Manzanitas (Arctostaphylos species) are some of the easiest native plants to grow and maintain. Wild manzanitas can vary greatly, and there are many great garden hybrids and cultivars available. Some forms of Manzanita have deep vibrant green leaves and glossy mahogany stems while others have ghostly gray foliage and twisting shiny red branches. Some creep along the ground, while others can grow 20 feet tall with hefty trunks. All manzanitas have small urn-shaped flowers, but their colors can vary from pink to white. And all are evergreen and tend to look lush and tidy even with no irrigation.
The best way to succeed with these beauties is to choose ones that grows in your soil and climate. The lower-growing forms tend to originate along the coast where, in the wild, they hunker down along windy bluffs. These are good choices for places like San Francisco or Santa Barbara, but not so good for hot interior climates like Los Angeles or Bakersfield. Likewise, some of the larger manzanitas that grow in the hottest, driest climates of California languish in the cool moist air and higher rainfall common in coastal climates. Whether you have clay or sandy soil, you can find a manzanita that's right for your yard.
Once you find a good fit for your environment, just plant your manzanita in native soil, mulch heavily with redwood or oak mulch and water for the first year or until it is established. And there really isn’t much maintenance to do, as these are not the kind of plant that needs dead heading or pruning and prefer an accumulation of leaf duff. In general these plants are at their best when left on their own.
An additional positive attribute is that manzanitas are great hummingbird plants. Manzanitas flower very early, usually beginning in December or January. This makes them an invaluable source of nectar for overwintering hummingbirds. Of course having flowers in your garden in the middle of winter is a plus, too.
Here are 3 great Manzanita choices. Arctostaphlyos “Austin Griffiths” (in the top photo) is a large hybrid variety that will grow in clay or sandy loam and in most climates away from the immediate coast. Arctostaphylos edmundsii "Danvill" is a delicate-looking ground cover that thrives in heavy clay soils and is happiest in mild coastal climates. Arctostaphlyos densiflora "Harmony" is a very versatile cultivar growing about knee high with vibrant green leaves and stunning red bark.
Many are rare and only grow in very specific regions. Some of these interesting local treasures, as well as many garden varieties, can be found at your local native plant nursery.