Although the Madrone is arguably one of the most dramatically beautiful of our native trees, it is not suitable for every garden! If you have the space, patience and proper growing conditions for this tree however, you will be well-rewarded with a specimen that has something of interest all year long.
The most striking feature is reddish bark that gradually peels away to expose the smooth coppery bark beneath. Flowers are clusters of bright white urn shapes that appear in spring, followed by small, round red-orange fruit with a somewhat “warty” appearance that are a favorite of several species of birds. Evergreen leaves are long, glossy ovals of dark green. There is much to love and admire about the Arbutus, and it is truly no wonder gardeners are willing to take on the challenges of growing it!
It is no accident that Arbutus menziesii is found growing on dry, rocky slopes and bluffs - this tree is fairly adamant about having relatively poor soil and superb drainage. Typical garden irrigation usually provides more water than they want or need – a little benign neglect in a dry part of the garden once the tree is established will suit it just fine. And because it is so adaptable to life on bluffs and slopes, it is a good choice for providing stability and preventing erosion.
Madrones tend to be slow growing – slower still if receiving too much water, especially at the beginning – and unfortunately the situation can’t be gotten around by starting off with a larger plant, because larger trees have a more difficult time in transplanting and getting established. So, unfortunately you will have to start small and be patient in order to successfully grow an Arbutus.
And, what with the peeling bark, dropping leaves (broadleaf evergreens by nature still experience some leaf-drop) and fruit, there is a considerable amount of “litter” that will accumulate; it’s not a problem, but makes it more suitable for a “wilder” corner of the garden.
All this is by no means meant to discourage you from planting a Madrone. It is truly a uniquely beautiful tree with year-round interest and great bird value. There are just a few cautions about what makes a successful setting for this treasured native, which hopefully gives any willing gardener the opportunity to enjoy this tree in their landscape for years to come.
We offer a great selection of Northwest Natives from spring through fall. The plants featured are highlighted favorites, but they do not represent ALL of the plants we carry. For a more complete list, see our Northwest Native Plant List.