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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.”

North Portland Residential Landscape Design for Shade

North Portland Residential Landscape Design for Shade

Chris and Jennifer of North Portland contacted me for help with their large shady back yard.

Problems

They were overwhelmed with the high maintenance of lawn under huge trees. They wanted a back yard for entertaining a large family (with lots of adult kids and future grand kids).  They wanted to DIY and had a strict budget, so spending 20 grand on a concrete patio was not realistic. Views over the fence included other neglected yards and they had a large (evil) tree of heaven that had to go. Many plants had died or looked leggy and sun starved.

The back yard was longer than deep and made creating a design on their own more difficult.

Solutions

My best contributions were getting the shapes of the new rooms to work with their long but shallow yard. Introducing them to the concept of using cedar chips as their primary surface for entertaining and paths was a perfect fit also. It looks great with their NW Natural style landscape, it’s affordable and it’s very easy to care for. If you get the right kind of chips you can even use a leaf blower on them and they don’t blow away.

We tucked different outdoor rooms into the perimeter of the landscape and kept the existing small concrete patio as a spacious entry to the house and the BBQ center. No more trying to fit a dining table on it as they had done before the design.

Selecting low water plants

The plant selection was also critical.  Shade plants had to survive on the water the big trees would let them have so our palette needed to be all low water plants. We used a lot of sword ferns and kept native plants wherever possible. On the south end we used one of my favorite little evergreen trees, Boxleaf Azara – Azara Microphylla. They planted them up on a berm which made them taller and helped do a faster job of screening out the neighbors garage wall.  Planting Azaras up on a berm prevents root rot since these plants do not tolerate poor drainage.

DIY installed

Their DIY install of the landscape turned out fantastic. They loved their back yard. When change came along, and they had to put their house on the market, the yard was another major asset and selling point. These photos, which they took, are from their marketing page.

I especially love the hammock room. The fire pit patio is clearly the largest entertaining area and is used for lounging with or without a fire. Their fire pit patio is a crushed rock surface, not cedar chips.

The chips continue around to the side yard gate and match the rest of the now low maintenance landscape.

“Carol understood us and got our style for a NW Natural landscape design for our North Portland yard.  We were very happy that she surpassed our expectations for low maintenance, no lawn, great textured plantings, backyard design.  She understood that we wanted to do some of the work ourselves and helped us make a beautiful-yard-on-a-budget a reality.”