Winter Gold

'Winter Gold' Chinese Juniper

"This winter air is keen & cold,
And keen & cold this winter sun,
But round my chair the children run
Like little things of dancing gold."

-Oscar Wilde


Many dwarf forms of Chinese Juniper have been developed from natural hybrids of Juniperus chinensis with J. sabina. Such hybrids ideally the only junipers labeled as Juniperus x. media, although such hybrids are very occasionally sold as varieties of J. x pfitzeriana, apparently under the assumption that most were bred out from an old standard variety, 'Pfitzeriana.'

Both species are native of a very large expanse of China & Mongolia, where intermediate hybrids occur in nature. A pure, wild J. chinensis is an upright tree to seventy feet, though with dwarf forms. J. sabina begins as a shrub with many variant forms. The Savin Juniper has an acrid musky odor if the foliage is bruised, & by this pungeance J. x media cultivars can be recognized as distinct from other J. chinensis varieties & hybrids.

'Winter Gold' is one such hybrid. There are about a dozen of this juniper at a property I've helped with additional garden planning, design, & maintenance. 'Winter Gold' is so-named because of its tendency in winter to develop yellow-green or golden highlights & tips. It prefers full sun & will not have the golden feature if placed in partial shade.

In keeping with other junipers, it thrives in a wide range of soils & conditions & is very cold-hardy, suitable to USDA zones 4 through 8. Junipers need to be regularly watered their first year, then become drought-tolerant thereafter. Still, to have ideal specimens with the nicest foliage, their drought tolerance oughtn't be too radically tested at high summer. It looks its best in evenly moist well-drained soil, though excess moisture can be more harmful than droughtiness, being susceptible to juniper blight in damp conditions.

Because 'Winter Gold' has in the last few years become less common in the nursery trade, a rumor spread that it is synonymous with 'Gold Coast.' Of the many specimens I've seen to compare, they are not the same. 'Winter Gold' is prostrate & forms an extremely tidy circle of limbs that nearly take on the appearance of huge fern fronds; it can become almost a perfect bowl, & looks rather formal. 'Gold Coast' by contrast has lacier foliage, with more upright bits that become horizontally tiered for a flat top (without the "bowl"), grows taller by a foot, is more hedgeable, more reliably gold-tipped, & not nearly as formal in shape. 'Gold Coast' is actually a trademark name rather than a cultivar; its cultivar name is 'Monson' & is an dwarf form of that much toller old standard, 'Pfitzeriana Aurea.'

Most Chinese junipers have both juvenile & adult foliage, the juvenile needles giving shrubs a furry look. But 'Winter Gold' does not have the juvenile foliage. This lends to its formal appearance & it looks mature even as a dwarf of only a foot or two tall, sweeping to four or five feet wide.


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