Alternative to Junipers

Representing the common plants located in many Pennsylvania landscapes are the evergreen workhorses which include; boxwoods, junipers, yews, and arborvitaes.
Alternative to Junipers - Articles


The arching branches of Microbiota decussata can act as an attractive groundcover in this landscape around a Japanese maple. Photo: Mike Masiuk

While these are fabulous plants to structure a design around, consider taking a walk on the wild side with Russian cypress (Microbiota decussata). Some nurseries will go with the alternative name such as Siberian cypress or Russian arborvitae.

As the common name implies, it is a plant that is native to a cold regions of the Asian continent. It was first discovered in Vladivostock, Russia in 1921 in the mountains above the tree line, an area where it is too cold for trees to grow. While our winters don't get anywhere near as cold as this region (the Weather Channel is predicting nighttime temperature in Vladivostock in negative numbers the next six nights), a good number of plants cannot survive in our USDA Zone 5-6 (think of Crapemyrtle, also a plant from the Asian continent).

But there are more attributes to this plant other than its cold hardiness. To the untrained eye, it looks and behaves much like groundcover junipers. At most, it grows about one foot in height but with a very large spread. Some reports have them growing out to 15 feet. It is a little bit of a slower grower than some juniper species but can be an excellent groundcover alternative.

Photo: Mike Masiuk

The foliage appears feathery (not as coarse as groundcover junipers, almost a lacey-like look) on arching branches. The needles are dark green but will turn a purplish-bronze in the winter months. It will withstand partial shade but seems to perform best in sunny areas with well drained soils.