Juniperus chinensis ‘Spartan’
Sometimes I look at certain plants that have become wildly popular and I just don’t get it.
They might be particularly prone to diseases, or maybe they’re typically disease-free but they’re kind of just blah. Not ‘Spartan,’ though – with this plant, I get it.
One of the most popular juniper cultivars of all time, ‘Spartan’ is a best-seller for good reason. It’s gorgeous, healthy, hardy, evergreen, and maintenance-free. Practically perfect!
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‘Spartan’ has a natural pyramidal growth habit with a round, tapered top that requires no pruning to stay that way. Its strong, upright growth habit has also made it the go-to for tall spiral topiaries.
And this tree doesn’t grow out of control. It tops out at about 15 feet in height with no more than five feet of spread at the base.
You can line them up to make a living fence, use one in a large container for a grand statement, place two flanking a driveway… There are so many options.
We’re going to go over how to make this popular plant thrive. Hint: it’s not hard. Here’s what’s coming up:
What You’ll Learn
Chances are you’ve seen this particular cultivar in a home or commercial garden before without even realizing it.
It’s extremely common in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 9 because it’s fantastic – if you opt to grow one of your own, you won’t be disappointed.
Cultivation and History
‘Spartan’ is a cultivar of Chinese juniper (Juniperus chinensis), a species that hails from parts of north and east Asia. If you’re curious about this broader group of plants, you might be interested in our comprehensive guide to the species.
In 1950, ‘Spartan’ was a seedling selected by Monrovia Nursery, Co., a company based in California. Monrovia sent a few cuttings from the seedling to Thomsen’s Nursery in Denmark and they dubbed the plant ‘Helle,’ a female variant of the name Helge.
Monrovia officially named the plant ‘Spartan’ in 1961 and today it’s one of the most popular junipers on the market.
It’s a low-maintenance, drought-tolerant tree that reaches about 15 feet tall within about 10 years and has a spread of about five feet. And it grows fairly quickly – especially for a juniper. Juvenile ‘Spartan’ plants can grow over an inch a month.
The trees naturally have a columnar, pyramidal shape with a wider base and a tapered top. The plant also produces attractive blue berries, which are actually small cones.
Junipers can be propagated reliably by taking cuttings or air layering. Of course, the easiest method is to buy a start from a nursery.
It’s technically possible to propagate your own from seed, but it’s difficult, takes years, and has a low success rate. Stick with the easier methods for home cultivation.
From Air Layering
I love this method and find it to be extremely reliable. This involves cutting off a strip of bark from a branch and packing moss around it, allowing new roots to develop while it’s still attached to the parent plant.
Read more about air layering in our general guide to juniper care.
In the early spring, slap on those gloves and grab a clean pair of pruners. It’s time to take cuttings if you have access to a mature plant.
Before you head out, mix one part sand with two parts potting soil and fill a six-inch pot with good drainage. Make a hole in the center of the soil using a pencil or your finger.
Look for healthy hardwood that is at least a quarter-inch in diameter and cut a foot-long length. Snip the bottom of the cutting at a 45-degree angle and remove any leaves from the bottom half or so.
Dip the cut end in rooting hormone and stick the cutting into the hole you made in the potting soil. Firm the soil up around it and give the soil a nice drink of water. You want it to be moist but not soggy.
Place the pot in an area with bright, indirect light and keep the soil moist. Within about two months, roots should form. There’s no need to dig into the soil to be sure, just give the plant a little tug. It should resist.
Once you see new growth beginning, it’s ready for transplanting. Keep the plant indoors until the last predicted frost date in your area. A few weeks before the last frost date, start hardening off your cutting.
Take it outside for a visit to a protected spot with some sun and leave it there for half an hour. Bring it back inside. The next day add another 30 minutes, then another 30 minutes on the third day. Keep doing this until you can leave the plant outside all day.
Just remember to bring it in if there is any heavy wind, snow, freezing weather, or other harsh conditions. You can return to hardening off when the weather improves.
You can find this variety at practically any nursery that sells junipers. Find recommendations in the Where to Buy section below.
Transplanting instructions are the same for all varieties of Chinese juniper – find detailed instructions in our guide.
If you decide to line up a row of ‘Spartan’ soldiers, plant them about four feet apart.
How to Grow
THIS SECTION LEFT INTENTIONALLY BLANK.
Okay, not really. But it’s just about that easy! ‘Spartan’ can handle cold, drought, heat, pollution, neglect, sandy soil, clay soil, and probably a nuclear apocalypse. It’s truly the gladiator of the shrub world.
Once it’s in the ground in a spot with full sun, keep an eye on the soil moisture level for the first few years. Once it’s established, you can be a bit lazier about watering.
Chinese junipers tend to need more moisture than other species of junipers, but ‘Spartan’ is notably drought-tolerant.
For the first year or two, water when the top half inch to inch of soil has dried out. After that, add water only when the top two inches of soil feel dry.
An inch or so of well-rotted compost applied at the base as a mulch will never go unwelcome. Mulch prevents weeds from popping up and it helps the soil retain water.
Plus, it adds nutrients. Spread it around the root zone and avoid piling mulch against the trunk, to avoid rot.
