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California Native Plants

Growing California Lilacs

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click here for A Guide to Ceanothus

Western Ceanothus naturally grow in temperate climates with hot dry summers and short mild winters providing a modicum of precipitation.  So, for the most part, these wild lilacs do not require much water once they are established--or to establish them for that matter.  Our rule of thumb is to water them when the soil is on the dry side, whether they inhabit heavy clay soils or sandy ones.

Using the Growing Guide Table
Because the West's wild terrain is so diverse; from the sandy bluffs above the Pacific Ocean to the spreading flats of the San Joaquin Valley, to the 11,000' to 14,000' peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and west to the Sonoran Desert and Great Basin, there will be a Ceanothus suited to your environment.  Whenever possible, we've included the original parentage of each wild lilac, hybrid or selection which will offer clues as to what the plant's cultural needs might be.  For example, Ceanothus tomentosus whose origins are from the hot, dry interior mountains of southern California,  suggests that its baseline cultural preferences would be to be grown in a location similar to the environment to which it is already adapted.  Conversely, Ceanothus griseus horizontalis 'Yankee Point', a selection native to the Central Coastal areas of California, may prefer less extreme conditions than C. tomentosus; it is more likely to be tolerant of humidity, slightly more ground water, or shadier conditions.   The 'Exposure' category in the table is also derived from the plant's origins.  'Yankee Point', originally from the coast, is more tolerant of shade when grown in a hot, arid inland environment.  However, while a plant's origins offers basic clues to its culture,  many Ceanothus are widely adaptable to a variety of landscape conditions, as we have also noted in the table above.  Keep in mind that in the 'Drought Tolerance' category below, those plants listed L or M tend to be more tolerant of garden-type conditions.

Telltale Appearances: Euceanothus Versus Cerastes Ceanothus
Another indicator of the culture of each Ceanothus is its outward appearance.  The genus Ceanothus is split into two separate sections, the Euceanothus and the Cerastes group.  The plants associated with each of these sections is distinct, and so tends to be the habit and required culture as well.  Just looking at the plants of the Cerastes Section, with reduced, leathery, widely spaced leaves, one would guess them to be very drought tolerant.  Additionally, Cerastes Ceanothus usually has oppositely arranged (exceptions C. insularis, C. verrucosus, C. megacarpus) which are sometimes holly-like, with horned fruit and generally stiffer growth habit.  On the other hand, Euceanothus (literally 'True Ceanothus') generally exhibit alternately arranged leaves which are usually broad, glossy or waxy, often dark green and lush-looking .  The seed capsules are ridged rather than horned.  The flowers tend to be clustered at the tip, uninterrupted by leaves.  While there are exceptions, the habit of growth tends to be upright, yet somewhat less stiff than the Cerastes section.  The Euceanothus are generally found to enjoy slightly more humidity and moisture than the Cerastes group.

--Know each species' original, wild habitat.
--Scrutinize microclimates in your landscape.
--Match the plant to a microclimate or landscape conditions roughly similar to its original habitat.
--Don't indulge Ceanothus with too much fertilizer or water, because they are adapted to poor soils and sunny, dry locations.  
--Plant and establish them during the wet, cool season.
--Water them when the sub-surface soil is on the dry side.
--Establish them in this way through their second or third dry season.  But, if they need water over future dry seasons, by all means give it to them, in the cool of the day, not when the temperatures are scorching.

If, your Ceanothus is to be planted in among existing garden plants:

--Be certain they have compatible water requirements.
-- If existing plants receive regular irrigation, plant Ceanothus on top of a mound or swale to increase water drainage.
--Plant on the outskirts or high side of a sprinkler system.
--Look for the symptoms of over-watering: excessive yellowing and dropping leaves, or black spots on leaves or stems, and relocate Ceanothus if necessary.

Return to Guide to Ceanothus


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This page was last updated on 07/28/2004 03:24 PM