In honor of my first manzanita blooms of the season (thanks John Dourley) you get to see all 18 of my manzanita species. You read that correctly, 18, I know I have a problem, the first step is admitting it.
As I’m sure you remember and have memorialized with a bookmark and autographed poster above your bed, my very first “Bloom of the Month” way back in January was manzanita. Those (Arctostaphylos glauca) are still waiting for a little rain to start plumping up. But in the yard you can cheat a bit and last week I got my first bloom.
Manzanitas are a tricky lot, often taking years to get established, dying for no reason whatsoever. So a few words of advice from someone who has murdered his share of plants.
1. Increase the odds of survival by planting at the right time, that means right now. Cool, moist soil is easiest to adapt to and least likely to cause the nasty fungi that will kill them (this goes for most natives). I try to do all my planting before the new year so they have a full winter/spring rain season to get them established.
2. Don’t fertilize or amend your soil, if planted properly your manzanita’s roots will find all the nutrients it needs on its own. Unless of course you have them in a pot, which can work for a few years before they get too big. You need to supplement occasional fertilizer with some magnesium (Epsom salts) and iron (available at Green Thumb)
3. Like most natives, lots of sun and well drained soil. While there are some more garden tolerant species like Howard McMinn, Sentinel and Sunset, most manzanitas despise sitting in wet soil in the summer. And while most will tolerate some shade, growth rate will most likely suffer, and let’s be honest manzanita grow slow enough as it is.
4. Be careful when and what you prune. Next years flowers form in the spring of the previous year, so if you summer prune be wary. Cut back dead or diseased branches in summer so wounds can heal quickly
5. Manzanitas have their own set of pests and diseases to battle. Good air circulation, proper pruning techniques and well drained soil all go a long way to keeping them healthy. Leaf galls are common, swollen red areas on fresh growth are best removed, not much else you can do and they will rarely harm the plant.
My favorite reference for planting and size recommendations is the Las Pilitas website.