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Tips to succeeding with Manzanita in Portland Residential Landscapes 

Tips to succeeding with Manzanita in Portland Residential Landscapes 

Drought tolerant landscaping in Southeast Portland

Manzanita (called Arctostaplylos – Arc toe staff eye loss) is the new cool darling plant here in Portland. The reasons why are numerous, unique “new” plant, drought tolerance, attractive in winter and all year, and there are now many diverse shapes and sizes to work with that will survive here. Years ago I only used this plant for a plant collector garden because they knew it was a crap shoot as to whether it would survive at all.   

As a Portland landscape designer I want plants that will serve many purposes in my designs. For people who are done with the overuse of Rhododendrons and Azalea and want drought tolerant plants, Manzanita is the perfect plant. Before you fall in love, I want to give you some tips for succeeding with Manzanita in Portland. They have requirements that must be met if you want them to thrive. 

Please see my previous blog “Portland Landscape Designer Advocates use of Manzanita in Xericscapes”.

Tips for succeeding with Manzanita in Portland 

Select the right site, conditions and plant companions 

Most are intolerant of summer water….clients must understand that they cannot coddle these plants, they cannot plant annuals with them for summer color, they cannot fertilize, they cannot water these plants after they are established or they will die.

Plant on a berm 

Ground cover Manzanita in Raleigh Hills

In many Portland landscapes planting on a berm will be necessary to avoid root rot. You will see bermed soil areas here even in parking strips. Portland parking strips (the 4’ wide ones) are a popular place for many of the new smaller types of Manzanita and for drought tolera

nt or xeric styled plantings. Most of the Manzanita I am using are too wide for a 30” parking strip. 

Planting companions

Planting companions must have the same no water requirements because it’s hard to remember not to water one plant and that you must water the one next to it. If any kind of auto irrigation is used the first summer it must be disconnected, dismantled, hell-dismembered so no one accidentally waters that second summer.   

I select companions from Mediterranean or NW native plant palettes. Some mid west native prairie plants also work well with Manzanita. Herbs, ornamental grasses and xeric perennials like Penstemon or ice plant are easy companions and Heather (Calluna Vulgaris types) are one of my favorite for texture contrast.  

Buy small plants 

It’s best to buy small plants and they will establish faster

Drought tolerant landscape design, Manzanita shrub in North Portland

than a larger plant with a higher survival rate. Large sizes of these plants are not available anyway. Many of these plants will be available in a 4” pot or perhaps a quart sized pot. Smaller plants make more sense in this case but don’t expect them to be inexpensive. You are paying for all the research and extensive work to create these new plants. 

Select the right Manzanita 

The trial and error approach for picking which one to buy and where to plant it is going to be very frustrating. There are quite a few new plant types to pick from and some grow very fast, some slow. Some may be pruned hard because they have a burl (what’s a burl?) and others would be ruined with such treatment. Your Portland landscape designer needs to be an expert or have access to one. If you are on your own, buying from Cistus Nursery or the retail store Xera Plants, Inc. is the best way to get the expertise you need from their very knowledgeable staff.   

I talked to Alana Chau at Cistus Nursery. Here is her list of plants that will be available that I especially liked. 

 Arctostaphylos hookeri ‘Green on Black’  18” high and can handle some clay soil. 

Arctostaphylos × media ‘Martha Ewan’ is a nice size maturing at three feet tall and it can be tip pruned. It gets wide so give it room to be 4 or 5 feet wide. 

Arctostaphylos Stanfordiana ‘Mills’ or A x ‘White Lanterns’ both at 4’ tall 

Arctostaphylos Dr Hurd’ is a curvaceous 8′ to 10’ tall small tree and is planted at the entrance to Cistus Nursery 

Arctostaphylos  mewukka or Arctostaphylos patula can be pruned heavily. (They have a burl and once established they can be pruned back to the burl, for non horticultural nerds just know this means you could plant one of these closer to your walkway than many of the other varieties because the size could be controlled without ruining the appearance of your plant.) 

(We designers get excited about plants who fit into a small landscapes so we might be more excited that this burling option than you are). 

 My manzanita guru, Paul Bonine explains about burls in his article in Pacific Horticulture, Arctostaphylos for Pacific Northwest Gardens “Some Arctostaphylos species develop an enlarged area called a burl at soil level; new shoots emerge from the burl following fire or extreme drought, or from extensive pruning to rejuvenate a plant in the garden.”

