As anyone who has ever travelled east of the Cascades knows, juniper is prevalent in Oregon's high desert. Juniper is an ancient species that has been part of our landscape for millennia, but recently it has seen unprecedented population growth due to human interference with the natural fire cycle that used to keep young juniper trees in check.
How much population growth? A lot. Eastern Oregon's juniper has increased from about 1 million acres in the 1930's to more than 6 million acres today.
Juniper's success means additional challenges to the grasses and other plants that compete for space on the desert plains. Not only is there more competition for sunlight, but juniper is a thirsty tree that significantly depletes the groundwater table. The reduction in grasses results in increased erosion, reduced biodiversity, and more difficulty for desert wildlife to find the foraged foods on which they depend for survival.
In an attempt to restore the native grasslands, Eastern Oregon ranchers have for many years cut the trees and burned them, but today Sustainable Northwest and other dedicated groups are working hard to create new markets for the juniper wood to ensure that this useful and beautiful wood is put to use.
This restoration work helps enable the grasslands to recover and helps keep Eastern Oregon sawmills, an important source of jobs in rural communities, generating income for these communities. In general, the trees that are cut and milled as part of this restoration work are smaller, younger trees that have sprouted in the years since our fire restriction policies have been formed -- the older, grander trees that predate these policies aren't cut.
Juniper is naturally rot- and decay-resistant, more so than any other native Northwestern species, according to studies by Oregon State University. It also offers a beautiful rustic aesthetic with warm cream, chocolate, and reddish tones. Its durability, combined with its beauty and its environmental credentials, make it an excellent choice for decks, garden beds, fencing, and many other uses for homes in the Pacific Northwest.
Photo at top: The Cottonwood Creek watershed near Fossil, OR, used to be rolling hills covered in grasses. Today, many acres of juniper woodlands can be seen from this viewpoint
Photos below: The Crooked River National Grassland was designated in the 1960's; since then, it has sprouted a dense juniper forest. The photo at bottom was taken near Burns and shows many infant juniper trees growing on the plains.
In the late 1800s, pioneers that arrived to settle in central and eastern Oregon, southeast Washington, northern California, and southwest Idaho saw a very different landscape than the one we know today. Rolling grasslands and sagebrush steppe provided adequate breeding habitat and forage for wildlife species like mule deer and sage grouse. Only the occasional Western Juniper tree was visible on the ridgelines.
Following this time, a period of overgrazing of domestic livestock compounded by federal fire suppression policies allowed the tree to thrive. Western Juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) is a natural survivor and is well adapted to the high desert. Wildfire is its only natural predator, and without a regular fire cycle to clear out new seedlings, its presence has increased exponentially over the past 150-180 years from its historic recorded range of 1 million acres to nearly 9 million acres today.
RENEE MAGYAR serves as Sustainable Northwest’s communications director. She can be reached at 503-221-6911 ext. 116 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Here's an interactive map that shows where to buy our juniper landscaping timbers. This map shows all of our current dealers in Oregon, Washington, and California.
If you're in an area outside the regions covered by this map, please let us know and we can discuss ways to get you the wood you need.
Great news for gardeners and landscapers in Southern California: Jones Lumber in Lynwood is now stocking our Restoration Juniper landscaping timbers! Stock up here for all your raised garden beds, retaining walls, and other landscape projects.
Juniper performs exceptionally well outdoors and will last longer in ground-contact applications (30+ years!) than any other Pacific Northwest native species, including cedar and redwood. It is also a great substitute for chemical-laden pressure treated wood, making it an ideal wood to use for raised garden beds, retaining walls, trellises, arbors, and other installations.
Our Restoration Juniper is sourced from grassland restoration projects throughout the high deserts of the West. Juniper is a native species, but decades of wildfire suppression have allowed it to take over what was formerly a grassland ecosystem. Its out-of-control population growth and thirst for limited water supplies lead to erosion and a loss of biodiversity.
Many acres of juniper are now being cut as part of a collaborative program to restore the grasslands, the groundwater supplies, and the habitat of critical species including the sage grouse.
Jones Lumber is stocking the following Restoration Juniper products:
- 2x6x8 surfaced lumber
- 2x6x8 rough lumber
- 4x4x8 rough timbers
- 6x6x8 rough timbers
Click here for more information about juniper, its exceptional durability, and its special story.
But there are so many options for choosing what wood to use for retaining walls. You know you want something durable, affordable, and non-toxic. But what?
Wood retaining walls must be:
- Chemical free, not soaked in creosote or pressure-treatment chemicals
- Extra durable in ground-contact settings
- Non-toxic alternative to carcinogenic railroad ties
- More affordable and longer lasting than cedar or redwood ties
- Responsibly sourced
Luckily, we have the perfect solution that fulfills all these criteria: our Restoration Juniper landscaping timbers.
Chemical-free: These untreated, completely natural timbers are ideal replacements for creosote-laden railroad ties and pressure-treated wood.
Extra durable: Juniper gets its remarkable durability from a high content of aromatic compounds that make the wood resistant to microbial decay for many decades. Juniper can last up to 30+ years in ground contact settings, according to studies from Oregon State University.
Affordable: Our juniper landscaping timbers are also far more affordable than using cedar or redwood, other long-lasting species that come with a high price tag. In fact, juniper lasts far longer than these species -- providing a lot more bang for your landscaping buck.
