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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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Zones 7-9, 14-21
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Arctostaphylos densiflora

Vine Hill Manzanita
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 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.

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