Colorful Plants for Portland Winter Landscapes-New Zealand Pepper Plant

Colorful plants for Portland Winter Landscapes-New Zealand Pepper Plant    Cedar Hills residential landscape design Drimys Lanceolata is the perfect evergreen shrub

I enjoy a good hit of colorful plants year-round but especially in winter. The rest of the year has so many plant choices here in Portland it’s almost too easy for a garden designer. Winter has fewer selections for colorful plants and is a better challenge. Drimy Lanceolata – New Zealand Pepper Plant is not a new plant for designers but probably new to most homeowners. 

What’s so special about New Zealand Pepper Plant? 

It’s the foliage!

I love this plant for its visually delicious, red accented colored evergreen foliage. The spruce green leaf is set off by the dark red stems and red lines in the leaf. The new growth stem tips are more of a zippy coral red and when mature, they fade to dark Portland residential landscape designer's favorite coral bell plant, Heuchera 'Blackberry Crisp'burgundy.

Color echo: I find repeating the color of the stems and leaf “trim” with an underplanting in the same hue to be very satisfying. Using a burgundy Heuchera like ‘Blackberry Crisp’ with New Zealand Pepper plant illustrates the idea of a color echo nicely.

Versatile size

It’s very versatile size wise. It can grow into a “shree” (large shrub/small tree 8’ tall), or be maintained as a 3’ tall shrub. It’s easy to prune if you understand the basics and while I strongly suggest hand clipping, if you’ve grown it into a large shrub, it can be sheared with a small power trimmer.  The blades need to be small and sharp since you don’t want to chew up your plant leaves.  Don’t cut back into the old wood.  Typically it will have to grow some new foliage before it looks beautiful again. 

Year round colorful foliage in NE Portland landscaping. Photo taken in winter.

While the landscape is where Drimys shines the best, it is excellent for flower arrangements anytime of the year but especially useful in winter when choices are limited. It smells aromatic and the leaves and berries were used in the colonial days of Australia as a flavoring but apparently has a carcinogen in the oil of the leaf.  While small amounts are probably not harmful………………I would skip adding this to your salad. 

Best practices

Plant in raised or well-drained soil out of the range of lawn sprinkler heads. Water once a week deeply with a drip system or soaker hoses.  I’ve placed it in full sun but it works well with some direct sun or lots of lightly dappled shade (under the edges of a tree’s canopy).  It is not a shade or deep shade plant.    

Good drainage is a must. It will die if planted in a low spot or in heavy mucky clay soil. 

Colorful year round foliage shrub in Wiltshire Beaumont neighborhood N. E. PortlandEast winter wind can burn leaves

In Portland’s east counties in particular, the cold east wind may desiccate the foliage.  If I’m concerned about cold winter wind I will place it on the west side of the house in well-drained soil.   I have it growing quite happily in landscape designs in NE Portland, close in SE Portland and Beaverton.

Contact me, Carol Lindsay, when you are ready for an interesting full season planting plan (and hardscapes) for your home.

Plant partners:  a spring flowering heather like Erica carnea ‘Addrianne Duncan’, Heuchera (coral bell), Sedum x ‘Purple Monarch’, tiny leafed Hebe odora- boxleaf hebe like and American Switch grass -Panicum virgatum ‘Hanse Herms’

 

Drought Tolerant Landscaping with Manzanita Plants in Portland

Drought Tolerant Landscaping with Manzanita Plants in Portland

Why am I excited about using Manzanita in my Portland landscape designs? 

Manzanita shrub in Arbor Lodge landscape. Landscape Design in a Day

It’s the water

To advocate the use of Manzanita is to advocate the use of drought tolerant plants. Happily we landscape designers are encountering more clients these days who want a low water landscape or want a completely drought tolerant yard. I can advise about the site conditions drought tolerant plants require and select attractive plants that meet the curb appeal test in addition to drought tolerance.   

Unique look 

Manzanita flowering in Woodlawn neighborhood of Portland - Garden Design

Manzanita flowering in Woodlawn neighborhood of Portland – Garden Design

It’s a new look for the landscape. My younger clients are done with  rhododendrons and azaleas, which are somewhat over used here. While Manzanita has attractive flowers, it is the whole package, foliage color, shape of plant, bark color and flower that is creating the popularity. I’m especially happy with the boost these plants give to the winter landscape. 