Speaking of, don’t bother feeding this plant. One of the best things about plants in the Juniperus genus is that they’re adept at making do, even in depleted soil.
Having said that, if you just can’t stand the thought of your little soldier starving out there, some mild, all-purpose fertilizer applied once every few years in the spring is fine. However, if you use compost as mulch, don’t feed your plant.
- Young plants should be watered when the top inch of soil feels dry.
- Use well-rotted compost as a mulch.
- Plant in full sun.
Pruning and Maintenance
You can prune ‘Spartan’ into a topiary, and if you choose to do that, maintenance requirements will be a bit higher. For everyone else, you don’t need to do much, if any, pruning.
Remove any dead or diseased branches as soon as you see them. Any branches that are bent or trying to grow out of line can also be pruned away. Pruning is best done in late winter, but making a few cuts here or there at any time of year is alright.
Learn more about pruning junipers in our guide.
Where to Buy
For ‘Spartan’ plants in a variety of sizes, head on over to Fast Growing Trees.
They carry one- to two-, two- to three-, and three- to four-foot-tall plants, or you can purchase a four-pack of three- to four-foot-tall plants to create a living fence.
‘Spartan’ is so popular that breeders are even using it to create new plants. ‘Limeade’ is one cultivar that you may come across.
Similar to its parent plant, this juniper is fast-growing, has a natural columnar shape, and grows to about 15 feet tall and five feet wide. The difference is that it has vibrant yellow-green foliage.
Also known as J. chinensis ‘Montodd,’ this cultivar is patented and should not be propagated by layering or taking cuttings.
Managing Pests and Disease
‘Spartan’ is incredibly healthy and it’s unlikely that you’ll ever need to deal with pests or disease. Still, knowing is half the battle and all that.
There are three common pests that are sometimes seen on this particular cultivar, though they’re rare unless your plant is stressed, or if you or a neighbor are overusing pesticides.
Spider mites and scale are the most common, and you may also see bagworms.
Bagworms (Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis) actually seem to prefer ‘Spartan’ to many other cultivars, and I can’t say I blame them.
These worms are the larvae of moths, and the female adults can’t fly. But don’t be fooled! The worms can get around. They travel by spinning strands of silk that can be carried on the wind.
Pests in the caterpillar stage create two-inch-long bags that hang from the branches and twigs. That bag protects them from predators and from pesticides.
If you have just one or two bushes, just don some gloves, take a deep breath, and pluck the bags off. Drop them into soapy water to drown the worms.
If you have a ton of bushes, either hire the family (50 cents per bag?) or break out the pyrethrins.
Something like Monterey’s Bug Buster-O will do the job.
Arbico Organics carries this reliable product, which works on a range of insects. Pick up an eight- or 16-ounce container.
You’ll need to spray repeatedly because you need to catch the adults and the caterpillars – when they aren’t in their bags. Spray every two weeks for as long as you see any signs of them.
The same diseases that may impact all Chinese junipers will potentially harm ‘Spartan,’ but the chances of infection are lower.
One of the great things about this shrub is that it is so darn resistant to disease. Just keep it appropriately watered and in the right type of sun exposure and you probably won’t have to worry.
The usual ailments to watch for are cedar apple rust and Cercospora blight.
Because it is such a tall, narrow tree, ‘Spartan’ is suited to being used as a specimen, topiary, or formal accent.
Planted in multiples, it may be used to create a living fence, windbreak, or screen.
Quick Reference Growing Guide
|Plant Type:||Evergreen woody shrub||Flower/Foliage Color:||Green (inconspicuous) / blue (with blue berries)|
|Native to:||China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Russia, Taiwan||Tolerance:||Some drought, heat, salt|
|Hardiness (USDA Zone):||4-9||Maintenance:||Low|
|Season:||Evergreen with perpetual berries||Soil Type:||Loamy|
|Exposure:||Full sun to partial sun||Soil pH:||5.0-8.0|
|Time to Maturity:||10 years||Soil Drainage:||Well-draining|
|Planting Depth:||Same depth as container (transplants)||Attracts:||Birds|
|Spacing||3-6 feet||Uses:||Formal accent, living fence, screen, specimen, topiary, windbreak|
|Common Pests and Disease:||Bagworms, spider mites, scale; cedar apple rust, Cercospora blight||Cultivar:||Spartan|
Let This Warrior Stand Guard in Your Garden
I have a friend who refuses to plant anything that is extremely popular.
Their reasoning is that people just buy whatever the stories carry, and the stores carry whatever people buy, so the cycle continues. But when it comes to ‘Spartan,’ even my friend concedes that the masses are right.
It’s such a beautiful, low-maintenance, stately plant that it’s pretty hard to find fault with this cultivar. I mean, it doesn’t do the dishes and the kids’ homework… but no life form is perfect, I guess.
Where are you going to have your soldier stand sentry? Will it flank your driveway? Guard your garden from wind? Monitor things from a pot on your patio? Share your grand campaign in the comments!
If you love ‘Spartan,’ there’s a lot more juniper goodness out there. We have a few guides that I think might be of interest. Check these out next: