Chinese juniper comes in many forms, from creeping groundcovers to bushy shrubs to full size trees. The typical form is a tree, 50-70 ft (15.2-21.3 m) tall, with an upright conical form and a spread of only 20 ft (6 m) or so. The bark is brown and shreds off in thin strips. As with other junipers, there are two kinds of leaves. Juvenile leaves on young growth are wedge shaped needles with sharp points and borne in sets of two or three. Adult leaves are diamond shaped and arranged in four ranks overlapping flat on the twigs like fish scales. The foliage has a pungent or acrid scent, rather unpleasant in the cultivars believed to have originated from hybridization with savin juniper (see below), less so in cultivars without the savin influence. Male and female cones are carried on separate plants. The female cones are fleshy, violet brown and berrylike, about a 0.5 in (1.3 cm) in diameter.
This is 'Hetzii', a popular shrubby form of Chinese juniper.
Among the many cultivars are 'Aurea', with yellowish foliage and a columnar habit to 35 ft (10.7 m) tall; 'Blaauw', a 4 ft (1.2 m) shrub with only juvenile leaves which are spreading, long pointed and blue gray in color; 'Hetzii Glauca', a 5-7 ft (1.5-2.1 m) shrub with pale blue foliage; 'Pfitzeriana', a wide spreading shrub to 10 ft (3.1 m) tall and 10 ft (3.1 m) wide and probably the most common juniper in cultivation; 'Spartan', a fast growing conical shrub to 20 ft (6.1 m) tall; 'Obelisk', a slender upright shrub to 8 ft (2.4 m) tall; 'Old Gold, with bronzy yellow foliage all year long; and 'San Jose', a creeping groundcover shrub no more than a foot tall and spreading 6-8 ft (1.8-2.4 m) across. Believed to be a hybrid between a selection of eastern redcedar (J. virginiana 'Glauca') and Pfitzer juniper (J. chinensis 'Pfitzeriana'), the very popular cultivar 'Hetzii' is a bushy, multibranched shrub usually around 10 ft (3.1 m) tall and 10 ft (3.1 m) wide.
You may see this shrub labeled Juniperus chinensis var. sargentii but many authorities now consider it a distinct species: Juniperus sargentii.
Either Juniperus chinensis is an extremely variable species or there are actually more than one biological species (and a few hybrids as well) included under the name. Several recent authors tend toward the second opinion, and many of the shrubby cultivars with foliage that smells sour-acrid (including 'Pfitzeriana') are now listed as selections of J. X media, a hybrid between Chinese juniper and savin juniper (J. sabina), which is a shrub - not a tree - in the wild. Also, Sargent juniper (formerly J. chinensis var. sargentii), and its many cultivars, are now considered by most authorities to be a species (J. sargentii) distinct from Chinese juniper.
Widely grown as an ornamental in North America and Europe, Chinese juniper is native to China, Mongolia and Japan.
Chinese juniper can be grown in acidic or alkaline soils. These useful evergreens are very easy to grow.
Light: Full sun is best; some cultivars can tolerate light dappled shade. Cultivars with yellowish foliage and the low growing bushy cultivars generally require more sun.
Moisture: Established specimens can tolerate dry soils, but new plantings of Chinese juniper should be watered regularly for the first year.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 9. Some cultivars may not be hardy in zone 3.
Propagation: Many of the Chinese juniper cultivars are propagated from cuttings which generally root readily. Some of the upright cultivars are more difficult to root and are grafted, usually onto J. chinensis 'Hetzii' or J. virginiana seedling rootstock.
Chinese juniper foliage
This is the scaley adult foliage of J. chinensis 'Spartan'.
There's a form of Chinese juniper for most every landscape use from tall lawn specimens to groundcovers to bonsai subjects. The bushy cultivars are excellent used in unclipped hedges and as anchors for foundation plantings. Just be sure to match the expected size of your juniper to the site!
Whether they're all one species or several, the many forms of Chinese juniper are old standbys, useful for all kinds of landscaping situations. The various Chinese junipers grow well in dry soils and are useful in water-conserving xeroscapes.