Ceanothus 2.0 (or: Finding the Perfect Ceanuthus for Part-Shade and for Full Sun)

When my garden designer selected the plants for the Mediterranean mounds that replaced the lawn and part of the pool, she picked ceanothus and one ground-cover manzanita to create a (fairly) lush, green area. Initially, when I was watering the area every 10 days, everything looked great. But over time, it became clear, that Ceanothus thyrsiflorus 'Blue Jeans' was not the best choice for the spot.
  • First, two of the four plants were definitely in part shade. C. thyrsiflorus requires full sun. 
  • Second, C. thysiflorus is a late bloomer. Some years, when we had late rains, I was blessed with many blossoms and happy pollinators. But in dry years, I saw only a few sparse blooms. 
After battling scale and some rust on the two plants in part shade, and after two consecutive years of disappointing springs followed by semi-summer-dormant summers, I've decided to take out the plants and go for ceanothus 2.0.

I was surprised how difficult it turned out to find a low-growing ceanothus that looks like it tolerates part shade, and finally asked a friend who knows a lot about them. Here's the advice I got:
Ceanothus maritimus should do well in part shade. There are a couple of others that should do fine with part shade; including several C.gloriosus varieties.

Here is a list, the ones in boldface will be available at the CNPS sale  weeks.

Ceanothus foliosus 'Berryhill'
Ceanothus gloriosus 'Anchor Bay' -- definitely works in shady/part-sun spots -- I have 2 of them, one in nearly permanent shade, another shaded after 12PM. 
Ceanothus gloriosus 'Heart's Desire'
Ceanothus gloriosus 'Mill's Glory'
Ceanothus gloriosus var. exaltatus 'Emily Brown'

Ceanothus hearstiorum - that one is low and I've seen  it very annoyingly dying back every summer.
Ceanothus prostratus - very difficult to find.  I'll be trying to root some cutting this year
Ceanothus thyrsiflorus var. griseus 'Diamond Heights' -- but that one is very low
Ceanothus thyrsiflorus var. griseus 'Kurt Zadnik' seems OK in my garden in part shade.
 After  agonizing for several days, comparing photos on the Internet, and considering my options, I finally ordered four Ceanothus maritimus 'Midnight Magic' (below a photo from Curbstone Valley Farm blog).  I'm hoping the flower will work out, and that the location is a better fit for this variety. I was a bit surprised how small the leaves are -- usually shade lovers have larger leaves. But if it doesn't work out, I'll try something else in two or three years.

 Meanwhile, on the other side of the fence, in the hot dry side strip in the front garden, Arctostaphylos 'Emerald Carpet' had gone through some serious die-back this spring. And, much as I liked the pretty white flowers in the spring, I had probably been a bit overly optimistic assuming that this plant would survive with some handwatering only.

Internet searches for low-growing ceanothus that like full sun turned up Ceanothus 'Joyce Coulter', creeping mountain lilac. I'm interested to see how that will work out - the Internet seems to agree on 2-3 feet height for this plant, but Ms. Country Mouse has seen it taller. And how much water will she really need?

Stay tuned - it will be an exciting fall and spring! (Photo below from Annies Annuals, where I just bought several Mimulus puniceus to interplant with the new shade ceanothus...)


ryan said…
I find Emerald Carpet needs water until it gets well established, and then it is drought tolerant. Personally I wouldn't give up on it yet, though I don't really know your area and how hot it gets.

I've grown C maritimus in a shadier location than I think you have. It's okay so far, two years in, but growing much slower than I'm used to seeing with ceanothus. I've never grown Joyce Coulter. Because of deer, I don't really get to grow ceanothus as much as I would like.