Hardy manzanitas: Welcome winter beauty

Arctostaphylos x coloradoensis | Mock bearberry manzanita Plant Select

Mock Bearberry manzanita

Arctostaphylos x coloradensis

Western winter gardens are made all the more lovely with evergreens — whether the gardens are filled with conifers such as pines, spruce and junipers, or graced with broad-leaved evergreens. In the deep of winter, the colors of summer and fall have faded into our memories, and our yearning for spring has already begun.

But choices of broad-leaved evergreens for western gardeners consist primarily of plants that are native to regions of the world with more moisture, soils higher in organic matter and climates with fewer weather extremes.

Shrubs native to North America

It has only been in recent years that plants from North America are becoming readily available in local nurseries and garden centers. One of the most well-known is kinnickinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), a broad-leaved evergreen groundcover, used regionally for many years. Amazingly, kinnickinnick is actually native to more than half of the United States (except for the Southeast and central states) and every province in Canada. An extremely hardy and adaptable species, it’s primarily been the clones from the two coasts (‘Point Reyes’, ‘Woods Compact’ and ‘Massachusetts’). that have been grown commercially all these years, not selections from our western states.

Arctostaphylos x coloradoensis | Panchito Manzanita Plant Select

Panchito flowers in early spring

Some local and regional growers are collecting local seed and providing western native selections of kinnickinnick, but only recently have our western native, larger cousins to kinnickinnick — the manzanitas — become more commercially available.

Hardy manzanitas by Plant Select®

The first were introduced by Plant Select® in 2005 (Mock Bearberry) and 2006 (Panchito) – two selections of natural hybrids from the Uncompaghre Plateau in western Colorado. The largest and most vigorous of the group, Chieftain, was introduced in 2013.

All three are adapted to our dry climate, mineral soils, fluctuating temperatures and high altitude winter sunshine, making them perfect choices for winter color and interest for our region.

The beauty of these slightly larger Arctostaphylos lies beyond the green relief of their leaves in winter gardens, it also comes from the strong, undulating branches and their deep red-mahogany colored bark. And in late winter and early spring – petite, pink flowers hang in small clusters from the branches, lasting for nearly six weeks, or until temperatures begin to rise in earnest. Mature plants will often produce dark red, tiny apple-like berries in summer.

Wildlife benefits

The primary benefits of the medium-sized Arctostaphylos (A. x coloradensis) for wildlife lies in the year-round cover provided by the evergreen leaves. Undulating branches allow for shelter of smaller songbirds and mammals, and leaf litter beneath often is home to many insects, supplying a decent food source during much of the year.

The groundcover kinnickinnick (A. uva-ursi) is a much more prodigious fruit-producer, and the edible “berries” are regularly eaten by bears,  small mammals and fruit-eating songbirds.

FINALOGOThis post is part of the Be a Habitat Hero project, a partnership of Audubon Rockies, High Country Gardens and Plant Select®.


31 responses to “Hardy manzanitas: Welcome winter beauty”

  1. Patricia Tognoni says:

    Do you have a list of edible plants that qualify as wildscapes and habitat hero for Arvada, CO? Thanks

  2. tish varney says:

    Is Panchito manzanita deer resistant? I only see the designation in the Plant Select guide and not in nursery lists.

  3. Dave Dillman says:

    I started Arctostaphylos two years ago and found the deer like to clip the new spring growth. I have since covered with a small wire cage to prevent the deer from browsing. Next year, it looks to be large enough to remove the wire cage.

  4. Nova says:

    Where can I source Panchito Manzanita? Would love to purchase some.

  5. Lou Ann Gilhooly says:

    I read that a recommendation is to add expanded shale or squeegee to provide more drainage for the manzanitas. We have heavy clay soil in many areas of our yard. Will that work? If so, what are the proportions of the amendment to soil? Also where do you buy these amendments?

    • Ross Shrigley says:

      Yes, that will work and you should make a mix of at least 50/50 squeegee to your current soil. A five-gallon bucket of it ought to work and that can be purchased at any landscape supply yard. Interestingly enough I have seen these manzanitas grow spectacularly in 4″ of wood mulch. I’m still trying to figure that out.

  6. W Steinhour says:

    What is “squeegee“ discussed above?

    • Ross Shrigley says:

      It’s like pea gravel with smaller rocks in it. Landscape supply such as Pioneer sell it in bulk.

  7. Lou Ann Gilhooly says:

    Regarding the 5- gallon bucket of squeegee for planting manzanitas. Is that 5 gallons per plant?

    • Ross Shrigley says:

      No, it should go by hole size. If you’re not removing any soil, just adding squeegee, 1 part squeegee to 2 parts topsoil will work without leaving a large bump in the garden.

  8. R johnston says:

    Do Hardy Manzanita respond well to pruning?

    • Ross Shrigley says:

      They respond well to light pruning, but they won’t flush out again right away if that is what you are hoping. These plants are proving to be more and more resilient to pruning and transplanting though.

  9. Lois says:

    My new manzanitas were planted in late fall. The branches seemed very brittle and broke off easily. I thought they were dormant but since they look they and dry I wonder if they were dead

    • Ross Shrigley says:

      They may be dead, but give them a little more time. Could be the soil and/or too much moisture. They like well-drained soils.

  10. George R Johnson says:

    When is the best time to plant manzanita?

  11. Cindy Martin says:

    I have 3 Panchito manzanitas that were planted 10 years ago and are outgrowing the area they are located. I trimmed a few branches a couple years ago, but it took a while for those spots to fill in. I’m debating whether to remove them and replace with new manzanitas or do a radical prune. I’m afraid that if I prune, they won’t look very nice until next year. Any thoughts/suggestions?

    • Ross Shrigley-Plant Select says:

      Keep pruning these. I have actually seen them sheared on properties. They don’t like hard pruning but can handle tip pruning up to about 6-10 inches. You can clean out any dead branches to allow more air and light to lower spots in the plant. Let us know how it goes!

  12. Blanche says:

    If I plant a Panchito manzanita on a slope, will it tend to grow by ‘spilling downhill’ or should I expect it to spread to its 60 inch maximum more-or-less equally from the center of the plant?

    • Ross Shrigley-Plant Select says:

      On a slope, it will grow off-center down the slope and not equally up the hill. You’ll have to plan for that, but your sizing is correct for that one side.

  13. Liz says:

    We planted a Panchito Manzanita last year (early to mid-summer I think). And over the winter some of the leaves turned yellow, which I’m assuming means they are dead. Should I prune those branches? There are some green leaves, but I fear most of them are being shaded too much by the dead leaves. Also wondering if we may have done something wrong to cause the die-back? It receives morning and afternoon sun, but is shaded in late afternoon. The nearby lead plant is doing fine, as is a bigtooth maple a bit further away. All were getting established last year, and so were watered 2-3 times/week during summer/fall depending on heat and precipitation. We did not water over the winter, but did receive more precipitation than usual. We also had several weeks of colder than usual temperatures. We live in northern Colorado and have clay soil.

    • Ross Shrigley-Plant Select says:

      It may not be completely dead. Look for suckers sprouting out and if it’s not leafing out on said branches this month then trim them out. It was a tough winter.

  14. Chris Arnold says:

    Can either Panchito or Mock Bearberry be transplanted?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Optionally add an image (JPEG only)