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Evergreen, Shrubs

Plants vary from creeping groundcovers to treelike shrubs, but all have small, urn-shaped white or pink flowers, usually in late winter to early spring, followed by berrylike red or brown fruits that attract birds. Most are characterized by (and admired for) crooked branches with smooth red to purple bark.

Manzanitas require excellent drainage, but they can tolerate poor soil and in fact prefer rocky or sandy, acid soils to rich, heavy ones. To get quick coverage from low groundcover types, plant about 2 ft. apart, then mulch to suppress weeds and encourage rooting along stems. The first summer after planting any manzanita, water every 4–7 days, depending on the weather. Once established, plants in warm-summer areas generally thrive on once-a-month watering in well-drained soil; in heavy soil and where summers are cool, they need less frequent irrigation. You may get away with watering just once or twice a summer.

Regular pruning is not required. To make plants denser and more uniformly compact, pinch new spring growth to force branching. On types with interesting branch structure, remove any limbs that detract from effect. Don’t cut into bare wood; plants won’t send out new growth.

Arctostaphylos columbiana

Tree-like species native to low coastal mountains, central California to British Columbia. The form propagated and sold in northwestern nurseries is called ‘Oregon Hybrid’. Low-growing, compact shrub about 3 ft. tall and 5–7 ft. wide, with reddish brown bark and 3-in. gray-green leaves. White flowers, red-cheeked brownish fruit. Useful plant, tough enough for highway landscaping in western Oregon and Washington.

Arctostaphylos densiflora ‘Howard McMinn’ (photo courtesy of Annie’s Annuals & Perennials)
Arctostaphylos densiflora ‘Howard McMinn’ (photo courtesy of Annie’s Annuals & Perennials)

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Arctostaphylos densiflora

Native to a small area in Sonoma, California. Generally a low, spreading shrub, with outer branches taking root when they touch soil. Main stems are slender and crooked, with smooth, reddish black bark. Small, glossy leaves and dainty white or pale pink flowers give plants a refined look. The species is rarely sold, but several excellent selections have been developed. ‘Howard McMinn’ forms a mound to 5–8 ft. tall and spreads to 7 ft. in 5 years (eventually to twice that wide). Its flowers are white. If you prune branch tips (but not those of prostrate branches) after flowering, the plant stays dense and tailored-looking. ‘Harmony’ is lower growing, about 4 ft. tall and 6 ft. wide, with a profuse show of pink flowers. ‘Sentinel’, with light green, downy leaves and pale pink flowers, is a good choice for warmer, inland gardens. It grows to 6–8 ft. tall and spreads to 4–10 ft. wide, with upright, open growth; is easily trained into a small tree.

Arctostaphylos edmundsii ‘Carmel Sur’ (photo courtesy of Linda Lamb Peters)
Arctostaphylos edmundsii ‘Carmel Sur’ (photo courtesy of Linda Lamb Peters)

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Arctostaphylos edmundsii

A low-growing species from California’s coastal Monterey area. Several named selections are good groundcovers. ‘Carmel Sur’ grows quickly to 1–1 1/2 ft. tall and 4–6 ft. wide, with neat gray-green foliage and soft pink flowers (though it rarely blooms). It has exceptionally good form and tolerates summer watering. Hybrid ‘Greensphere’ grows very slowly into a dense, nearly perfect 4-ft. sphere, with dark green leaves and a long bloom period; ideal for containers. Slow-growing ‘Little Sur’ has a dense, flat habit (10 in. high and 5 ft. wide), with pointed leaves edged in red (bronze when new) and soft pink flowers. A. e. parvifolia ‘Bert Johnson’ has shiny, dark green leaves (new growth is rich bronze) and pale pink flowers in late winter or early spring; plants grow to 1–3 ft. tall and 4–6 ft. wide; takes a wide range of garden conditions. 

Arctostaphylos glauca

Native from California to Baja California. Spreading shrub to 15 ft. tall and 20 ft. wide, with dark reddish brown bark and 3-in., blue-gray leaves. Clusters of pink to white flowers.

Arctostaphylos hookeri

Native to Monterey, California. Slowly forms a dense mound 1 1/2–4 ft. tall, spreading to 6 ft. or more. Small, glossy green leaves; white to pinkish flowers; shiny, bright red fruit; smooth, red-brown bark. Good on hillsides.

Arctostaphylos manzanita

Native to California’s inner Coast Range and the Sierra Nevada foothills. Grows to 6–20 ft. tall and 4–10 ft. wide. Picturesque branching habit, purplish-red bark. Small, shiny green, oval leaves. White to pink flowers come in drooping clusters. Fruit is white as it forms, matures to deep red. Excellent as a focal point or grouped as a large screen.

Arctostaphylos pajaroensis

Native to central Monterey Bay area, California. Grows to 3–8 ft. tall and 10–12 ft. wide. New growth is bronzy, maturing to bluish green; pink to white flowers bloom over a long period. ‘Paradise’ is a pink-flowered selection with long-lasting bronze foliage color. ‘Warren Roberts’ is similar, but with a tighter, more upright habit; mature leaves are bluer in color and new growth is darker bronze.

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

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Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Native from Northern California to Alaska and beyond. Plant is prostrate, spreading and rooting as it grows; eventually forms a mat 15 ft. wide. Small, glossy, leathery leaves are bright green, turning red or purplish in winter. White or pinkish flowers are followed by red fruits. Plants are slow to become established; mulch heavily between plants to suppress weeds until branches provide cover.

Arctostaphylos x coloradensis

Naturally occurring hybrid from cold, high-elevation regions of Colorado. Grows to 1–1 1/2 ft. tall and 4–6 ft. wide, a dense low grower that makes a good groundcover. Pink spring flowers are followed by red fruit; foliage takes on red tones in winter. Best in partial shade.

Arctostaphylos ‘Emerald Carpet’

This natural hybrid between A. uva-ursi and A. nummularia is one of the greenest, most uniform groundcover manzanitas. Forms a dense carpet to 8–14 in. tall, mounding a bit higher after many years, and spreads about 5 ft. Roundish leaves remain bright green even in hot, dry weather. Tiny white flowers. Needs acidic soil and, especially in hot interior valleys, deep irrigation every 2 to 3 weeks.

Arctostaphylos bakeri ‘Louis Edmunds’ (photo courtesy of Linda Lamb Peters)
Arctostaphylos bakeri ‘Louis Edmunds’ (photo courtesy of Linda Lamb Peters)

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‘Louis Edmunds’

Selection of a species native to Sonoma area, California. Elegant, upright shrub to 5–6 ft. tall and wide, with dark mahogany bark and small gray-green leaves. Showy pink flowers precede bright red berries. Tolerates heat and drought but will take some garden watering.

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