the zen of planting manzanitas

Not really the zen of anything, but possibly a catchy title. Zen is short for zenna, which comes from the Chinese ch’an-na (and ultimately from the Sanskrit dhyana…in Pali, jhana) and means, roughly, “a meditative state of absorption in the non-duality of all things”. Nothing to do with planting manzanitas, of course. But it sounds cool.

There are some tricks to planting them. By “them” I mean the true manzanitas, not hybrids with kinnikinnick, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, which are much easier to grow and will accept a great deal more irrigation.

The first trick is not to want them so badly that when they die you’ll mope for weeks on end.

The second trick is planting them now instead of in spring when it’s followed by a summer with 100 degrees every single day and no rain at all. New manzanitas don’t like this. They spend the whole summer screaming instead of growing new roots into the surrounding soil.

Once the manzanitas have become established, they will easily survive here on the average ten inches precipitation (half of that falls as snow) in the rain shadow of Mount Evans (30 miles due west of here), and even on much less than that, because manzanitas are strongly mycorrhizal plants that rely on this root-fungus symbiosis to survive extended periods of drought. But they need to become established first.

They prefer awful soil, and I can provide that without lifting a finger. (Except to dig.)



Checking for proper depth. Removing the plastic and rubber band before actual planting is a good idea.


Ready to go. No fertilizer, no organic matter added.



I kneeled on a cactus, so I’ll pause for a moment while I pull out a whole bunch of cactus spines in my pants.

Rabbits like to bite manzanitas into little pieces and walk away. Maybe they think it’s funny. It isn’t.

Back to work, rabbit-proof cage installed.

The next plant went into a hole where two manzanitas had died in the past few years. Like selling someone a haunted house without telling them of its gruesome history.

That’s how I do it. I’ll cover the cages with burlap as added protection for the first winter, and make sure the plants get water up until the first heavy snow, if there is one. The soil doesn’t freeze very deeply here, if at all, so I need to make sure the plants are sufficiently hydrated before the onset of cold weather.

On to the third hole, and more perfect soil.

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4 Responses to the zen of planting manzanitas

  1. Loree says:

    “Like selling someone a haunted house without telling them of its gruesome history”…oh that is such a perfect description, I’ve been guilty of that many times.

  2. Ian says:

    Maybe I’m way too tired but this whole post just has me cracking up!!! 🙂

    I find that manzanitas can be planted in the spring or fall here, but don’t touch, look at, or even think about them in the summer, or they will become angry.

    • paridevita says:

      Yep. Root rot, especially if the plants are grown in a peat-based mix, is a serious issue. I lost a dozen or so in a trial a couple of years ago. They never made it to September.
      Though A. mariposa made it through a whole summer and winter, with watering. The next spring I thought it was doing fine, stupidly removed the cage, and it was bitten to the ground by bunnies. “Bitten by bunnies” is an embarrassing way to go.


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