NATIVE KINNIKINNICK IS AN IDEAL GARDEN GROUND COVER
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, better know to home gardener's as 'Kinnikinnick' or 'Bear-berry' is one of the most popular native plants to use in the home garden as a ground cover. The attractive evergreen leaves, spring flowers in shades of white to pink, and red berries in the fall and winter combine to make this a colorful year-round ground cover plant.
The common name of 'bear berry' can be quite confusing, because Cotoneaster dammeri is also known by this common name. Of course, it gets this common name from the fact that bears like to eat the fall and winter berries. This was also a popular plant with early traders as they often chose plantings of kinnikinnick as a place to bed-down for the night because the dense foliage provided a soft mat. The Indians were also known to have made a cleansing lotion from its leaves.
In the wilds kinnikinnick is found growing in the foothills and lowlands, from about mid-California to Alaska. It is most often found growing on a hot, sunny slope or level area where the soil is
well-drained. In native stands, this plant is completely dependent upon natural rainfall, nutrients and sunshine. Which lets us the home gardener know that it is a durable, easy to grow plant when given similar exposure in our garden.
Ideal for a hillside or sloping area , this plant is also useful in rockery plantings and as a ground cover in tree and shrub beds. In recent years, kinnikinnick has also become very popular to use along the edge of containers. The evergreen growth hangs over the side of the container, providing a nice point of interest because of the green to bronze foliage and bright fall and winter berries.
Kinnikinnick has a low growing, prostrate growth habit that hugs the ground. It has a rather natural bushy habit, that requires very little grooming. However, should a plant develop a spindly or sparse growth habit the new growth can be pinched back to encourage the plant to grow bushier. Although this pruning can be done at anytime, it is best to prune or pinch during the spring and summer growing seasons.
Mother nature shows us that the best place to plant kinnikinnick is in full sun in soil that is well-drained. Although from experience we find the plants even do well in part sun and shade, when planted in the home garden. In fact, they will even grow in full shade, but tend to be more spindly and do not flower well and as a result have fewer berries.
I find that the plants do very well in a sandy-loam type, well-drained soil. At planting time I simple mix in a little organic humus, like peat moss or compost, mixing with the existing soil. There is no need to apply fertilizer at planting time, unless the plants show signs of needing it, then use it sparingly.
Although the plants will spread with age, it is generally recommended that they be spaced about 24 to 30 inches apart if they are to be used in ground cover plantings.
The plants you purchase from the nursery are grown in containers and usually transplant into the landscape with little or no setback. Set the plants right at ground level and water thoroughly.
When first planted, there will be open soil between the plants. To control weeds and nusiance grasses from encroaching these open soil areas, one can mulch with bark or sawdust, until the plants have a chance to fill-in. About one inch of either of these mulching material should be enough to do the job.
This is one plant that will seldom requires feeding. Off color leaves or poor growth would indicate a possible need for feeding. If those symptoms appear, feed with a 'Rhododendron type' fertilizer. The best time for feeding is in late winter or late spring.
In western Oregon and Washington, many species of Archtostaphylos have hybridized on their own and, as a result, many different forms are to be found. Leaf size, growth habit and heights vary considerably. A couple of the best ones, sometimes featured at nurseries and garden centers are Point Reyes and Radiant.