Posted on | January 30, 2012 | 8 Comments
Rhapsodies about ceanothus tend to come in blue. Ceanothus flowers aren’t any blue, they’re blue sky blue. No, George Gershwin blue. Deep space should have such a blue. The one-upsmanship is understandable. These plants do for blue what roses do for red and pink, though there’s always a know-it-all in the house willing to pipe up that in the case of the ceanothuses ‘Ray Hartman,’ ‘Dark Star,’ ‘Centennial’ and ‘Yankee Point,’ from bud to seed their blossoms can also seem to start mauve, turn lavender, then blue, then Jimi Hendrix purple. Some ceanothuses in the mountains such as Ceanothus cuneatus or ‘Snow Flurry’ aren’t blue at all, but white.
But their blues are what make them one of the most effective ambassadors for native gardening in California. The problem in Los Angeles is that by the point visitors on April garden tours are struck dumb by ceanothus blues, the best time has generally passed for getting a ceanothus plant in the ground. That time would be now, during the relatively short days of winter when a chance of rain is still in the air.
The window is still open to get young shrubs in (don’t go bigger than 1-gallon cans), though they will probably need supplemental water this damnably dry year. Do it by the end of February and you might even get a 2012 spring bloom. Whatever you do, don’t plant ceanothuses anytime from June to October. The stiff and beautiful ever-green leaves of ceanothuses are the definition of drought-resistance when the plant is established, but they can easily wilt when a plant is in a nursery pot or newly planted, and if they wilt, that’s it.
To help make the selection, this 2005 article carries a shape and bloom time guide. Or there is no better source than the 2006 Timber Press book “Ceanothus” by Arroyo Grande nurseryman David Fross and Santa Barbara taxonomist Dieter Wilken. A trip to the Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley, the Grow Native Nursery outlets in Claremont and Brentwood, Tree of Life in San Juan Capistrano, Matilija Nursery in Moorpark or other native plant dealers should produce good choice and knowledgeable advice.