Ceanothus, commonly known as California Lilac, offers almost everything a gardener could wish for in a shrub: free-flowering, lovely foliage, ease of cultivation, drought and salt tolerance. Fast growing, these desirable shrubs draw attention with their stunning flowers. When a California Lilac bursts into bloom, it is a breathtaking sight to behold. Evergreen or deciduous, mounding or prostrate, they are easy to grow, tolerate drought, heat, seacoast conditions, and grow well in most soils as long as they are well-drained.
- Belonging to the Rhamnaceae family, Ceanothus is a large genus including over 60 species of diverse and beautiful shrubs or small trees. Native from North America, mostly from California, Ceanothus reward us with masses of fluffy flower panicles in the rarest color in nature, blue. Ranging from azure, cobalt, indigo to ultramarine, a wide variety of tints and shades are available. A few cultivars are available in white or pink.
- Sweetly fragrant, the flowers are produced from mid-spring to the onset of winter, depending on the varieties. While most Ceanothus bloom in spring, some produce their charming flowers in summer, others in the fall. If you select the right Ceanothus varieties, you could enjoy the beauty of their dazzling blooms across most seasons!
- The pretty flowers contrast vividly with the foliage that tends to be dark glossy green on most varieties. The ovate leaves can be small to medium in size, mostly with serrated edges. Many of the very drought-tolerant species have spiny, holly-like leaves.
- California lilacs are extremely versatile and can be planted as specimens, screens, hedges, patio trees, groundcovers on dry banks and slopes, or in mixed borders with perennials, grasses and other flowering shrubs. They can be nicely espaliered on walls too.
- California lilacs attract birds, butterflies, hummingbirds, bees and other beneficial insects. Deer can be a challenge as they can browse heavily on plants. The large-leaved species and cultivars are more subject to their depredations than the smaller-leaved varieties. While some varieties are less subject to attract deer, no Ceanothus is fully deer resistant in the face of hungry deer, aside from the prostrate, small-leafed Ceanothus thyrsiflorus 'repens'.
- California lilacs grow well in full sun, but appreciate some afternoon shade in hotter areas. They need well-drained soils, require little or no fertilization and need little water in summer (one or two deep waterings a month) once established. While occasional summer watering may improve the look of most established ceanothuses, the soil should be allowed to dry between waterings.
- California lilacs may be pruned lightly after flowering, but never cut back into old wood, as they rarely regrow.
- The ideal time to plant Ceanothus is late fall through early winter. This allows winter rains to foster adequate deep root growth needed to sustain it in the summer.
- Ceanothus is often reported to be short lived, but this is usually based on poor site selection. Poorly drained soils combined with frequent summer irrigation will kill the plant in a few years. While some species and cultivars can be naturally short-lived, others, such as ceanothus arboreus or ceanothus thyrsiflorus var. griseus can live 25 years or more in the garden.