Garden Oracle / Drought and Heat Tolerant Gardening / Tucson - Phoenix - Arizona - California

Growing Ceanothus:
Desert Lilac

social icons Facebook Twitter Pinterest Instagram

Form: Shrub.
Lifespan: 20-25 years.
Leaf retention: Evergreen.
Growth rate: Slow to moderate.
Mature Size: 4-9' high and 6' wide.
Flowers: Clusters of small white, pink, or dark blue flowers exude a strong lilac scent that lasts for weeks.
Bloom: Late winter, spring or summer.
Fruit: Flesh on the small, round fruit turns green to red to brown. When the fruit dries in mid spring, signalling seed maturity, the four-chambered, woody seed capsule immediately drops from the plant. The capsule springs open weeks or months later, tossing four tiny, glossy black seeds over a foot-wide area.
Leaves: Small to medium, oval, thick, medium green or dark green.
Stems: New stems are pinkish, older stems are light gray to brown. No thorns for the species described.
Roots: Nitrogen-fixing*.
Species of Note:
Ceanothus greggii - Desert Ceanothus. Covered by white flowers when blooming late winter to early spring, tolerates summer rain, usually ignored by deer.
Ceanothus integerrimus - Deerbrush. Flowers colored white, pink, or dark blue, blooms mid spring into summer, larger glossy leaves, tolerates summer rain, browsed by deer.
Ceanothus x 'Blue Jeans' - California Mountain Lilac. Blue flowers, blooms spring into summer, tolerates high temperatures, summer drought and alkaline soil, does not tolerate summer rain or irrigation, very tough, ignored by deer.
Wildlife: The seed attracts quail and other ground-feeding birds. The flowers of C. integerrimus attract bees and butterflies, and may host moth or butterfly caterpillars.
Toxic / Danger: No.
Origin: Native to the Southwestern United States and Mexico.

Cultivation and Uses
USDA hardiness zones: 7-9.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Drought tolerant: Yes.
Sun: Full sun.
Water once established: Once every month or two. Do not overwater. 'Blue Jeans' cannot be watered in the summer.
Soil: Very well draining, dry, low organic content, pH 6.1-8.5 (slightly acidic to alkaline).
*Do not use a nitrogen fertilizer. Adding decomposed granite will provide mineral nutrients.
Mulch: Do not use organic mulch which will prevent the soil from drying quickly and will add unwanted nitrogen.
First Year Care: Deep watering every 2-4 weeks in the first year helps to establish a deep, voluminous root system that will withstand heat and drought. In following years, the plant may exist on rainfall alone.
Planting: Can be placed on a mound or slope to improve drainage. Adding mineral laden soil, such as decomposed granite, during planting will speed growth.
Prune: Immediately after seed capsules have dropped, providing feed for the birds. Flowers appear on last season's growth. Fall or winter pruning eliminates flowers the following spring.
Litter: Low.
Propagation: Seed.
Uses: Fragrance garden, bird garden.

These plants are members of the Buckthorn family (Rhamnaceae). Trouble-free and low maintenance, they thrive on neglect.
The best way to kill these plants is to fertilize them, use organic soil amendments or mulch, or water them frequently.

Do you have additional information or a different experience for these plants that you would like to share? Email All contributions are welcome and appreciated.

By Stan Shebs, CC BY-SA 3.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid-2407892

Ceanothus greggii: Desert Ceanothus - flowers

Ceanothus greggii: Desert Ceanothus - in bloom

© 2008-2023 by
Latest update: April, 2021