How to grow Ceanothus

Ceanothus is a fast growing, evergreen shrub with stunning blue flowers in late spring and early summer.

Ceanothus looks fantastic when in full bloom, a beautiful blue cloud. The most common varieties have blue flowers in late spring and summer, although there are also white and pink blooming varieties. As Ceanothus is easy to grow, I tag it green wheel barrow it requires little or no maintenance.

The most important point when growing Ceanothus is to plant it in the right place at the start, which is a sheltered spot in full sun, away from chilly winds. Ceanothus originates from North America, particularly California, hence its common name, the California Lilac'. Its origins account for its dislike of cold, exposed gardens. Ceanothus is H4 hardy, defined as hardy in most of the UK from -10 to -5.

 Ceanothus is best planted in a sheltered spot, in full sun on well-drained soil, essentially mimicking the originating conditions. In exposed gardens consider growing the more hardy 'Autumnal Blue', which as the name suggests, flowers in the late summer and early autumn, illustrated below, or one of the deciduous types.

Ceanothus, grown in a cold spot, especially chilly winds, can suffer from wind burn, which will cause the leaves to turn brown and the shrub will not thrive. It's tricky to get going, but once established Ceanothus is usually trouble free. Ceanothus is attractive to bees.

Ceanothus are short lived shrubs

Ceanothus grows fast and furious, and runs out of growing steam after about 10-15 years. The better the growing conditions, the longer the shrub will live. In wetter conditions, the shrub is more short-lived, and overall between 5-15 years. The shrub may continue to grow but look scruffy, leggy and Ceanothus do not respond well to hard pruning. At this stage, it is best to start again with a new shrub. It is worth bearing in mind, when choosing a spot to plant Ceanothus, that it may not be there forever.

The image shows the exception to prove the rule. The Ceanothus in the image has reached good maturity, but it's fair to say it is benefitting from the warmth of growing against a wall, in a sheltered walled garden, so the ideal conditions to extend its life span.

Two images of Ceanothus from a distance and the same shrub in close up showing the dozens of soft blue flowers

Crocus has a lovely range of Ceanothus for sale, including C. 'Skylark', Concha and Autumnal blue- images and prices click here (affiliate link)

How to Prune Ceanothus

 Generally, it is not necessary to prune Ceanothus. If  Ceanothus is outgrowing its allotted space, it can be pruned, but not hard. The evergreen varieties (most) are pruning group 8, which recommends pruning after flowering. Most Ceanothus flower in late May and June and you are safe to prune from late June onwards. At all times, avoid cutting back into the old wood, or cutting back hard, as the shrub may not recover.

There are some less common deciduous varieties, illustrated below left, which are pruning group 6 to be pruned in early spring.

It is always good to mulch and feed after pruning. If there is a bad winter, and the plant suffers from wind burn, it may be necessary to prune out the damaged areas. 

Good varieties of Ceanothus for your garden

Picking a Ceanothus for your garden depends on the size you would like and hardiness. Very few of the evergreen varieties are fully hardy, (what is hardy?) Listed as H4 is :

  1. C. thyrisiflorus (Blue blossom) which is a low growing, spreading variety,  evergreen, and with light blue flowers growing up to 1.5 metres but taller if grown against the shelter of a wall up to 2.5 meters. 
  2. C. x delilianus 'Henri Desfossé' is a hardy variety although it is deciduous with dark blue flowers from July to September.  Most other evergreen varieties are less reliably hardy and may require some winter protection.
  3. Some Ceanothus grow large, up to 6 metres tall, with a spread of 8 meters, such as Trewithen Blue, which makes checking the plant label important to know the eventual size of the shrub.

Good strong blue varieties with the RHS garden merit award are:

  1. 'Trewithen Blue' and 'Cascade  C. ‘Autumnal Blue’   upright growing to around 3 meters with sky-blue flowers from mid- summer to early Autumn.
  2.  Ceanothus 'Puget Blue' medium sized 1.5 - 2.5m
  3. Ceanothus 'Blue Mound' is more compact, growing up to around 1.5 meters in the right conditions. 
  4. C. ‘Concha' is around 3 meters with darker blue flowers in late spring.
  5. C. 'Skylark' another medium sized variety
  6. Treweithen Blue is popular, it is large more of a small tree than a shrub.


There are lots to choose from, around 55 varieties in all.  

Confusingly, many are described as H4 which should be hardy to -10 but are also described as 'needing winter protection'. All I can offer is that in an exposed garden, which I have had, Ceanothus fail to thrive and the leaves suffered from wind burn.  Despite the hardy description, I would only grow the evergreen varieties in a sheltered warm spot, preferably against a wall.

The early spring flowering varieties of Ceanothus look good with Clematis Montana illustrated in the image above right.

Ceanothus is also suitable and ideal for planting in coastal areas.

There are also a few deciduous varieties of Ceanothus, such as Ceanothus x Pallidus 'Perle Rose'  illustrated below left, which have delicate, attractive pale pink flowers from mid-summer to early Autumn. This variety is also H4 hardy and it needs to be planted in a sheltered spot on light well-drained soil.

If Ceanothus is not what you are looking for check out shrubs and bushesspring flowering shrubssummer flowering shrubsshrubs with autumn and winter interest; and evergreen shrubs.

Ceanothus x Pallidus 'Perle Rose'

Ceanothus x Pallidus 'Perle Rose'

This is an unusual form of Ceanothus, it is pink and deciduous.

Ceanothus 'Autumnal blue'

Ceanothus 'Autumnal blue'

This variety of Ceanothus flowers in the Autumn .

green  wheelbarrow medium difficulty to grow

I tagged ceanothus “Green wheelbarrow” because when planted in a sheltered spot, it is trouble free, which will be ideal in many areas, especially around the south of England and more sheltered gardens. It can be more difficult to grow in colder areas, especially around in gardens in the North of England. However, it can thrive with care taken to plant in a sheltered corner of the garden. True to say, in most of the south of the country, it will be easy to grow.