By Sarah Zmay, Master Gardener.
If you are thinking about landscaping your front or back yard, try not to overlook this showstopper! There are many things to love about the Fremontodendron also called California flannelbush.
Having lived in San Diego for four years, I am surprised to not see more Fremontodendron in front yards. Considering that we live in a desert, what’s not to like about this plant that thrives in poor soils, requires little water once established, and can beautify your landscape quickly because it is fast growing.
The California flannelbush can grow up to 20 feet tall and 20 feet wide in five years under the proper growing conditions. However, it is important to take note of which cultivar you are purchasing because some are smaller in size than others. For example, the “Ken Taylor” cultivar grows five feet tall, and 8-10 feet wide. This variety is a hybrid of Fremontodendron californicum and F. mexicanum.
The proper growing conditions of this evergreen shrub are full sun to partial shade and a well-draining, low nutrient, and sandy soil. Once this plant is established, there is no need to water. Overwatering after establishment may cause root rot in this plant, so be sure to landscape with other low water, drought tolerant plants.
Flannelbush likes to show off what it's got and isn’t afraid to exhibit its beauty for a long period of time. So you can enjoy the bright yellow blooms with the backdrop of dark green foliage from mid-spring up to early fall.
Consider wearing a flannel while pruning a flannelbush! The flannelbush earned this name from its leathery and fuzzy leaves and those fuzzy leaves may cause skin and eye irritation. However, this plant is low maintenance and might not need any pruning depending on your goals for the plant. If you want it to be more shrubby, leave it be, if you want it to be more tree like, prune the offshoots. This plant also makes a great espalier shrub too. The only recommendation is that there is no hard pruning involved because this puts the shrub at risk of dying. The possibilities are endless!
If you want your yard to be a host for beneficial insects, the flannelbush is a great choice to attract bees and other pollinators such as the white streaked Saturnia moth. When it comes to pests, the flannelbush has few foes. It is deer resistant (yes please!) and not many other pests attack it.
Like all great things, they must come to an end. The only downfall of this shrub is that it only lives to about 6-8 years before dying off. However, this shrub is versatile, beautiful, attracts wildlife, is low maintenance, can grow anywhere, needs little water, has a long blooming season, and is fast growing. I would say that the benefits outweigh the downfall of this shrub and would be a great addition to any California native or drought tolerant garden.