Green Leaves, Red Berries, Kinnikinnick!

arctostaphylos-uva-ursi-kinnickinnick-bearberry-csutilxeriscapegarden-9aug2006-lah166 Looking for year-round beauty and a plant that can handle a northern exposure, I planted six bearberries (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) in our front yard this summer. Also known as kinnikinnick, bearberry is a good choice for Colorado, where it is native to the foothills and mountains. So far, I’m delighted to report that the plants are thriving. In fact, I can see a few green leaves poking up through the two feet of snow we got this week!

For our front yard, I wanted some plants that would stay green all year. Picking a few conifers was easy, even without resorting to junipers (which are not among my favorites!). Hoping for some variety, I wanted broadleafed evergreens too, and there aren’t many to choose from.

arctostaphylos-uva-ursi-kinnickinnick_xg_20091215_lah_5609Colorado isn’t hospitable to most non-coniferous evergreens. Drying winds, frozen soil, and intense sunlight all conspire to limit our options. Most of the plants that do keep their leaves all winter tend to hug the ground, opting for sheltered spaces where humidity is higher and snow cover is more likely. Bearberry is no exception, slowly growing three to six feet across, but never more than a foot high.

The round green leaves, tiny bell-shaped flowers, and red berries all remind us manzanita, so it’s not surprising that bearberry is a close relative to those heath family plants. Birds relish the small red berries, an added bonus.

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi_Kinnikinnick_XG_LAH_1933Bearberry is drought-tolerant once established and handles full sun to light shade. You don’t have to worry about those cold winds, as bearberry is hardy to zone 2. Just don’t plant it in a hot and humid climate. Like me, it prefers cool and dry! The primary problem associated with bearberry is fungal disease, and that is encouraged by too much moisture.

I placed my plants so that they would have plenty of room to spread. Two are at the base of our Limber Pine cultivar, while the others fill in between some scattered Oregon Grape Hollies (Mahonia repens) and spill over our rock retaining walls. I’m anticipating at least some green in my winters for many years to come.

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