Hardy manzanitas- welcome winter beauty

Arctostaphylos x coloradoensis Mock bearberry manzanita Plant Select

Mock bearberry manzanita

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 such as euonymus and boxwood.  At this time of year, the colors of summer and fall have faded into our memories, and our yearning for spring has already begun.

Choices of broad-leaved evergreens for western gardeners consist primarily of plants native to regions of the world with more moisture, soils higher in organic matter and climates with fewer weather extremes.  It’s 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. 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 just last year 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 – lovely pink, small, heather-like 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®.


21 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.

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