Fusion of modern style with NW Natural  

These plants are too naturalistic for formal landscapes but they look great with modern and craftsmen homes.  Style-wise Manzanita fit nicely with NW natural,  Mediterranean or even a southwestern look.  We get strong foliage contrast with  leaf blades (Yucca or ornamental grass), tiny needles like dwarf conifer,  heather (calluna type), lavender or fat leafed succulents like hens and chicks or sedum palmeri or other sedums.

New kinds of Manzanita to use in landscapes 

Drought tolerant Manzanita in Portland garden design as foundation plant.

Drought tolerant Manzanita in Portland garden design as foundation plant.

The fact that we now have more than one kind of Manzanita we can use can be laid at the feet of a handful of people who have crossed different kinds of Manzinita to produce plants that can thrive in our rich Willamette Valley soils.  They then tested the plant in different soil conditions and identified the plants that can handle life in an non irrigated garden or landscape.

When I started my Portland landscape design practice in the 1990’s there was a native Manzanita tree from the Oregon coast that “sometimes” survived here. They are so beautiful that I was tempted.  Still “sometimes” was not good enough for my designs.  I needed cold hardy Manzanita ground covers, shrubs, and small trees that would thrive here in the Willamette Valley and there weren’t any. Now I have them!!! 

Less weeding 

This benefit could take some time to realize.  Manzanita leaves contain a substance that discourages weeds. Leaves that shed from the plant should be left in place. It takes several years for these small leaves to build up enough of the substance in your soil to be effective. 

Pruning tip

Portland Residential Landscape DesignerOne of the common mistakes with Manzanita is to underestimate the width of the shrubs and small trees. Most cannot be pruned heavily and can be rendered so unattractive by pruning that tries to contain them, they will be removed. If you have no pruning skills (and most people don’t) be sure to place these plants where they have room to mature with yearly tip pruning only. 

Where to find these plants? 

While Xera Plants, Inc. and Cistus Nursery are the primary resource for retail, there are the Hardy Plant Society Sales (spring and fall) and tried and true mail order plant resources. If you are wanting drought tolerant landscaping and need a landscape designer contact me, I love to design with Manzanita. 

 

Who Loves Plum Colored Leaves of Chinese Fringe Flower?

Who Loves Plum Colored Leaves of Chinese Fringe Flower?

Portland Residential Landscape Designer loves plum foliageAs a Portland residential landscape designer, I have many clients who want exciting year-round color in their landscapes. If they love burgundy foliage (either you love it or hate it, it seems) I often consider Chinese fringe flower as a shrub for their landscape.

Year round burgundy foliage

While there are lots of plants these days with red or burgundy foliage, we only have one that holds it’s leaves year round. Chinese fringe flower (also called Chinese witchazel) –  Loropetalum chinense var Rubra.

Right plant, right place or picky picky picky

Chinese fringe flower has to be planted in the right location to be able to look good in the winter. I’ve had plants that lived through the winters but look sad with dried out winter burned leaves which is very disappointing if it’s part of your winter view. I had clients who loved it so much for their entry that we tried it in the “wrong place” for about 6 years hoping we would get lucky. It looked fantastic May to December but some years it looked horrid January to May…..we finally gave up.N W Portland Residential Landscape Designer curb appeal planting combination 

Best placement of Chinese fringe flower

My best location advice for this plant is three fold: good soil drainage (planted up on a slight mound or above a rock wall), protection from the east wind and no sun until mid-morning. A house, tall evergreen trees or a hill can block both the east wind and early morning sun. It is not a shade plant and will have only green leaves in too much shade. Too much hot afternoon sun can scorch the leaves.

Exceptions

Conversely, or maybe I should say perversely, I have seen a few plants thriving that get 6 am sun. While this puzzles me a little (plants do not read about themselves in plant books after all) where there are successful plantings of Chinese fringe flower, good drainage and some afternoon sun are the common denominator. Should I live to be 100 (and still be practicing as a garden designer), I will not have the exact answers to some plant peculiarities. I have created hundreds of landscape designs here in the Pacific Northwest to inform my opinions but plants may be a bit like cats…..they surprise us with their likes and dislikes.

Low maintenance yes or no?

