News & Updates

February 2, 2017

Ceanothus – Plant of the Month

The North American genus called Ceanothus, also known as Wild Lilac or California Lilac, is a shrub that is beloved for its springtime show of rolling blue blossoms. California is home to many of these species, natural hybrids, and cultivars. The diversity in the trade and the wealth of knowledge available allows for you to pick and choose a Ceanothus to suit almost any project, including criteria like drought-tolerant landscapes, pollinator and wildlife gardens, California native themes, and more.

Generally, Ceanothus is not picky about soil as long as good drainage is provided. Some prefer inland climates, while others prefer the coast. Most prefer full sun, while some get by on dappled or afternoon shade. Importantly, keep in mind that too much moisture encourages fungal diseases. Their adaptations to survive wet winters and dry summers with little to no irrigation make them an easy choice for a Mediterranean climate like ours. Most are hardy in USDA zones 8 – 10.

Which shape are you looking for to fill the space? Choose from weed-suppressing ground covers, mounding mid-size shrubs, and large shrubs that form screens and hedges. With pruning and training, larger selections adapt well to tree-like forms, and may even be espaliered. Though unnecessary, annual pruning can keep any selection attractively dense. Prune after flowering, which usually falls around late spring to early summer.

California Lilac’s evergreen foliage has distinctive venation, a leathery thickness, and a typical polished sheen. Colors range from medium to dark green, grayish, or silvery, plus a few variegated options. Leaves are often ovate (egg-shaped) with serrated, holly-like, smooth, or rolled under margins. While larger leaves are tasty to deer and rabbits, smaller-leafed varieties become more appetizing mostly in years of drought when other food is sparse. Place protective cages around young plants in areas where deer populations are high.

As we round out a gloriously wet winter, we head into spring looking forward to the great floral parade that California Lilac offers year after year. Tiny flowers arranged in inflorescences are button-shaped, dome-shaped, elongated and thimble-like, or large and fluffy. Colors come in all shades of purple-tinged blue, with a few violet and white options. Buds are sometimes pink, adding a dynamic appeal. Depending on the selection, blooms arrive in late winter, throughout spring, or early summer. Flowers emit a fragrance that is subjective to each nose. Some people love the smell, while others find it unpleasant. Fruit is a non-showy capsule that audibly explodes when it disperses its seeds.

Other than the evergreen foliage, the show of blue flowers in spring, and the diverse range of landscape uses, a most admirable aspect of Ceanothus is that it plays an important ecological role. It provides habitat and forage for a vast array of native and domestic insects, pollinators, birds and mammals. The species is useful in Integrated Pest Management regimes, and even their nitrogen-fixing roots establish relationships with soil microbes.

So, which Ceanothus to work with for your next project? View Devil Mountain’s genus page for a full listing of the varieties we carry or can source for you. We are also happy to highlight a few of our favorites below. Click on the photos of each plant to learn more.



Large shrub:

A tried and true hybrid evergreen shrub with fragrant flower clusters that form a sea of medium lilac-blue in spring. Buds are rosy pink. Foliage is large, polished dark green, and egg-shaped. Natural growth habit forms an upright screen and is adaptable to a tree-like form with pruning. ‘Ray Hartman’ grows well both on the coast and inland. Prepare for foraging deer.

USDA zones: 8 – 10
Sunset zones: 5 – 9, 14 – 24
Mature size: 12 – 20 feet high and 15 – 20 feet wide
Light needs: full sun, part shade
Water needs: little to no water once established

Learn More


Midsize shrub:


An exciting new selection from Sunset Western Garden Collection, grown at our growing grounds in the Central Valley! A variegated form of C. thyrsiflorus with small, dark green leaves thickly edged in white. Fragrant flower clusters that form a sea of light blue in late spring. Natural growth habit is compact and upright, ideal for smaller spaces and adaptable to pruning.

USDA zones: 8 – 10
Sunset zones: 5 – 9, 14 – 24
Mature size: 3 – 4 feet high and 4-5 feet wide
Light needs: full sun
Water needs: little to no water once established

Learn More


Ground cover:


A coastal California evergreen shrub with fragrant flower clusters that form a sea of vivid dark blue in spring. Foliage is small, holly-like, and polished dark green. Natural growth habit is dense, low and spreading. ‘Anchor Bay’ grows well both on the coast and inland.

USDA zones: 8 – 10
Sunset zones: 5 – 9, 14 – 24
Mature size: 1 – 3 feet high and 4 – 8 feet wide
Light needs: full sun
Water needs: little to no water once established

Learn More

ReScape California would like to thank our generous Sponsor, Devil Mountain Nursery, for authoring this blog post.  You can look forward to monthly updates from ReScape CA and Devil Mountain about appropriate plant selection.

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To learn more about Ceanothus or to purchase plants, visit Devil Mountain’s Website:


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