Plant of the month: California lilac

Looking to add some color to your drought-friendly garden this summer? The California lilac (Ceanothus spp.) brings the perfect pop of purple. Adorn your yard with this fragrant and colorful shrub which blooms cheery clusters of flowers ranging from white to blue to lilac during the spring and summer.

There are approximately 55 different cultivated species and numerous hybrids of Ceanothus that can be found in North America, with California the center of distribution. Shrubs can grow up to 12 feet tall (although some varieties are mat-forming) and thrive in USDA climate  zones 8 though 10.

During its first growing season, this lilac will need some tender loving care with regular watering one to two times a week. But don’t leave your shrub in standing water; it needs soil that drains well. Once it is established after its first year, you can scale back watering to once a week or less – perfect for the gardener who prefers less maintenance.

Hot summers are no challenge to this native species; many varieties  grow best in areas where they receive full sun. However, if your yard is exposed to deer, be careful – they are a favorite snack and you’ll find some furry visitors in your garden. Opt for the smaller leaved varieties if you have deer problems. The sweet-smelling flowers will also lure important visitors like butterflies, humming birds and bees.

The California lilac, sometimes referred to as redroot, had several useful functions for a few western Native American tribes. The roots were used to make soap and shampoo; when combined with water, a soap-like foam forms.  Plant leaves had medicinal uses such as treating inflammation of the chest, throat, nose and mouth.

Get more tips on maintaining your California lilac here.

For tips on growing plants that are disease and pathogen free, see guidance here and here.

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