Go seriously local! This species of manzanita was originally introduced by our own Saratoga Horticulture Foundation way back in 1955, which is why I am pleased to see it growing at West Valley College. According to San Marcos Growers and other sources, Mills College Botany Professor, Howard McMinn, provided the original specimens to Saratoga Hort. for breeding. Today, this cultivar is more readily available than the non-cultivar species.
If designing with, planting, or caring for California native plants is intimidating, consider this manzanita. Arctostaphylos densiflora 'Howard McMinn' is a reliable evergreen shrub that can be easily introduced into the ornamental garden. California natives can have a bad rap for being particular about soil, water (or a preference for minimal water), or pruning, but this manzanita appears to tolerate much of what we can throw its way.
Tolerant of light shearing to shape or more detailed pruning, Howard will also manage supplemental irrigation...within reason. Manzanitas still prefer well draining soil and not sit in soggy soil, so adjacent to lawns can potentially be problematic. To be clear, clay soil is also tolerated, but for such conditions watering should be minimized. Used with other drought tolerant species, this lush, dense, manzanita looks its best with minimal pruning to retain its natural form. Over time, its smooth red-brown stems will become more pronounced and sculptural, lending itself to creative pruning and dramatic form. So, give it a go in your next project.
West Valley College Campus Location: Arctostaphylos densiflora 'Howard McMinn'
Cilker (south and west facades)
Long: 122° 0'41.36"W
Botanical Name: Arctostaphylos densiflora 'Howard McMinn'
Arctostaphylos: Greek, arktos, for bear, and staphyle, for bunch of grapes...not to imply a bear eating grapes but that the species produces (bears) a lot of fruit. This cultivar, however, appears to produce little.
Densiflora: Profusely flowering, hence "dense."
Common Name: Vine hill manzanita
Family Name: Ericaceae
Origin: Native; Vine Hill area, Sonoma County
Positioning: Background, slopes
Garden Themes: Native, Mediterranean/dry/xeriscaping, pollinator, bird
Uses: Informal and formal hedges, border, foundation, screen
Type: Evergreen shrub
Size: 8' tall by 7' wide, and may become wider with age
Outstanding Feature(s): Flower, bark
Stem: Red-brown, smooth, exfoliating
Color: Medium green
Flower: Winter into spring. Pale pink, pendulous, urn shape
Fruit: Summer. Small, round, turning from green to red when ripe. May linger into winter if birds have not acquired it.
cultural requirements, tolerances & problems
Sunset Zones: 7-9, 14-21
USDA Zones: 6,7
Light: Sun to partial shade
WUCOLS SF Bay Area Hydro Zone: Low
Texture: Sand, loam, clay, rocky
Moisture Retention: Intermittent dryness
pH: Highly alkaline to slightly acidic
Tolerances: Deer, variable supplemental irrigation, verticillium
Branch Strength: Strong
Disease: Armillaria, sudden oak death, insect gall
citations & attributions
Bayton, R. (2019). The Royal Horticultural Society's the Gardener's Botanical: An Encyclopedia of Latin Plant Names. London: Mitchell Beazley.
Breen, P. "Arctostaphylos densiflora 'Howard McMinn." College of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Horticulture, Oregon State University, Corvallis. Accessed on January 24, 2022, from https://landscapeplants.oregonstate.edu/plants/arctostaphylos-densiflora-howard-mcminn.
Calscape. "Howard McMinn Manzanita." California Native Plant Society, Sacramento. Accessed on January 24, 2022, from https://calscape.org/Arctostaphylos-densiflora-'Howard-Mcminn'-(Howard-Mcminn-Manzanita).
Norris Brenzel, K. (Ed.). (2012). The New Sunset Western Garden Book. New York: Time Home Entertainment, Inc.
Water Use Classification of Landscape Species. "WUCOLS IV Plant List." University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Davis. Accessed on January 24, 2022, from https://ucanr.edu/sites/WUCOLS/Download_WUCOLS_IV_List/.
All photos by TELCS.