Dwarf Strawberry TreeArbutus unedo ‘Compacta’
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Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’
Outdoor Growing zone
Full Sun, Partial Sun
The Dwarf Strawberry Tree is a large, shrubby, evergreen bush growing about 12 feet tall and 8 feet wide, with several low trunks covered with reddish-brown flaking bark. The leathery leaves are a rich dark green, forming a dense, rounded crown. This plant flowers in fall and early winter, with clusters of while hanging bells. The fruit takes a year to develop, so the large strawberry-like red fruits ripen alongside the opening flowers in a unique display. Loving sun, drought and dry soil, this bush is perfect in xeric gardens, and beside the ocean. It thrives in areas with hot, dry summers and mild winters.
Full sun gives the best results with the Dwarf Strawberry Tree, and it grows easily in all well-drained soils, enjoying poor soil and rocky places. It is usually free of pests and diseases and untroubled by deer. The fruit are popular with birds and small mammals, and are edible, although best cooked into jams or fermented into wines. Pruning is not needed, or desirable, although you can remove some lower branches while they are young, to highlight the attractive stems.
When choosing plants for your garden, let nature be your guide. If you want plants that enjoy areas with dry summers and milder winters, perhaps along the coast, then looking to the Mediterranean, where the climate is similar, is a great place to start. There you will find growing the strawberry tree, a remarkable evergreen that flowers in spring when the fruit is also ripening. This attractive tree grows a little large for many gardens, but the Dwarf Strawberry Tree is just the right size to fit into most gardens. Growing to about 10 feet tall, it is a handsome multi-stemmed tree-like shrub with attractive green leaves year-round. It is very drought resistant and grows well in poor, rocky soils. It thrives by the ocean, tolerating salt-spray, so it’s a great choice for your beach cottage. Always attractive and intriguing, this is a tree that belongs in every garden it will grow in. Start that with yours, and discover for yourself just how great this tree is.
The Dwarf Strawberry Tree is a large multi-stemmed shrub that develops a tree-like habit. It grows at a moderate to fast pace, soon reaching 5 feet tall, and maturing at around 10 feet, or even up to 15 feet in time. It has a typical width of about 8 feet, but this can be modified by pruning and wind conditions. The bark is a very attractive feature. It is warm reddish-brown, and peels off in flakes or long strips. It is especially attractive if you allow this tree to develop several short stems, which often have a gnarled, slightly twisted look to them. The leaves are 2 to 4 inches long, broad ovals with a leathery texture, slightly glossy, dark-green surface, and some small serrations along the edges. The crown is dense and rounded, giving this bush a very attractive profile.
The flowers are in drooping clusters of about 10 blooms, each one a small, white, hanging bell, sometimes tinged with pink. Flowers open in fall and through mild spells in winter, and it takes a full year for the fruits to develop. These are large and round, hanging from the branches on a long stalk. With a red skin and bumpy surface, they resemble strawberries, and are up to 1-inch across. They are yellowish-green as they develop, turning bright crimson first and then deep scarlet when fully ripe. They are edible, and popular with birds and small animals. They have a sweet taste, but are not particularly appealing, hence the ‘unedo’ in the botanical name, from the saying that you only need to eat one. They are rich in Vitamin C, and can be made into jams and added to pies, and even made into wines and spirits. Cut branches with fruit and flowers make attractive table-displays for the holiday season.
This versatile shrub is perfect for xeric or ‘water-wise’ gardens, as it is very drought resistant once well established. It can be used in beds as a background plant, or planted on a lawn or in a gravel area, where the attractive trunks can be appreciated. Plant a pair to frame a gateway, or grow in a row along a path or driveway. For screening space plants between 6 and 10 feet apart, depending on the density and look you want. This is a great choice for seaside gardens, either as a windbreak, or a specimen bush. It has a look that fits well into modern and contemporary garden styles, as well as more natural landscapes. It can also be grown in a large tub or planter, and kept in a cool porch through the winter in colder zones.
Hardy from zone 7, the Dwarf Strawberry Tree grows best in areas with mild winters and dry summers, but it will grow happily in most areas that aren’t too cold in winter.
Full sun is best for the Dwarf Strawberry Tree, which is very sun and heat tolerant. It grows well in any well-drained soil, and enjoys rocky soils where it can send its root down into crevices. In fact, when grown in very rich, loose soils, it can be blown over by strong winds, so in exposed sites put some boulders in the root-zone while planting. Once established it is very drought resistant, and rarely if ever needs any additional watering.
Pests and diseases, as well as deer, normally don’t bother the Dwarf Strawberry Tree. It is best not to prune very often, or even at all, as this interferes with the complex flowering and fruiting cycle, and creates rather wild, less-attractive growth. Young plants could have some longer stems trimmed in spring to encourage dense growth.
The strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo, is found wild all around the Mediterranean, from Turkey to Spain and through North Africa. It is characteristic of open, rocky areas and cliffs, in plant associations like the Corsican maquis, growing with other Mediterranean plants like olives, pines and lavender. Wild trees can grow to 30 feet or more. It is never found in forests. The variety called ‘Compacta’, seems to have first been found early in the 20th century, as it isn’t mentioned in any older books or catalogues. Some experts believe it is identical to, and often confused with, the variety ‘Elfin King’, which was found in California in 1958. These two varieties are interchangeable.
This unique and handsome tree is a wonderful addition to any garden where it can be grown, so if your winters are mild it’s a great choice. You will love the look, and the flowers and fruit together, and how easy this plant is to grow. Order now – we don’t often have stock available, and it sells out fast.