Will Manzanita Grow in the Shade?

by Daniel Trump

The 14 shrubs and small trees known as manzanita, members of the genus Arctostaphylos, thrive mostly in the western United States, though different species grow in a wide range of U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 10. These pale-flowered, ruddy-stemmed fruiting plants, which feature leathery leaves and twisting branches, lend themselves to the landscape as borders, groundcovers or accents in woodland gardens. Manzanita cannot grow in strictly shady spaces, but like its roots, its environmental needs go a little deeper than that.

1. Basic Light and Temperature Needs

As a general rule of thumb, manzanitas -- including common cultivars such as Arctostaphylos densiflora "Howard McMinn," Arctostaphylos manzanita "Dr. Hurd," and Arctostaphylos uva-ursi "Green Supreme" -- flourish in full sunlight. In fact, many manzanitas stand tall in the face of even harsh sunlight unless grown in inland gardens. However, hearty manzanita plants usually tolerate light shade. On average, manzanitas are frost-tolerant down to about 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Further Lighting and Temperature Needs

Although manzanitas are adapted to sun and heat and can be planted at any time of year, they actually prefer to be planted during damp, cool seasons. Especially when planting in a low-elevation region, stick to fall or early winter -- usually sunny to slightly shady seasons in zones 7 to 10, the most common zones for manzanita -- for best results. Planting during the moist seasons of the year helps manzanita develop a strong, deep root system. If possible, find out the native environmental conditions of the specific species of manzanita you wish to grow. If your garden reflects these sun and soil conditions, the plant will likely thrive there.

3. Other Environmental Needs

Manzanita plants prefer rich, well-drained soil, typically with a sandy or slightly rocky consistency. While some manzanitas tolerate alkaline soils, others need acidic soil. Manazanitas only require watering once the soil has dried out a few inches below the surface, and they do not require fertilization. Once established, tough manzanitas are extremely low-maintenance. After about three to five years, this plant may not even require your attention, other than a bit of supplemental water during droughts.

4. Warnings

Despite manzanita's easy-going nature, it's important to note that these plants contain a high volume of volatile and highly flammable compounds. Alongside the dead wood manzanita often sports, this makes them a sizable fire hazard -- when aflame, these little shrubs can produce fires five times their height and often act as “ladder fuels,” meaning they carry fire from one place to another. As such, practice caution when placing your manzanita and always keep open flames away from the plant.