How to Grow Ceanothus (California Lilac)

Updated on May 13, 2019
IzzyM profile image

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

Ceanothus americanus
Ceanothus americanus | Source

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

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 those 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 Versaille

There are several different types of California lilac, and the hardiest of all is 'Gloire de Versaille'. 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 Versaille is deciduous and bears many clusters of powder blue flowers in late summer.

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

Strains, Cultivars, and Propagation of Ceanothus

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. then dry them off and refrigerate for 2 to 3 months to imitate winter, then plant in compost filled pots and place in a warm area.
  • Seeds can take 3 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 in late spring if the parent plant is deciduous, or in late summer if it is evergreen.

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 whether your ceanothus is a deciduous type or not, and when it flowers.

Generally speaking, the evergreens do not need nor want pruning, but you can tidy the bush up by cutting back the flowering stems after they have finished flowering, by up to half their length. 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 8 feet high and 8 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, and 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 3 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


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    • profile image

      Candice Henderson 

      13 months ago

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

    • profile image


      22 months ago

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

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      You will fall in love with ceanothus!

    • Patsybell profile image

      Patsy Bell Hobson 

      8 years ago from zone 6a, SEMO

      New plant to me. I will look for it.

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from UK

      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 profile image


      9 years ago from Ireland

      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 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from UK

      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.

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 

      9 years ago from Western New York

      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 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from UK

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

    • profile image


      9 years ago

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


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