will end up with a nice-looking specimen and not one that just looks hacked up.

Don't cut the top out of the tree or shrub to begin with. Wait until close to the end. This will make it easier to balance the overall look of the plant.

For the health of the shrub, it's best not to prune it back by more than one-fourth of its total leaf-bearing capacity.

While in Greece, I fell in love with the beautiful potted geraniums. Upon my return, I promptly purchased many different colors, potted them and lovingly watched them bloom.

Not very long thereafter, I noticed that my buds were being eaten by caterpillars. I read about the geranium bud caterpillar and promptly (and sadly) cut off all my buds. I continued to do this since the buds continued to be eaten.

I have had geraniums for years and never had anything like this happen. Did I buy contaminated plants? Do I discard all the geraniums and start over? Do I need to pull up the geraniums I have in the ground that also eventually developed caterpillars?

– Linda Music, West Sacramento

According to the UC master gardeners, the best ways to deal with these caterpillars are to hand pick them and to spray with "Bt" (Bacillus thuringiensis), a natural product that causes the insects' internal organs to fail.

You will need to hand- pick caterpillars and apply Bt each time you see evidence of bud chewing until you have eliminated all the generations. Marketed under the brand name DiPel and available at garden supply stores, Bt is effective for only about three days.

Since you have had geraniums in your yard for some time, you probably brought in infected stock when you purchased the new plants. But with diligence, you can save those plants as well as your older ones in the ground.


Questions are answered by master gardeners at the UC Cooperative Extension services in Sacramento and Placer counties.

Send questions to Garden Detective, P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852. Send email to h& Please put "Garden Detective" in the subject field and include your postal address. To contact your UC Extension directly, call:

Sacramento: (916) 875-6913; 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. weekdays

Amador: (209) 223-6838; 10 a.m.-noon Monday through Thursday; email

Butte: (530) 538-7201; 8 a.m.-noon and 1-5 p.m. weekdays

El Dorado: (530) 621-5512; 9 a.m.-noon weekdays

Placer: (530) 889-7388; 9 a.m.-noon on Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursdays or leave a message and calls will be returned

Nevada: (530) 273-0919; 9 a.m.-noon Tuesdays through Thursday or leave message

Shasta, Tehama, Trinity: (530) 225-4605

Solano: (707) 784-1322; leave a message and calls will be returned

Sutter, Yuba: (530) 822-7515; 9 a.m.-noon Mondays and Tuesdays, 1-4 p.m. Thursdays

Yolo: (530) 666-8737; 9-11 a.m. Tuesdays and Fridays, or leave a message and calls will be returned

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