Monday, March 6, 2017

Paintbrush's Flagship Manzanita Prop Campaign

Our propagator, Allen, instagrams the good news of our first 'Zita baby with root.  This is a cutting from Colorado's elusive Artostaphylos patula:

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I managed once to germinate this plant well from seed, and failed to record how.  I've never succeeded since.  The pain of that mistake has turned me into a religious record keeper.  For now, we'll grow her from cuttings until I find that black magic I used before.

Until then, know this on the culture of Manzanitas in gardens, where intermountain folks like us are concerned:

True manzanitas are tall, bush-like, hip-high and taller.

Their little sister, Kinnikinnik, (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) is a short ground-cover of the high mountains. When the two mix in nature, they create the more domesticatable garden/landscape-friendly natural hybrids which are becoming available now, like 'Panchito,' 'Bulbous,' "Mock Bearberry" a few others, and my favorite:  'Chieftain.'    These mixed-blood wonders are your best bets if you want reliability.

'Panchito' is much easier; a rugged donkey. He does not seem to need the sandy soil.  He takes clay, sun, shade, and can be purchased in decent nurseries all over the west because he's so much easier to propagate from cuttings.  An excellent broadleaf for the the dry shade garden.  

However, the true, pureblooded wild manzanitas are harder to tame. Because:
They generally dislike clay, I feel, because it is most apt to drown or lethally dry them.  In my experience of planting literally hundreds, I think that a sandy, or even silty soil is nearly required to grow these. (There are exceptions, but they are super rare) My observation is backed up by the fact that the species we are trying to grow are (almost) never in clay in nature.

So if you are truly constructively lusty for this plant, dig out and replace your planting bed or pile up some great mounds of sand-based or sandy soil.  They even like a bit of compost/organics.

It makes things more complicated that manzanitas rely on a symbiotic root-fungus (mycorrhizae) to thrive, and it's been shown that chemical fertilizers are detrimental to the fungus.  Where can you get the right type of mycorrhizae for your plant other than grabbing a pinch from under a plant in nature?
I don't know.

Arctostaphylos patula in nature; Glade Park, CO. A "true" manzanita.

The odd botanical background to Manzanitas is that they are epicenter-ed in California, where they are most diverse, and are in the rhododendron family, so the charisma of these understated beasts in their cheery pink or white late-winter flowers and their voluptuous red bark under those thick evergreen leaves is what lures a great following of us who are prepared to go great lengths to have them in our gardens.

Ironically, once established, they are zero maintenance.   Zero.  
Arctostaphylos patula at the APEX crevice garden.

Our Tricks:

We have successfully established manzanitas with a good (80-95%) success rate in recent years by:
-Planting healthy, well-fed (fertilized) plants (#1 "gallons" or 4" pots) in anytime but summer (Oct to April.)  Manzanitas, although green, appear to be dormant for the summer and often die if planted then.
-In a sandy soil, or sand-based artificial soil mound/bed.  North or east exposures are ideal, others will do.
-Water moderately to establish (soaking every 2 weeks -ish)
-Not fertilizing once in ground, but putting in a handful of wild soil, hoping to introduce the mycorrhizae. (I have no scientific proof for this and have yet to do a side-by-side trial without)
-And knowing once the plant has put on good shoot growth in 1-2 seasons, it is established and apt to be there for good.

Here's to your success.

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