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Monday - April 29, 2013

From: Parker, CO
Region: Rocky Mountain
Topic: Pruning, Trees
Title: Rocky Mountain Juniper Grazed by Deer
Answered by: Anne Van Nest


I have four Colorado red cedar (Juniperus scopulorum). The deer have eaten from their height down. Now these narrow top to bottom evergreens have only tops left. Will the bottom fill in if I protect them from the deer, or am I stuck with top only evergreens?


As Juniperus scopulorum (Rocky mountain juniper or Colorado red cedar) ages it is naturally a somewhat pyramidal, rounded tree when grown in an open space. It is a long-lived evergreen that could reach 30 feet in height. So seeing them with their bottom trunk bare can be quite a sight. Unfortunately though, junipers do not tend to sprout new foliage from dormant buds lower on the stem if they are pruned back hard or grazed heavily by deer.  It is worth trying some mild rejuvenation pruning to allow more sunlight to reach the lower trunk area to see if new growth will appear.  Try to lightly shear the upper growth to follow the natural pyramidal shape and then wait and see what happens. The early spring is the best time of year to do this. It is best to try this in small increments over several years so you can judge how the junipers are reacting to each pruning.

Here is a previous Mr. Smarty Plants response about an over-trimmed juniper question.  So caution is advised. Only lightly shear to reduce the width of the upper part of the juniper. By building a fence around the lower browsed section of the trees and lightly shearing the upper part to let in more sunlight to the bare section below, perhaps some new growth will start to fill in the lower area. If this isn’t successful, you still have the option of planting a deer-proof plant at the base of the juniper to hide the bare trunk. A list of deer resistant species can be found on our website.

The USDA Forest Service has the following interesting information on their webpage for Rocky mountain juniper. Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata), bitterbrush (Purshia spp.), and Rocky Mountain juniper combined have been reported to make up 66% of winter mule deer browse and Rocky Mountain juniper is considered a major component of wintering mule deer diet in the Bridger Mountains of Montana. Mule deer browse the foliage moderately in winter, spring, and fall, and lightly in the summer. High levels of volatile oils in Rocky Mountain juniper may cause mule deer to select against the foliage in favor of other browse when available. Other animals that use Rocky Mountain juniper berries, foliage, or stems for forage include white-tailed deer, black-tailed deer, Rocky Mountain goats, ring-necked pheasant, grouse, and cattle. The website also indicates that the palatability of Rocky mountain juniper in Colorado is poor for elk and mule deer.


From the Image Gallery

Rocky mountain juniper
Juniperus scopulorum

Rocky mountain juniper
Juniperus scopulorum

Rocky mountain juniper
Juniperus scopulorum

Rocky mountain juniper
Juniperus scopulorum

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