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How to Grow Ceanothus (California Lilac)

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Izzy has been an online writer for over nine years. Her articles often focus on planting and gardening exotic plant species.

What Is Ceanothus?

Ceanothus (California lilac) is a beautiful shrub that will reward you with the most glorious lilac, blue, pink, or white racemes of flowers in the spring and summer—the color depends on the variety. Ideal for a sunny, sheltered position, ceanothus are shrubs that can grow to 10 feet tall if planted in an optimal spot.

California lilac shrubs do well when planted against a south-facing wall where they receive a degree of protection against the prevailing winds. Some varieties of ceanothus are deciduous, and these types are easier to grow in more exposed locations.

It is native to North America, specifically California, hence the name.

Ceanothus Gloire de Versailles.

Ceanothus Gloire de Versailles.

Ceanothus Gloire de Versailles

There are several different types of California lilac, and the hardiest of all is 'Gloire de Versailles'. This one is the least likely to be cut down and killed by frost, and it is arguably the easiest of all to grow. Gloire de Versailles is deciduous and bears many clusters of powder blue flowers in late summer.

In late spring, around April, it is advisable to cut all the old flowering stalks from the previous year right back to the base. The plant will regrow even stronger and reward you with yet more beautiful flowers the same summer.

Ceanothus Propagation, Strains, and Cultivars

There are many different cultivars of ceanothus, some are hardy, some are not. Some are deciduous, some are not. If you are planning on growing one in your garden, ask at your local garden center what cultivars are available for your area.

Ceanothus is often grown from seed, and the seedlings do not grow true to their parents. In this way, it is possible to raise new cultivars or to grow a new plant that you can name.

  • To grow from seed, you need to imitate a forest fire, and the easiest way to do that is to pour hot water over your seeds.
  • Do this late winter, and let the seeds soak in the water for 24 hours. When done soaking, dry them off and refrigerate for two to three months to imitate winter. Lastly, plant the seeds in compost-filled pots and place them in a warm area.
  • Seeds can take three months to germinate.

Once you have grown a plant that you like, it is best to propagate it by taking softwood cuttings from young branches. If the parent plant is deciduous, perform this step in late spring; if the parent plant is evergreen, then do this step in late summer.

General Care

California lilacs benefit from mulching or adding fertilizer around their root area in spring, just as the new growth is starting. Take care not to allow mulch to touch the stem.

Pruning is entirely dependent on when your ceanothus flowers and whether it is deciduous or not. Generally speaking, the evergreens do not need nor want pruning. However, you can tidy the bush up by cutting back the flowering stems (up to half their length) after they have finished flowering. Take care not to cut back any new growth as those will be forming the next show of flowers.

Deciduous ceanothus, on the other hand, prefer a heavy pruning, but not in their first year or two when they are still settling in.

Ceanothus 'Victoria' (California Lilac).

Ceanothus 'Victoria' (California Lilac).

Ceanothus 'Victoria'

  • Ceanothus 'Victoria' was first discovered growing in Victoria, BC. It is a beautiful shrub that can reach eight feet high and eight feet wide, and is covered with repeat dark blue blooms of flower all summer long after its initial late spring flush.
  • It is evergreen, hardy and grows happily in USDA zones 7–10.
  • Sun loving, it can also tolerate partial shade.
  • Once established, it does not require additional irrigation.
  • Best of all, it attracts butterflies and bees into your garden.

Marie Simon New Jersey Tea Shrub

  • Shipped in a 4" pot, this beautiful pink ceanothus is hardy in USDA zones 4–9.
  • It blooms in late spring with wonderful soft fluffy pink racemes.
  • Prefers sun or part shade.
  • Semi-deciduous and appreciates hard pruning.
  • Has gorgeous red stems, and grows to three feet tall. Looks great in a mixed flower border.
Marie Simon New Jersey Tea Shrub - Ceanothus.

Marie Simon New Jersey Tea Shrub - Ceanothus.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 IzzyM


Candice Henderson on April 29, 2019:

Do they grow in Nebr? Are they invasive or more like a lilac bush?

Irene on August 06, 2018:

We transplant one of our California plants in our yard but all theleaves dried out do you think it will survive?

IzzyM (author) from UK on July 09, 2011:

You will fall in love with ceanothus!

Patsy Bell Hobson from zone 6a, Southeast Missouri, USA on July 08, 2011:

New plant to me. I will look for it.

IzzyM (author) from UK on February 17, 2011:

Some varieties will, and certainly the ones featured here will. Try and make sure you plant them on a south facing wall where they will get the most sunlight and the most protection from cold winds.

chspublish from Ireland on February 17, 2011:

So would the ceanothus grow in Ireland? I'm sure I've seen it around, but have never grown it. Seems a really good plant to grow.

IzzyM (author) from UK on February 16, 2011:

Hey some will! The Victoria cultivar above says zone 7, but some people have managed to grow it in colder areas, and Marie Simon ceanothus grows as low as zone 4.

Leah Lefler from Western New York on February 16, 2011:

I loved the California lilac when we lived in So. Cal. I actually thought they were the "real" lilacs, until we moved to Western NY and were surrounded by the standard variety lilac. I love both! Too bad the ceanothus won't grow in WNY - we're zone 5. :-(

IzzyM (author) from UK on February 16, 2011:

You never know, Nan, but it's along way away! I'll just grow some of your wonderful plants here :)

Nan on February 16, 2011:

Beautiful flowers, you may want to come to California someday.