2 In Grow

Add Winter Interest to Your Garden with Toyon

The winter garden is often subtle shades of green and browns. And frankly, quite boring. Add a lot of rain and mud and moldy plants, and it can look awful. Some gardens get snow to cover that shit up and make the garden look clean and pastoral, but in temperature California, winter rains and repeated frost often just make the garden look soggy and sad. If your garden and landscape is looking a bit lack-luster, consider adding some red berries to brighten it up. My favorite is Toyon, or Heteromeles arbutifolia. 

The bright red berries of Toyon stand out in winter. If you're looking for a plant for winter interest or to support wildlife, consider Toyon! Easy to grow, this CA native is great in the home landscape.

You’ve likely seen Toyon before, as it grows throughout most of California. Heteromeles has green leaves that range in shade and shape, and in early summer have showy branches of small white flowers. In winter, Toyon shrubs are easy to spot, as they are loaded with loose groups of bright red berries. Even after heavy rains and repeated frosts, Toyon stands well and holds it’s berries and leaves, looking just as happy and bright.

Toyon leaves are a glossy green and hold up well to cold and rain. If you're looking for a plant for winter interest or to support wildlife, consider Toyon! Easy to grow, this CA native is great in the home landscape.

The berries contain high levels of cyanide compounds, but once these berries ferment, they become edible and are an important food source for resident and winter migrating birds. It’s quite fun to watch a flock of robins or finches appear to get drunk off the fermented berries.

Heteromeles doesn’t need to be relinquished only to the wild, as it’s a widely adapted shrub that is easy to grow in a garden setting. They are often used as large shrubs, but their habit can be varied. In the garden, they usually reach between 6-10 feet, but you’ll see them larger in the wild. They often are spindly the first few years and appear week, but once established, they are a foundation in the garden. They adapt to a range of soils, can take full sun to part shade, and are drought tolerant or accept the occasional water.

In the wild, Toyon can be small trees or bushy shrubs. You can prune them or leave as is. If you're looking for a plant for winter interest or to support wildlife, consider Toyon! Easy to grow, this CA native is great in the home landscape.

There are many different plants that offer bright red berries and winter interest to the yard, like Pyracantha, Nandina and Cotoneaster. I love Toyon because it’s a California native plant. In my area, Cotoneaster and Pyracantha, are invasives, easily reseeding and are found throughout wild spaces, crowding out natives. Avoid planting these to avoid continuing the spread.

Instead, plant your garden with Heteromeles! In the home landscape, Toyon can be pruned up to create a small tree or used as a focal point or, left to its natural shrubby form to create a hedgerow or wildlife border. Besides just being an attractive plant for any garden, it’s a fabulous shrub to have in a wildlife garden. It’s summer flowers provide nectar, and the winter berries provide food. Plant with elderberry, ceanothus, native rose, coffeeberry, currants and wildflowers for a beautiful and productive bird habitat.

Toyon berries are a favorite of birds. If you're looking for a plant for winter interest or to support wildlife, consider Toyon! Easy to grow, this CA native is great in the home landscape.

Northern Flicker on Toyon.
Photo source.

 

Hollywood, in Southern California, was named after the abundance of shrubs growing in the city’s foothills. Those weren’t European holly, but actually Toyon. Toyon is an Ohlone word, the Native Americans that lived in the Santa Cruz and Bay Area. They, and other tribes, used Toyon for food and medicine. It is the only California native plant today that is commonly known by it’s Native American name.

I don’t have any Toyon in my Santa Rosa garden, only Cotoneaster and Pyracantha that has been spread by the birds. I had hoped to replace them with Toyon. In my new garden, I’m hoping to create a wildlife garden out my back door, not only to be a good steward to the land, but to give me an immediate escape from the city where I can connect with nature. Toyon will be the backbone shrub in my efforts to create a bird haven in my urban garden, providing both green year round and interest in the winter. I hope you’ll consider doing the same!


If you're looking for a plant for winter interest or to support wildlife, consider Toyon! Easy to grow, this CA native is great in the home landscape. Read more about how to grow and what to plant it with!

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Erin Mullen
    January 28, 2017 at 9:22 pm

    I remove cotoneaster from nature preserves often, luckily we don’t have any pyracantha, yet. I will continue to remove the later and will plant toyon in the garden. Toyon is one of my favorite natives. Thanks for passing on this on!

    • Reply
      Melissa
      February 1, 2017 at 4:31 pm

      Thanks Erin! I’m sure you will do great things on the property!

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