How to Grow Alligator Juniper

12/29/2020 | Ken Davis Evergreen Trees, How to Grow..

by Ken Lain, the mountain gardener

Alligator Juniper

Native to Arizona, the Alligator Juniper, Juniperus deppeana, is characterized by unique cracked bark that resembles alligator skin. Alligator and its native cousin, the Shaggy Bark Juniper, are the largest species of their kind growing 40-50′ feet tall at maturity.

Alligator junipers are an essential element for native birds, deer, javelina, and smaller mammals. The large edible berries are enjoyed by many different birds, mammals, even be eaten by humans.

Botanical Name         Juniperus deppeana

Common Name         Alligator juniper, checkerboard                                  juniper, western juniper

Plant Type                  Evergreen tree

Mature Size               40-50′ tall

Sun Exposure            6+ hours of Full sun

Soil Type                    Dry, well-draining

Soil pH                       5.5 – 7.0

Bloom Time               Winter

Flower Color Seed berries

Hardiness Zones        6-9

Native Area                Southwest United States

Alligator Juniper Bark

How to Plant and Grow Alligator Juniper

Alligator Juniper has the same cultural needs as most other juniper species. In their native environment, alligator junipers grow on open, rocky hills and slopes that receive full sun for most of the day. Container-grown or ball-and-burlap trees should be planted in a large, carefully prepared hole and backfilled with soil amended with Watters Premium Mulch or another acidifying organic material.


True to its native habitat, the alligator juniper is a sun-loving tree needing full sun to thrive. Alligator junipers cannot grow in the shade, and growth may be stunted in areas that only receive partial sun.


Alligator junipers thrive in sandy, well-draining soil that is slightly acidic with a pH between 5.5 – 7.5. However, they are adaptable to a wide variety of soil conditions, as long as the medium is well-draining.


Alligator junipers are drought-tolerant trees with low water needs. An established alligator juniper should not need supplemental watering. Seedlings and young trees do require watering during dry periods. This Arizona native is susceptible to overwatering. Ensuring your tree is planted in well-draining soil to prevent root rot.

Temperature and Humidity

Alligator juniper tolerates temperatures as low as zero degrees through winter dormancy. These junipers grow best in USDA zones 6 to 9.


Feed with Watters 7-4-4 All Purpose Food 3 times per year (March, July, and October) for best blooms and dense foliage that screens and cuts the wind.

Growing from Seed

While alligator junipers can be propagated in other ways, they are most easily grown from seed. Alligator juniper seeds can be sown directly into the garden in the fall. Germination rates are notoriously low, so it’s essential to plant a large number of seeds at one time to ensure some success.

Alligator juniper seeds can be purchased online or in-store. They can be collected directly from a mature tree in the late summer or early fall once the seeds have ripened. If you are not sowing the seeds outdoors immediately, the seeds should be thoroughly air-dried and cleaned to ensure against mold. Before planting, cold-stratified your seed in the refrigerator for 30 days at 20-40 degrees Fahrenheit. It is best to plant your seed directly into the landscape in the fall.

Common Pests/Diseases

Common juniper diseases include twig and tip blight, as well as cedar rusts. Fungicides can help proactively protect alligator junipers against such conditions, but they should be applied before an infection is present. Prompt pruning of any dead or diseased branches should keep these common diseases under control.

Common pests of the alligator juniper include bagworm, spider mites, and juniper scale. Insecticides are an effective way to control infestations.

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