When sited correctly it is fabulous and gives your landscape a unique focal point. I don’t consider it an easy going low maintenance plant since it may need to be moved or replaced to site it properly. Once it has settled in and is a mature plant, it will need to be irrigated regularly. It will need occasional pruning if it gets too big for the area it was planted in. It’s easy to underestimate how big they will get over time. There are now several different varieties claiming to be compact, but I am skeptical.

Planting companions

Heuchera ‘Midnight Rose’ is a polka dotted burgundy and hot pink foliaged coral bell courtesy of that wild plant designer Dan Heims at Terra Nova . This is a seriously fun combo for clients who like wild color.

Ornamental grasses, heather and dwarf conifer look great with this plant. Chinese fringe flower looks good with many kinds of plants and garden styles from modern to cottage garden. It’s a very versatile plant.

Varieties of Chinese fringe flower

Portland Residential Landscape Designer loves purple foliage

Here are 3 named varieties of Loropetalum to consider for our area:

Purple Pixie’ also called ‘Peack’ has a nice shape for growing in a pot. It is supposed to be more compact. Count on pruning it back by ½ every year after it flowers to keep it a compatible size for a patio or entry area.

‘Pipa’s Red’ can be grown as a small tree or large shrub or can be sheared back by ½ or more every year after flowering if you want it to be a 3′ to 5’ tall shrub.

‘Zhuzhou Pink Fuschia’ is also a delight. I’d use it as a small tree or hedge in a landscape design.

 

Pruning Nandina easily for Portland residential landscapes

Pruning Nandina easily, the perfect low maintenance plant, for Portland residential landscapes

Low Maintenance Shrub (Nandina) for Portland Residential Landscape DesignI promised I would follow up from my last blog about Nandina domestica – Heavenly Bamboo and how seriously low maintenance they are.  I’ll give you my easy pruning trick for Nandina and you’ll be all set to use this shrub, a low maintenance year round beauty, in your Portland landscape.

What’s the problem with shearing Nandina?

If it’s so easy to prune why do we see so many sad looking Nandina out there? People try to prune them like a boxwood hedge.  Boxwoods have a typical shrubs’ woody structure and little tiny leaves.  They can be sheared and look pretty good.  Nandina are a multiple cane plant with a compound leaf composed of many oval shaped leaves.  The best way to ruin their appearance is to shear them into little round balls or squares.

Ugly Nandina in Portland Landscape Need Pruning TipRestore leggy sparse leafed Nandina plants

These photos illustrate embarrassing ugly examples of Nandina out there in commercial and residential landscapes.  These sad plants at my local bank have not been pruned at all.  If yours look this bad, hold off on tossing them.

Portland Landscape Designer's example of poor pruning techniqueWe could correct these ugly leggy Nandinas’ appearance in one year by applying the pruning technique I have illustrated here.  These Nandina domestica ‘Gulfstream’ could look amazing with regular irrigation and pruning once every year or two.

My drawing “Fix Leggy Nandina” illustrates restoring a Nandina that has developed leggy bare canes (or stems if you like).  It has no foliage at the base of the plant.

The Cool Trick to Pruning Nandina

The simplest pruning technique is to cut 1/3rd of the canes to the ground and call it done.  This technique will get you a much better plant once the new canes sprout. I control the height by selecting the tallest canes to remove.

You can take your easy pruning a step farther and select another 1/3rd of the canes and cut them at different heights.  If you only have 3 canes to work with it would look like my “Fix Leggy Nandinas” illustration and in one year it would have a new cane with leaves on it sprouting from the ground and the stem you cut back would have new stem and leaves above where you made the cut.

When to Prune Nandina

You can prune nandina any time of year here in the Pacific Northwest.  I like to remove canes to use for holiday table decoration in the winter but only from a robust plant with lots of canes.  I  prefer to do restorative pruning (such as in my illustration “Fix Leggy Nandina”) as early as March or as late as May.

How to Prune Dwarf Nandina

The technique is mostly the same, but dwarf varieties like ‘Firepower’ need almost no pruning to contain height and if they get enough sun, they rarely get leggy.  The plant can get too wide so I like to thin a few canes out at the bottom (or up to 1/3rd of my canes) every year to keep the plant from ever getting too wide. This allows the little plant to continue serving as a colorful year round foundation plant for the long term in your landscape.     Here is a good video to illustrate pruning the dwarf varieties.

 

 

Read my previous blog about Nandina “Colorful Four Season Plant”