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Festive toyon brings Christmas cheer to your garden — or your holiday table

Toyon, also known as Christmas berry, is a hardy evergreen shrub that’s native to the Central Coast.
Toyon, also known as Christmas berry, is a hardy evergreen shrub that’s native to the Central Coast. UCCE Master Gardener


Heteromeles arbutifoila

Planting areas: USDA Zones 7a to 11

Size: 6 to 8 feet high, 4 to 5 feet wide

Bloom season: White flowers in summer, red berries in winter.

Exposure: Full sun to full shade.

Pruning needs: Tolerates only light pruning or shaping.

Water needs: Drought tolerant and fire resistant.

If you live anywhere on the Central Coast, you can find the evergreen toyon tree.

This under-utilized native species, also known as Christmas berry, is adaptable to most soil conditions, from sandy to adobe soil. It is a native of our coastal areas and can be found growing half of a mile from beaches and under the shade of oak woodlands in the northern part of San Luis Obispo County.

Toyon is an easy-to-grow shrub with attractive branches that is hardy to 0 degrees Fahrenheit. If protected in a wooded environment, it’s hardy down to 5 degrees below zero.

This plant only needs water the first three years, then prefers no additional irrigation.

If water is supplied, it needs good soil drainage. Leaf fungal issues can arise if planted near the coast and airflow is not sufficient to allow foliage to dry after morning mist or fog.

Toyon is a good choice for a windscreen or as a privacy hedge. Plant alone or with coffee berry or manzanita.

Its abundant clusters of small, white five-petal flowers will attract pollinators such as butterflies in the summer, and many birds such as cedar waxwings, quail, towhees, western bluebird, robins, mockingbirds and band-tailed pigeons. Because of this, it qualifies as a habitat plant for the garden. Toyon has also proven to be deer resistant, if not watered, and fire resistant.

Toyon berries are poisonous to humans, containing a cyanide compound that can only be eliminated if the berries are cooked.

Use the foliage and red berries in festive arrangements, wreaths or table decorations for the holidays. Consider the versatile toyon for your drought-tolerant landscape.

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