California Wild Lilac

When it’s blooming, people and bees swarm around this plant.  The delightful bright flowers are the bluest of blue.  So many plants in the horticultural world are termed ‘blue’ when time and again we all know they are PURPLE.  Ceanothus breaks this trend, it really is blue, like the color of a clear sky.  Native to California, this plant has many forms and varieties, including groundcovers.  One of the most common is the plant pictured below, Ceanothus impressus ‘Victoria’.  It has small shiny evergreen leaves and is easily pruned.

I grew one when I lived in central California and every time I cut it back so it didn’t cover the sidewalk, it shot back again, always responding with new, vigorous growth.  I did have trouble with aphids and at times it was covered with their sticky buggy bodies.  Since my shrub was woody and established, I could easily spray them off with a strong blast of water which I found very satisfying.  A gush and goodbye!  Another potential problem here in Washington is winter damage.  It’s hard with those evergreen, broadleaf shrubs when the temperatures drop rapidly in late fall.  Leaf drop, partial die-back or complete demise can result.  Sometimes they need time to harden off, other times it just gets too cold for plants, as well as people.

Usually I see this plant growing here in Washington as a structural focal point, but it can also be grown as a hedge.  Sunset Western Garden Book says that the types with small leaves are deer resistant (positive!) but plants don’t live very long, 5- 10 years (negative!).  Most forms of Ceanothus are drought tolerant, growing well in our coastal climate of drizzly springs (goodbye ‘June-uary’ and good riddance….we had way too much June rain!) and dry summers. Dirr states that this plant only grows well on the West Coast of the United States, but not in other regions. He believes that the issue isn’t cold tolerance, but rather excessive rain, humidity and wet soils. Take note gardeners and don’t over water!  This might be a plant that thrives on neglect!

Just the Facts
Ceanothus impressus ‘Victoria’
Height 6-9 ft. (2-3m) tall
Width 10-12 ft. (3m) wide
Zones 7-8
Evergreen, shiny medium size leaf
Flowers deep blue, spring bloom
Deer Resistant
Summer drought tolerant
Prefers light, well-drained soil
Prune after blooms fade

California Lilac

11 thoughts on “California Wild Lilac

  1. It’s a beautiful shrub – my sister had one in England, but like you say they don’t last forever. Here would be too cold in winter, and I have never seen one in a garden in Germany. I didn’t know it’s called Californian lilac, and I didn’t know it’s evergreen either! Thanks for an interesting post!

  2. Very nice and I agree about the “true” blue. I saw many in No. California this spring. Interesting to note that is does not like excessive water…I wonder if I could grow one here in Boise and then dig and put in garage to overwinter. Might be something to try since I’m zone 6….thanks for the profile!

  3. I grow the demure eastern cousin – Ceanothus americanus. The flowers are white. If I lived on the West Coast I would definitely get me some California Lilac.

  4. This is one of my favorite native shrubs! I have two, one just planted, and the other well established already in the garden when we bought our house. It was large already, and we’ve been here for three years now, and it is still going strong.

    1. I was just looking at the Ceanothus that grows in a small island at our local Safeway parking lot. I know it never gets attention, it’s either too hot or too cold or too dry, but it looks great. Definitely thriving on neglect!

  5. OMGOSH! I am so glad I found your blog!! I may have already killed mine now though! We bought four for a focal point out our front porch area…but “before” we even had a chance to plant them they started to look like they were dying! Leaves turning yellow …..loosing blooms…ect! I kept watering and putting vitamin B solution on and they just kept getting worse…I kept thinking they were to dry! They are now in the ground and I hope they will make it! I am in Colbert Washington (zone 6)
    Am I crazy to try to have these in my yard here? Also is there any way to save them now that I have overwatered?

    1. Zone 6 might be pushing it! They should recover from the over-watering, but winter cold might be a problem. If you get early frosts before the plants have a chance to harden off, October-November, you could try covering them and mulching around the base. If they look ugly now from leaf drop, prune them back a bit, they still have time to regrow this summer. Good luck! Did you know you’re in zone denial? I used to be, but after fussing with my Meyer Lemon for years and then finally losing it this year in a mild winter, I said no more! No more zone denial for me! (unless, perhaps, there is something too beautiful to pass up……

  6. No, I didn’t realize I was “in” zone denial! I would NOT have bought them if I had realized at the time! LOL! I just loved the color and stupidly “thought” because it was sold here in Wa Lowe’s that it MUST be ok! I feel so dumb now! However, I did resist the urge to buy Rose of Sharon again…our landscape design company had us plant a bunch of them and they died! So even though I LOVE them I won’t even try those again! I want color but need to be wise about it. Thanks for answering my ???? so quickly!

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