CEANOTHUS: California Wild Lilac
We love Ceanothus! Blue flowers in spring, evergreen leaves and easy care make it one of our favorites. What makes it even better is that Ceanothus doesn't grow just anywhere. We in Portland are fortunate to live in one of the blessed places where Ceanothus will thrive. The West Coast from British Columbia to California has temperatures that are low enough in summer and mild enough in winter to support this plant, and indeed most species of Ceanothus originate in California and SW Oregon.
There are so many types of Ceanothus we can't come close to listing them all, but here is a sampling of varieties we commonly carry at Portland Nursery. (You can also find many native Ceanothus)
Centennial Wild Lilac Ceanothus 'Centennial'
Darkest blue flowers bloom in spring and again in summer, glossy dark evergreen leaves, low groundcover shape. Grows 12" x 6-8', sun-part shade, Hardy 5-10f
Point Reyes Mountain Lilac Ceanothus gloriosus
Bright blue flowers against tiny dark green holly leaves. Grows 2' tall x 8-10' wide and is a tough drought tolerant groundcover. Hardy 15f
Diamond Heights Ceanothus
Ceanothus griseus horizontalis 'Diamond Heights'
Pale blue flowers & round shiny gold & green leaves make 'Diamond Heights' a really nice addition to containers and border plantings. Grows 12" tall x 5-6' wide, Hardy 20f
Born Again Wild Lilac: Ceanothus thyrsifloruss 'Born Again'
Light blue flowers in April & May, leaves are butter yellow with a spot of green in the center. A nice choice for gold leaves in full sun.
Grows 8' x 6', sun-part shade, Hardy 5-10f
Dark Star Wild Lilac: Ceanothus thyrsiflorus 'Dark Star'
Pink buds & darkest blue flowers against crinkled evergreen leaves. Pruning when young makes a more dense shrub and siting the plant away from cold winter wind is best. Grows 6' x 8', sun, Hardy 5-10f
Julia Phelps Mountain Lilac Ceanothus thyrsiflorus 'Julia Phelps'
Excellent dark blue flowers & crinkled evergreen leaves. Grows fast to 6-8' x 6-8' wide, sun, Hardy 5-10f.
Tuxedo Wild Lilac: Ceanothus 'Tuxedo'
Evergreen leaves are glossy chocolate brown, purple & green, very nice. Lilac purple flowers in mid summer. Grows a bit slower than the rest, 6' x 4'. Sun-pt shade, Hardy 10f.
Vandenburg Santa Barbara Ceanothus:
Ceanothus impressus 'Vandenburg'
Blue flowers in April-May, tiny dark crinkled evergreen leaves & dense habit. Grows 4-6' x 4-6', sun, Hardy 5-10f.
Victoria Wild Lilac: Ceanothus impressus 'Victoria'
Easily the most popular Ceanothus we sell, Victoria has showy dark blue flowers in May & glossy evergreen leaves. It's very versatile, taking pruning and training very well. It can be kept as a narrow hedge, trained over an arbor, limbed up into a tree form or allowed to grow as it pleases. The variety 'Skylark' is very similar. Grows 6-9' x 8-10', sun-part shade. Hardy 5-10f.
Genus: Ceanothus (see-uh-NO-thus)
Common: California Wild Lilac, Wild Lilac, Mountain Lilac, Blue Blossom
Origin: From Canada, south to Mexico & Guatemala – also some in the Rocky Mountains & eastern US. About 30 species are from California & some grow in southern Oregon.
Characteristics: Around 50 species of evergreen & deciduous shrubs & small trees. Small flowers in clusters are often scented and attract bees. Flowers are white, pink or several shades of blue, and come in mid spring. Three-lobed seed capsules follow. Leaves are small with serrated edges and can be crinkled or holly-shaped. They are mostly green, with some varieties having gold or white variegation and others tinged purple.
All Ceanothus are nitrogen fixing plants & improve soils where they are grown. In the wild they're often the first plants to grow after a fire and they fill in quickly, but are often short-lived (5-20 years).
Size: Varies by species & cultivar.
Culture: Ceanothus adapts to a wide range of soil types, but prefers to be dry or have excellent drainage in summer. Plants in very rich garden soil grow fast but are shorter lived.
Full sun to part shade - hardiness varies - most are Zone 7-8, 0-20f
Problems: Short life-span. Limiting summer water for plants growing in the ground (opposed to container-grown plants) & limiting fertilizer will help. We still think they're wonderful & totally worth it!
Bees love Ceanothus flowers. For many this is a good thing, but for those with allergies it can be a problem.