Arctostaphylos — Manzanita Shrubs
Of all of the California native plants suitable for garden use, the genus Arctostaphylos, commonly called manzanita, is one of the most adaptable. (Manzanita means “little apple” in Spanish, so named for the small fruits.)
- Manzanitas in the wild can be found in a wide range of habitats, from coastal scrub to mountain bluffs to pine forests. Given their diverse native habitats, there are manzanitas for almost every garden situation.
- Almost all manzanitas have a dramatic branching structure with cinnamon-to-mahogany bark, evergreen foliage, and small fruits following winter blossoms.
- Small- and medium-sized shrubs provide structure and drama in the garden, especially when lower side branches are pruned to expose smooth, colorful wood.
- Manzanitas bloom prolifically in winter with small urn-shaped blossoms. Adding them to the landscape draws nectar-seekers such as hummingbirds and honey bees while fruits provide late-season food for a diverse group of wildlife, including quail.
Manzanitas in the Garden
- Because cultivation requirements vary, it is important to carefully select a manzanita with the specifics of your garden environment in mind.
- In deciding which manzanita shrub to plant, first determine its purpose and ultimate size in the landscape, assess the site for sun or shade, and soil quality for drainage.
- Considered low-water plants, manzanitas require moist—not wet—soil at planting time and until they become established, then only infrequent irrigation in well-draining soil.
- They easily adapt to poor soil and do not do well in rich soil, heavy clay, or saturated conditions. Full sun or light shade is required
- Manzanitas are largely trouble-free once established, not prone to insect or disease problems, and rarely need to be fertilized. Cutting off damaged branches, cleaning up fallen leaves, and refraining from excessive irrigation keeps plants healthy. Good air circulation is especially important in coastal locations.
- Manzanitas are subject to leaf gall on new growth, a condition caused by aphids that is not harmful to plants but may be unsightly. Any affected leaf tips may be trimmed off. Frequent or excessive irrigation should be avoided as well as application of nitrogen fertilizers that promote lush new growth. For more information, consult: https://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/GARDEN/PLANTS/INVERT/manaph.html
Perhaps the most recommended manzanita shrubs for Sonoma County gardens are the adaptable local native species and cultivars of Arctostaphylos densiflora. Easy care, twisting cinnamon branches, and copious flowers in late winter are valued features.
- Arctostaphylos densiflora ‘Howard McMinn,’ the widely planted vine hill manzanita, is most often seen at 4-5 ft. by 5ft. and can be kept there if needed with periodic shearing. It tolerates nearly any soil, summer irrigation, and some shade. It will even tolerate overhead watering.
- Arctostaphylos densiflora ‘Sentinel’ is similar to ‘Howard McMinn’ but is more upright, faster growing, wider spreading, more floriferous, and somewhat more drought tolerant.
- Arctostaphylos bakeri ‘Louis Edmonds’ is as garden-worthy as ‘Howard McMinn.’ Native near Sonoma coastal areas, it reaches 5-10 ft., bears deep pink flowers in early spring, and withstands moderate garden irrigation. Foliage is more gray-green than similar ‘Howard McMinn’ and bark is a dark purplish mahogany.
- Arctostaphylos ‘John Dourley’ presents varying appearances as new reddish bronze growth morphs to muted bluish green on older leaves. Shrubs reach 2-3 ft. high and spread twice as wide. It accepts garden irrigation as well as some shade and dry conditions. It develops a dense, mounding habit that smothers weeds, blooms for an extended period, and works well on slopes.
- Arctostaphylos ‘Sunset,’ native to the Monterey Bay area, has a mounding habit 5-8 ft. and as wide. Dense foliage largely conceals shredding bark but not its pinkish white flower clusters. It can be pruned extensively to expose interesting branching structure as shrubs age.
- Arctostaphylos pajaroensis, also native to the Monterey Bay area, attracts interest with its unusual, red new leaf growth that becomes deep bluish green on somewhat sculptural, spreading stems. It grows to 6-8 ft. but can be pruned to maintain a smaller size. Pink or white urn-shaped flowers continue for months. Avoid planting in heavy soil.
Large Manzanita Shrubs
Suitable only in limited environments, Arctostaphylos manzanita (Parry manzanita) and Arctostaphylos glauca (bigberry manzanita) attain a regal appearance in maturity with their approximate 10-15 ft. height and width.
- On larger plants, branching structure is a focal point, dwarfing the impact of leaves and flowers.
- Smooth, purplish mahogany bark on irregular, open-branched structure becomes their outstanding trait as they mature.
- Each species deserves plenty of space and becomes striking a specimen.
- Foliage varies from very pale green to bluish gray and darker green.
- Both demand well-drained soil, summer heat, and dry conditions, although Parry manzanita is somewhat tolerant of garden conditions.
- Arctostaphylos manzanita ‘Dr. Hurd’ is perhaps the most widely planted of these large shrubs and may be trained to appear treelike.