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Originally published March 27, 2014 at 6:16 AM | Page modified March 28, 2014 at 12:33 PM

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A beautiful tree birds love, and words of wisdom about digging

Garden writer Ciscoe Morris on the manzanita tree Arctostaphylos x ‘Austin Griffiths’ and on an important number to call before starting a digging project to check for underground utilities.

Special to The Seattle Times

Gardening Events

Ciscoe’s Picks

Garden Lovers’ Book Sale and Preview Party: Public sale 9 a.m. -3 p.m. Saturday, April 5; preview party 5-8 p.m. Friday, April 4 ($20 with wine and light refreshments). Proceeds benefit the Elisabeth C. Miller Library. Center for Urban Horticulture, 3501 N.E. 41st St., Seattle (

Seattle Audubon Annual Spring Plant Sale: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, April 5. Seattle Audubon Nature Shop, 8050 35th Ave. N.E., Seattle (

Daffodil Parade: With grand marshal Ciscoe Morris and floats decorated with thousands of fresh-cut daffodils traveling through four cities Saturday, April 5: 10:15 a.m. Tacoma, 12:45 p.m. Puyallup, 2:30 p.m. Sumner and 5 p.m. Orting (

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In the Garden

If you’re looking for a truly spectacular small tree for a sunny location with good drainage, Arctostaphylos x ‘Austin Griffiths’ is an excellent choice.

This upright growing manzanita can reach 10 feet tall by 8 feet wide, but it can be easily kept much smaller by pruning to a lower branch right after the flowers fade in spring. The bark on this stunning beauty exfoliates to reveal dark mahogany red. The evergreen leaves that cover the twisted branches are a slightly fuzzy sage-green.

Good looks aren’t its only charm. This tree is also a wildlife haven. Starting in February, large clusters of long-lasting, exceptionally nectar-rich, pink flowers appear that send hummingbirds into frenzies of epicurean delight. In late summer, a wide variety of birds feast on the burnt-orange berries.

Although ‘Austin Griffiths’ is one of the most disease-resistant of the manzanitas, this is not a tree for the mixed border. Planted in rich, moisture holding soil, it will soon succumb to root rot.

Instead plant this in your dry border along with Ceanothus, lavender, rosemary and other drought tolerant plants, and once established, keep watering to a minimum. The key for a long life with this rare, strikingly beautiful tree is benign neglect.

It is possible that you may encounter this wonderful little tree at your local nursery or plant sale, but it is definitely available online:, among others.

Call 8-1-1 before you dig

When I was director for grounds care at Seattle University many years ago, I’ll never forget the surprised look on the faces of students and faculty members when they became aware that a 2-foot-high tsunami was rushing down the main boulevard of the campus, right at them.

Papers flew, people ran screaming, and quite a few of them ended up drenched. The unexpected tidal wave was the direct result of a backhoe slicing through an 8-inch water main. The person in charge of the digging project had worked on the campus for more than 20 years and was absolutely sure he knew the location of all of the underground utilities in that area.

A lot of wet shoes and pant legs proved he was wrong. The truth is that you never can know where underground utilities are located without a utility check.

Do yourself a favor. Anytime you plan to dig 12 inches deep, call 8-1-1 at least two business days in advance. The folks at Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission will come out and mark the location of all of the underground utility lines in the area where you plan to dig.

Red is for electric, yellow for gas, orange is for cable TV/telephone and blue is for water. Calling before you dig 12 inches deep is a legal requirement and the service is free. Making the call could save you from doing serious harm, expensive repair bills and possible fines.

The person responsible for the tsunami got off easy. He had to make a lot of embarrassed apologies to sopped students and professors, but he thanked his lucky stars that the president of the university wasn’t walking down that boulevard when the tidal wave barreled forth!

Ciscoe Morris: “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING 5.

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