Understanding the Madrono Plant
Madrono Arbutus menziesii, also known as Pacific madrone, is an evergreen tree species native to the Pacific Northwest. Madrono trees can grow up to 80 feet tall with broad canopies. They have distinctive red peeling bark, white flowers, and orange berries. The madrono’s range extends from southern British Columbia through western Washington and Oregon into California.
Madrono trees prefer sunny spots with well-drained soil and are tolerant of a variety of conditions, including drought and wildfires. The madrono’s thick bark helps insulate the tree from heat and protects it from low-intensity fires. Madrono wood is extremely hard and insect-resistant. Native Americans used madrono wood to make tools, bows, and other items.
Madrono trees have ecological as well as cultural importance. They provide food, shelter, and nesting spots for birds and other wildlife. Bees and hummingbirds frequent the fragrant white flower clusters in spring, while many birds and mammals eat the bright orange berries in autumn. The madrono’s dense canopy also helps regulate temperatures in its native chaparral and woodland biomes.
Choosing the Right Location
Selecting an appropriate location is key to successfully growing madrono. Madrono trees require full sun exposure for at least 6 to 8 hours per day, so choose an open spot that is not shaded by buildings or other trees. Madrono also needs good airflow and well-drained soil that does not stay wet for extended periods. Avoid planting in low-lying areas where water collects.
Soil with a slightly acidic pH between 5 and 7 is ideal for madrono. The tree can tolerate moderately alkaline soil with a pH up to 8, but it will not thrive in very alkaline conditions. Test your soil to determine the pH and nutrients levels, then amend the soil as needed before planting. Add compost or other organic matter to help improve drainage in heavy clay soil. For sandy soil, add compost along with fertilizer to provide nutrients.
|Soil Type||Amendment Suggestions|
|Clay||Compost, peat moss, perlite|
|Sandy||Compost, fertilizer(10-10-10), peat moss|
Madrono also requires protection from strong winds which can dehydrate the leaves and damage the tree. Plant on the east or north side of buildings or plant a windbreak of shrubs on the west and south sides of the planting site.
Only plant madrono in areas with suitable climate conditions. Madrono trees are native to Mediterranean climate regions of the west coast, characterized by cool, rainy winters and hot, dry summers. Madrono cannot tolerate areas with cold winters, high humidity or heavy rainfall for extended periods. Planting outside the natural range of madrono will often result in poor growth and health.
In summary, the ideal location for madrono will be in full sun, with well-drained, slightly acidic soil and protection from strong winds. Only plant in regions with an appropriate Mediterranean climate to ensure the best success in growing this native plant.
Preparing the Soil for Madrono
Preparing the soil before planting is one of the most important steps to ensure successful growth of madrono. Madrono trees require soil with good drainage and aeration as well as nutrients to support their growth.
Test your soil to determine the pH level and nutrient content. For madrono, aim for a pH between 5 and 7. If the soil is too alkaline (pH above 8), add elemental sulfur to lower the pH. For very acidic soil (below 5 pH), add lime to raise the pH.
Madrono also prefers soil with moderate amounts of nutrients, especially nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Add a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer with equal parts nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (such as 10-10-10) at a rate of 1-2 pounds per 100 square feet of planting area. Mix the fertilizer into the top 6 to 8 inches of soil.
To improve drainage and aeration, add 2 to 3 inches of organic matter such as compost or peat moss and mix it into the top 12 inches of soil. For heavy clay soil, add 1 part compost or peat moss to 2 parts native soil. Additional drainage amendments such as peat moss or perlite may also be required for especially dense soil.
Mulch around each tree with 2 to 3 inches of compost, pine needles or wood chips once the seedlings are in the ground. Mulch helps retain moisture in the soil, moderates soil temperature, prevents weed growth and as it decomposes adds nutrients back to the soil. Pull the mulch a few inches away from the trunk of the seedling.
Fertilize madrono seedlings for two years after planting to give them a strong start. Then only occasional fertilizer needs to be applied. Aim for 1/2 pound of a balanced fertilizer once every few years for mature trees. Mulch around the base of established trees to maintain good soil conditions as the tree grows.
With the proper amendments and mulch added to the native soil, the planting site will provide the healthy, well-drained and nutritious soil required for madrono to thrive. Monitor soil conditions regularly, especially for new transplants, and make any needed adjustments to ensure the continued success of your madrono tree.
Planting and Care for Madrono Seedlings
Madrono can be propagated from seed, cuttings or layering. For most gardeners, seed is the easiest method. Collect ripe orange madrono berries in late fall and extract the seeds. Plant the seeds about 1/4 inch deep in well-draining seedling mix and keep the medium moist and place in a protected area with shade. Seeds may take 4 to 6 weeks to germinate. Once seedlings are 3 to 6 inches tall, gradually introduce them to more sun and transplant them to your planting site.
Madrono seedlings grow slowly, so patience is required. Plant seedlings in early spring after the last frost when soil is workable. Dig holes at least twice as wide as the root ball and plant seedlings at the same depth as they were growing in the pot.Place fertilizer according to the package directions around each hole before planting but do not allow fertilizer to directly contact roots.