Responsibly sourced: Restoration Juniper landscaping timbers are sourced from grassland restoration projects in the high deserts of the West. Juniper is a native species, but decades of fire suppression and the unintended consequences of livestock grazing have allowed this species to grow unchecked, claiming millions of acres of sagebrush steppe and turning it into dense woodlands. These juniper woodlands suck up groundwater and are contributing to the decline of several key species, including the sage grouse. A collaborative group involving ranchers, loggers, environmentalists, and state government agencies is working together to harvest juniper trees, restore the grassland ecosystem and water supplies, and build a market for the wood. Your purchase of juniper lumber supports this effort.
Beautiful: Juniper also provides a rustic, organic look that is perfect for modern gardens and landscape design.
Please contact us to learn more about Restoration Juniper for retaining walls and other exterior uses.
Photos, from top: A recently-constructed residential retaining wall built with 6x6 juniper landscaping timbers shows juniper's rich colors and grain patterns; steps and a small retaining wall built out of 5x5 juniper timbers show off the silver patina that will develop over the years if the wood is left unstained; a large retaining wall built with 6x6 timbers stands at the University of Washington-Tacoma (photo credit Place Studio).
Juniper lumber is an ideal wood for building raised garden beds. It is long-lasting, chemical-free, eco-friendly, and naturally beautiful. Here are our Top 2 ways to build fast and easy raised beds using this wood.
1. The Economy Box: This simple design for a 4' x 2' raised bed uses 4 pieces of 2"x6"x8' juniper lumber, screwed together at the corners with exterior-grade screws. This box can be built with our surfaced juniper lumber for a more polished look (see photo at left) or with our rough landscaping lumber for a more rustic look (photo in middle). This design is lightweight and easy to handle. It is also well-suited for small garden spaces. The design can be adjusted to make different dimensions of beds or can be built with 4"x4" posts at the corners instead of the 2"x6" dimension (see photo at right).
2. The Hardware-Free Box: Our hefty 5x5 and 6x6 juniper landscaping timbers can be stacked in an overlapping pattern at the corners and filled with dirt for raised beds. The large timbers generally provide enough weight that screws or additional hardware are not necessary (see photos below). This design is best for low-impact areas where children or pets will not be climbing on them. (For additional support, holes can be drilled vertically into the corners of the posts so metal rods can be inserted to prevent movement).
This spring we're rolling out a new product for landscaping and garden projects: Kiln-dried surfaced juniper lumber. These boards are surfaced on all four sides with eased edges for a cleaner, more refined look than our rough-sawn landscape timbers typically offer.
The surfacing also brings out the beautiful figure and interesting character that is typical for juniper. These are #2 Grade juniper so they will have more character than our #1 juniper decking.
These boards are a nominal 2"x6" dimension and available in 8' lengths, with an 1/8" radius eased edge.
When most folks think of juniper wood, a very rustic, mountain-lodge look comes to mind. But when Portland's creative minds decide to apply their design sensibilities to juniper, the possibilities emerge.
We are seeing bold new expressions of juniper's unique character in design projects around town, with beautiful results.
The new headquarters for Swift Agency in NW Portland use 5,000 square feet of juniper flooring with a whitewash finish and clear sealer. This flooring flows from an outdoor courtyard through a glass wall into the interior office space, then throughout the multi-level offices. It is paired with steel planter boxes, exposed concrete, and black and white walls for a minimal aesthetic.
The figure and character in the juniper add significant interest to an otherwise spare design, as well as warmth and texture. Juniper was an excellent choice for this space because of its durability in the outdoor courtyard. Its remarkable density will also help it wear well in this high-impact space for many years to come.
Another Portland space that uses juniper for a minimalist, modern look is the WM Goods shop on SW Alder. This downtown boutique used our pre-made juniper butcher block for its retail displays, where it makes an organic-looking, wabi sabi background for the design-centric wares placed on top. We especially love the wall of floating shelves and the hanging displays.
It is exciting to see how Portland's design community is embracing this local, abundant wood. We can't wait to see what other gorgeous projects emerge that use juniper in new ways.
You want to put in long-lasting raised garden beds, but you want to do it without chemicals, and for less money than cedar and redwood costs. How?
We get asked this question all the time. Luckily, we've got a perfect answer for you: Juniper!
Juniper is an ultra-durable softwood that is harvested from grassland restoration projects in central and eastern Oregon. According to studies at Oregon State University, it lasts more than 30 years in outdoor, ground contact settings -- much longer than cedar or redwood. It costs significantly less than cedar or redwood, and it is totally natural, untreated, chemical free wood.
On top of all that, it also happens to be gorgeous.
Juniper is commonly used for raised garden beds, retaining walls, garden stairs, fences, decks, and many other outdoor installations. It is also a popular choice for interior projects, too. Click here to see our full gallery of juniper projects.
Juniper landscaping products are in stock and ready to go in the Portland and Seattle metro areas. If you're in another area, ask your local lumberyard to start carrying it, or contact us for a quote for shipping it to you.
When our customers ask us for a good alternative to pressure treated wood, the answer is simple: Juniper.
Across the river, juniper was used for a Street Seat at PSU. This Street Seat was designed and built by PSU architecture students and uses surfaced juniper for a very modern look.