California coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica), which got its name from its resemblance to the coffee bush, is a native beauty that needs no nurturing or feeding and will attract all kinds of wildlife to your garden. It fits so easily into so many Californian settings, it's surprising that it's not more popular. Birds flock to this bush, which often needs little to no watering once established.
The coffeeberry shrub varies in size from 6 to 12 feet tall. Use it in place of Indian Hawthorn, a popular non-native shrub. As a California native, coffeeberry has adapted to local conditions, so it requires little or no water in most areas. Evergreen and fast-growing, it also works very well as a hedge or screen. Or, let it grow out for a more rounded look. Because of its dark green leaves and red and black highlights, coffeeberry looks exceptionally good planted against a redwood fence.
California coffeeberry is well-adapted to growing under oaks and most other shade trees. It will also work in full sun, especially along the coast. Generally, the more sun coffeeberry gets, the denser the shrub will be.
Coffeeberry is a dual-purpose plant for birds. The berries of coffeeberry, which turn black in the fall, attract California native bird species like California towhees and thrashers. The shrub also provides an excellent nesting habitat for other birds. Deer generally will not eat coffeeberry, so you can plant it in exposed areas, even outside your fence.
California coffeeberry is readily available at nurseries that carry California native plants. If you like a large shrub, choose the wild species. For a compact, smaller plant, choose the 'Eve Case' or 'Mound San Bruno' variety. 'Tranquil Margarita' offers larger, less-rounded leaves. And for dark green, deeply textured leaves, try 'Leather Leaf.'
Plant this shrub in natural soil. Coffeeberry will grow in sand or heavy clay soils with no trouble. Use mulch such as Scotts® Nature Scapes® Advanced Color Enhanced Mulch 3 inches deep on the surface of the soil around your coffeeberry bushes. This will help retain moisture and prevent weeds by blocking growth and access to sunlight. Keep the mulch an inch or two away from the trunk to prevent problems with insects and disease. Water once a week until established, which can take 1 to 2 years. If you're in an area that receives less than 15 inches of rainfall per year, then winter watering will be required throughout the plant's life.
Photos & original article by Penny Wilson. Penny is a gardening writer who specializes in California native plants.