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How to Grow Ceanothus: A Beginner’s Guide

Ceanothus, commonly known as Californian Lilac, stands as a favourite among gardeners, celebrated for its captivating flowering spectacle. Whether you envision it as a stand-alone beauty or elegantly trained against a wall, this guide is your key to unlocking the full potential of Ceanothus in your garden.

Quick Facts:

Discover the nuanced details that make Ceanothus a joy to cultivate:

  • Flowering Seasons: Ceanothus showcases its vibrant blossoms either in late spring to early summer or late summer to autumn, contingent on the specific species or cultivar.
  • Planting Time: Optimal planting occurs during spring or autumn, specifically in well-draining soil.
  • Growing Conditions: Thriving in a sun-soaked, sheltered, and well-drained environment, Ceanothus is a resilient addition to your garden.
  • Hardiness: While generally hardy in the UK, caution is advised against frost pockets and windy sites.
  • Pruning: Yearly pruning is beneficial, with special attention required for well-trained specimens.
  • Propagation: Replicate the beauty by easily propagating new plants from cuttings.

Before You Start:

Choosing the right Ceanothus involves a nuanced understanding of its subtle variations. Consider the following factors:

Deciduous or Evergreen

Most Ceanothus varieties are evergreen, providing year-round visual appeal. However, in exposed gardens, deciduous types offer enhanced resistance to wind and frost.


Delve into the world of Ceanothus blossoms, selecting varieties that not only harmonise with your garden’s design but also cater to your preference for specific flowering times and fragrances.

Eventual Size and Shape

Tailor your choice to your garden’s requirements, whether it’s a sprawling ground cover, a compact border shrub, or a majestic wall-trained focal point.


When to Plant

To safeguard against root damage in winter, opt for a spring planting regimen. If acquiring container-grown plants during the summer, prompt planting coupled with regular watering is crucial.

Where to Plant

Ceanothus thrives in full sun, making shady spots less than ideal. Protect your plants from frost pockets and strong winds, especially if you’re opting for a south-facing wall. If wall training is on the agenda, ensure you have support structures like wires or trellises in place before planting.

How to Plant

Set the stage for success by preparing well-drained soil enriched with organic matter such as leaf mould or well-rotted manure. Ceanothus thrives in fertile conditions but falters in heavy or overly wet soil.

Plant Ceanothus in full sun
Plant Ceanothus in full sun

Ongoing Care:


In the initial years, diligently water newly-planted Ceanothus, especially during the summer months. Once established, these shrubs boast drought tolerance, making them ideal for dry and Mediterranean-style gardens. However, exercise caution with automatic irrigation systems, as Ceanothus is sensitive to damage in overly wet soil. Aim for a balance, allowing the soil to dry between watering sessions.


Ceanothus typically requires minimal feeding in most garden soils. However, an annual spring boost with balanced fertiliser promotes robust new growth, coupled with a layer of organic mulch like homemade compost or well-rotted manure. Create a mulch-free zone around the base of the plant to prevent rot.


While not a necessity for all varieties, regular deadheading can enhance the vigour of smaller and slower-growing Ceanothus types. For formal wall-trained plants, this practice ensures a tidy and appealing appearance.

Tying-In Trained Plants

For those aspiring to a more formal look, Ceanothus can be elegantly trained up walls, along fences, or even over doorways. Regularly tie new shoots to supports using garden twine, as wire may cut into branches as they grow. Check ties at least once a year, readjusting or replacing any that are broken or overly tight.

Ceanothus growing around a window

Pruning and Training:

Evergreen Ceanothus

While regular pruning is not mandatory, maintaining a bushy, compact shape is achievable. The approach to pruning varies based on the flowering time:

Late Spring and Early-Summer-Flowering Evergreens

Prune immediately after flowering, trimming back long, flowered shoots by one-third to a half. A light trim in late summer is optional.

Late-Summer-Flowering Evergreens

Prune in spring, cutting back the previous season’s growth by one-third to a half.

Deciduous Ceanothus

This category requires more regular attention to flourish. Focus on the following steps:

Pruning Young, Deciduous Ceanothus

In the first year, develop a framework of stems on free-standing shrubs by shortening all stems by two-thirds to an outward-facing bud. In the second year, prune the previous season’s growth by up to two-thirds and shorten any side shoots to 10-25cm (4-10in) from the main stems.

Pruning Established, Deciduous Ceanothus

Starting from the third growing season, prune the main, flowered stems by around half. Trim back weaker side shoots harder, by up to two buds from the main branches, and thin out congested and unproductive growth from the centre of the plant.


While Ceanothus is generally hardy and resistant to pests and diseases, a few potential issues deserve attention:

  • Scale Insects: Watch for infestations, particularly brown scale.
  • Honey Fungus: Be cautious of this disease.
  • Growing Conditions: Unsuitable conditions can lead to problems like wind scorch, frost damage, poor growth, dieback, and root rot in overly wet conditions. Additionally, nutrient deficiency in hollow, chalky soils can manifest as leaf yellowing.


With this guide, your journey into cultivating Ceanothus can become a rewarding experience. From choosing the right variety to ongoing care and potential challenges, you’re equipped with the knowledge to nurture a thriving and visually stunning garden.

Updated on November 13, 2023

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