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Ceanothus

Wild Lilac
Rhamnaceae
Evergreen, Ground covers, Shrubs

Some species grow in the eastern U.S., Rocky Mountains, the Northwest, and Mexico, but most are native to California. In flower color, they range from white through all shades of blue, from pale powder blue to deep violet-blue. Typically flower in spring. Plants vary greatly in habit: some are low and spreading, others compact and bushy, still others upright and angular. Generally evergreen; a couple listed here lose leaves in cold weather. Only types with small leaves tend to be deer-resistant.

New varieties (most of them propagated from selected wild plants) appear frequently in nurseries, while old ones disappear. For the widest choice, deal with a specialist in Western natives. In Zones 1–3, 8, 9, stay with varieties tested and sold locally.

In the wild, these plants grow on rocky slopes; in the garden, they require excellent drainage. Plant in light, well-drained soil. Some demand total dryness during summer, but others (particularly coastal groundcover types) need occasional summer water if grown away from the fog belt. A few tolerate more frequent summer moisture.

Wait until after blooms have faded to do any pruning, and avoid cutting off any branches more than an inch in diameter. Control plant growth by pinching back shoot tips during the growing season. Ceanothus sometimes get aphids and whiteflies, but these are easy to control.

Ceanothus griseus horizontalis
Ceanothus griseus horizontalis

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Ceanothus griseus horizontalis

Spreading, slowly mounding growth to 1 1/2–2 1/2 ft. tall and 5–15 ft. wide. Glossy, oval, 2-in., bright green leaves. Light blue 1-in. flower clusters. Sometimes suffers winter damage in Zones 5–7, 14. This is a favorite of browsing deer.

Ceanothus thyrsiflorus

Glossy green leaves to 2 in. Light to dark blue, 3-in. spikelike clusters. One of the largest (to 20 ft. tall, 30 ft. wide) and hardiest ceanothus. Does well with only occasional deep irrigation in summer.

Ceanothus velutinus

From western North America. Grows to 3–8 ft. tall and wide. Glossy, aromatic leaves to 3 in. long. White flowers come late in the season. Useful in native plantings in cold climates.

Ceanothus ‘Julia Phelps’ (photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.)
Ceanothus ‘Julia Phelps’ (photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.)

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Ceanothus ‘Julia Phelps’

Grows to 5–7 ft. tall, 7–9 ft. wide, with small (1–2-in.), dark green leaves. Dark indigo 1-in. clusters. Among the best colors and best bloomers.

Ceanothus ‘Ray Hartman’ (photo courtesy of Annie’s Annuals & Perennials)
Ceanothus ‘Ray Hartman’ (photo courtesy of Annie’s Annuals & Perennials)

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Ceanothus ‘Ray Hartman’

Grows to 12–20 ft. tall, 15–20 ft. wide; can be trained as a small tree. Big (2–3-in.), dark green leaves. Medium blue, 3–5-in. spikelike clusters.

Ceanothus ‘Wheeler Canyon’

Grows to 6 ft. tall, 8 ft. wide. Narrow and textured 2-in. leaves. Bright blue flowers with red bracts appear in early spring. Tolerates summer water better than many Ceanothus.

Ceanothus thyrsiflorus griseus ‘Diamond Heights’ (photo courtesy of Sunset Western Garden Collection)
Ceanothus thyrsiflorus griseus ‘Diamond Heights’ (photo courtesy of Sunset Western Garden Collection)

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‘Diamond Heights’

Brilliant, variegated foliage spreads widely, making this an excellent groundcover or container plant. Clusters of pale blue flowers are secondary to the dense growth of the dark green splashed chartreuse to yellow leaves. From the Sunset Western Garden Collection.

‘Frosty Dawn’

Grows to 1–2 ft. tall and 4–6 ft. wide. Gray-green leaves grow close against stems. Dark lavender-blue flowers appear in winter. Grows slowly, but lives longer than most Ceanothus.

 

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