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Are you having trouble finding plants that have blue flowers?

Ceanothus in bloomCeanothus may be just the plant for you! Commonly called the 'California Lilac', the ceanothus is unquestionably one of the best blue flowering shrubs available for garden use.

Here in the Pacific Northwest this plant is literally covered with blue flowers in late spring and early summer. Flowers do vary in different shades of blue, depending upon the variety chosen.

Native to Oregon - if you have ever traveled through southern Oregon or northern California in June or early July you have probably noticed that the foothills are covered with a coat of blue. The plant is ceanothus thyrsiflorus. Its height is greatly determined by the care it receives, varying from five to fifteen feet in this region. The flowers also vary from light to deep blue.

In its native environment, ceanothus grows in a sunny area, where the soil is well drained. In fact, conditions are sometimes drought-like. A south or west exposure against the house closely resembles these conditions.

Easy to grow - since it is a native, it thrives in gardens here. In fact, it seems to thrive on neglect. If a problem develops, it is usually because the plant has been pampered too much.

Uses in the landscape - as a landscape subject it is a very versatile shrub. It is available in a wide range of types, from low growing ground covers to varieties that may reach a height of 20 feet at maturity.

The upright types are often used to cover a fence or blank wall, but are also excellent as free standing shrubs. I like to use them inter-mixed with other shrubs, because of their attractive blue flowers. As free standing shrubs they are excellent for borders, foundations plantings or as evergreen screens. In addition to its use in the inland garden, ceanothus is one of the best shrubs to use near salt-water, it grows and flowers beautifully at the ocean.

Leaf texture - their leaves are small to medium in size and generally tends to be a dark glossy green on most varieties. It is evergreen. The foliage makes an excellent background for the attractive flowers.

Planting - ceanothus plants will not tolerate wet feet. So be sure to select a spot that has good drainage. When preparing the planting soil, mix generous amounts of organic humus with your existing soil. Compost, processed manure and peat moss are excellent sources of organic humus.

Special care - in my garden I have found that one of the major factors in successfully growing this plant is proper watering techniques. Because they grow in drought-like conditions in their native habitat is it important that you treat them the same way in your garden. Over-watering late in the season causes late growth which is likely to freeze during a severe cold spell. So I recommend withholding water during the late summer and early fall. As this gives the plants a chance to harden before cold winter weather sets-in.

Pruning - if needed, the best time to prune them is immediately after they have finished flowering. Avoid pruning late in the season, as that tends to promote new growth, which could die-back if early cold spells occur.

Feeding - they are not heavy feeders. In fact, in the native setting they depend upon natural moisture and nutrients already in the soil. Should they need feeding, use a rhododendron type of fertilizer. The best time to feed them is in late winter or earliest spring. If needed, a second feeding could be made in late spring.

Varieties - in addition to the native variety, there have been many new named varieties, here are just a few of the ones commonly found in nurseries:

C. 'Gloire de versaille' is a variety that may reach 8 to 12 feet at maturity. The showy flowers are pale blue and appear during the early summer.

C. Gloriosus is the ground cover variety. It hugs the ground, seldom growing more then 6 inches high. Lavender blue flowers appear in late may and June.

C. T. 'Victoria' may grow up to 8 or 9 feet tall. Deep blue flowers cover the plant in late spring. Bright dark glossy green leaves.

C. 'Concha' has deep blue flowers in late spring. The plant grows about 6 to 7 feet tall. Nice dense bushy growth habit.

Needless to say, there are countless other varieties that certainly merit consideration for use in your garden.

In growing ceanothus, just remember it will not tolerate over-watering, poor drainage or improper pruning. Remember it thrives on neglect.

For a bright spot of blue color in your garden it's hard to beat the beauty of the ceanothus.


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