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Mr. Smarty Plants - Control of Juniperus ashei

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Wednesday - August 08, 2007

From: Round Rock, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Trees
Title: Control of Juniperus ashei
Answered by: Nan Hampton and Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

We have just purchased 2 acres in Burnet County at an elevation of 1604 feet above sea level. The land is almost flat, bedrock, with lots of Juniper, Cactus Apple and between these plants grasses and wild flowers. We plan to build on 1 acre but how or what do we do with the Juniper? Should it all be chained or bulldozed and burned or should there be a perimeter left on the property? We would like to leave it somewhat natural and add courtyards and some small perimeter around the house with yard grass. Any suggestions. Thank you!

ANSWER:

Mr. Smarty Plants thinks that Juniperus ashei (Ashe's juniper) needs a better public relations representative. The poor thing gets very little good PR! It is, after all, a native. It can be troublesome when it takes over completely land that's been cleared and abused, but it has many good features when properly managed. For one thing, birds love the berries, birds nest in its branches, and its bark is used in the nests of the endangered golden-cheeked warbler It provides shelter during cold winter weather and shade during hot weather. It can make a great windbreak or privacy screen for your property. It can even be coaxed into being a "regular" tree with some judicious pruning.

Mr. Smarty Plants recommends that, although you might want to remove some of your juniper, that you not remove all it. You could leave trees around the perimeter to act as a privacy fence and windbreak. You could also leave some dotted around the property as well. You could either leave them intact or trim off the lower branches for a more open feel. You can watch for young juniper plants and remove them so that your entire 2 acres isn't overrun with juniper. You could also add some interesting native shrubs that live side-by-side with the juniper, such as: Mahonia trifoliolata (agarita), Rhus virens (evergreen sumac), Ilex decidua (possumhaw), Ilex vomitoria (yaupon) and Cercis canadensis var. texensis (Texas redbud).

Chaining or bulldozing your junipers are not good ideas under any circumstances. The problem with these techniques is that they do so much damage to the ground and surrounding vegetation. With soil disturbance comes weed invasions. In ecological terms, many of our common, problem weeds are classified as early succession plants. This means that they are genetically programed to fill the ecological niche created when soils are disturbed. The less you disturb your land, the fewer weed problems you'll have. You would damage habitat less if you use tractor-mounted tree shears to remove the unwanted juniper; even less if you use a chainsaw and clear the brush by hand. There are people in your area who specialize in clearing juniper.

While burning your juniper brush after clearing is a possible solution, you might also consider having it mulched and using that mulch where needed in your landscape. You might also leave it in a pile or two in out of the way parts of your land. Brush piles make wonderful wildlife habitats. One advantage of not burning is that the eventually-decomposed juniper will enrich your soil with all of the nutrients (and more) that they accumulated during their lives. Burning will result in the loss of all of their accumulated nitrogen and other nutrients as well.

You can read some very interesting facts about our Ashe juniper in the Elizabeth McGreevy Seiler's work-in-progress, Untwisting the Cedar: the myths & culture of the Ashe juniper tree.


Juniperus ashei

Mahonia trifoliolata

Rhus virens

Ilex decidua

Ilex vomitoria

Cercis canadensis var. texensis


 

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