Water thoroughly after planting and add 2 to 3 inches of mulch around each seedling. The first few years after planting, water 1 inch per week. Once established, madrono trees are quite drought tolerant but still require occasional deep watering, especially in summer.
For the first few years, check soil moisture weekly and water as needed, especially in hot or dry weather. After the plant is established, watering once every month or two during the summer dry season is typically sufficient. Never allow the soil to dry out completely.
Prune only to shape madrono or remove dead or damaged branches. Madrono trees mostly require minimal pruning. However, some pruning of young trees helps them develop good structural strength and form. Remove any crossing branches, waterspouts, and basal suckers. Madrono does not respond well to severe pruning, so only prune what is necessary.
Protect young madrono trees from damage by wind, sun, rodents and animals. Use trunk guards, mesh or wire to protect against rodent damage. Monitor for common pests like scale, spider mites and fungus and treat if needed. Remove weeds that compete for water and nutrients. Provide shade if planting in hot climates. With the proper care and protection given, your madrono seedling will mature into a beautiful evergreen landscape tree.
Pruning and Harvesting Madrono
Madrono trees require little pruning to maintain their natural form. However, some pruning is beneficial, especially when the tree is young. Pruning madrono should be done after the threat of extreme heat or cold has passed, typically in late summer or early fall.
For young madrono trees, prune to shape the tree and remove any crossing branches. Also, remove any waterspouts or suckers growing from the base of the trunk. These vigorous upright shoots divert energy from the tree’s natural branching habit. As the madrono matures, only remove dead or damaged branches. Severe pruning of mature madrono trees is not recommended and could damage the tree.
To prune madrono, use sharp, clean pruning tools. Cut branches at their point of origin at the branch collar. Do not leave stubs. Prune branches close to the trunk without cutting into the branch bark ridge where the branch meets the trunk.
With their dense, irregular branching, madrono trees often become quite congested. Thinning out some of the interior branches improves air circulation and the penetration of sunlight. Remove about one-quarter of the smaller diameter branches throughout the canopy. Focus on thinning areas that appear especially dense. Thinning also helps prevent breakage of branches from the weight of foliage and facilitates better development of the crown.
Berry production depends on the variety and age of the madrono tree. Once trees are mature, the bright orange berries typically ripen in fall. The berries have a mildly bitter taste due to tannins but were used as a food source by some native tribes. Collect berries once they have fully ripened by spreading tarps below the tree and shaking branches to dislodge the fruit. Berries can be dried or made into preserves. Propagate trees from seed by extracting the pits from fresh berries and planting in seedling mix.
With the proper pruning and branch thinning, your madrono tree will develop good form and structure to support its dense canopy. Harvesting the berries allows you to enjoy this seasonal aspect of the madrono or propagate additional trees to share the beauty of this native evergreen.
Dealing with Common Madrono Pests and Diseases
Although relatively pest and disease resistant, madrono trees can be affected by certain insects, mites and fungal problems, especially when stressed. Monitor madrono trees regularly for signs of damage or disease and treat as needed to protect the health of the tree.
Common pests of madrono include:
• Scales – Small, cottony or hard bumps on leaves, twigs and bark. Scales suck sap from the tree and secrete honeydew which causes sooty mold. Control with horticultural oil or insecticidal soap spray.
• Spider mites – Tiny spider-like pests that spin webbing on leaves. They feed on cell sap, causing stippling and bronzing of leaves. Treat with insecticidal soap or predatory mites. Increase humidity around tree.
• Botryosphaeria dieback – A fungal disease that causes dieback of branches. Prune dead and diseased branches and treat with fungicide. Improve air circulation and reduce water stress.
• Root rots – Caused by fungal pathogens that infect roots, restricting water uptake. Leads to decline and dieback of the tree. Improve drainage, treat with fungicide drench and mulch around the base of the tree.
• Canker diseases – Fungal or bacterial diseases that infect the bark and cambium layer. They appear as lesions, oozing and dieback of bark. Prune infected areas, treat with appropriate fungicide or bactericide and improve tree health and vigor.
For pest and disease issues, the most effective method of control for madrono is prevention through optimal care and sanitation. Provide appropriate site conditions, nutrition, irrigation and mulching. Prune madrono to improve air flow through the canopy and rake up leaf litter under trees where pests overwinter.
Early detection of any problems is critical to effective management. Inspect trees frequently during growing season for signs of stress or damage. The appropriate pesticides or fungicides may need to be applied, depending on the problem. However, for the home gardener, manual pest control methods such as hosing off mites or scales with insecticidal soap are typically sufficient and environmentally friendly solutions. Promoting the tree’s health and natural defenses will also help prevent and decrease issues with pests or disease.
Keeping your madrono trees vibrant and healthy through good care and cultivation practices is the best way to avoid problems with insects, mites or diseases. Prevent and control any issues promptly to avoid significant damage to your trees. With monitoring and quick action, common pests and diseases should not pose a serious threat to the beauty and longevity of madrono in the landscape.