Lilac Shrubs That Will Grow in California

California is home to several native lilac species, all called Ceanothus. Covering the springtime hillsides with their blue to purple flowers, these shrubs are all drought-tolerant and serve many purposes in nature, such as preventing erosion and providing food and habitat for birds, insects and mammals. Deer have been known to munch on some Ceanothus, so make sure your plant is in a fenced area if you have deer around.


This California-native lilac has dense clusters of dark blue flowers in spring. It will grow as tall as 8 feet and does not need irrigation after its roots have become established. It grows quickly and prefers sandy or other well-drained soil with a neutral pH. This Ceanothus lilac tolerates temperatures as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit and will perform well in coastal areas as well as farther inland. The Marin County Master Gardener website reports that it attracts beneficial insects and birds and that it will live for up to 25 years, providing it receives no summer water.

Blue Jeans

Also called the Holly Leaf Mountain lilac, the Blue Jeans variety of hybridized California lilac is a deer-resistant variety that has arching branches. It grows to 6 feet in height, spreads to 6 feet across and sports leaves that resemble holly. Its fragrant flowers, which bloom in spring, are blue-purple. Blue Jeans prefers habitats that have full sun. Las Pilitas Nursery in San Diego County reports that this variety makes a good hedge for borders. It will tolerate alkaline soil and temperatures down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

Julia Phelps

The common name of this Ceanothus is Small Leaf Mountain Lilac. Saratoga Horticultural Foundation developed this evergreen hybrid lilac. It can grow to 12 feet tall but is usually smaller. Julia Phelps blooms with fragrant dark blue to purple flowers in spring; Las Pilitas Nursery claims that the blossoms are so intense they can be seen from airplanes. It’s extremely drought-tolerant and will survive with only 9 inches of rain a year. It is best adapted to chaparral environments.

Carmel Creeper

The official name of this California native lilac is Ceanothus griseus horizontalis. It’s a low-growing ground-cover type of Ceanothus, growing no more than 6 feet tall. Its light blue, 1-inch long fragrant flowers bloom in spring and provide an important food for bees. This easy-care native plant helps to control erosion, according to the Marin County Master Gardener website, which also suggests planting it so it cascades over the sides of walls. Joyce Coulter is the name of a smaller-leaved variety of the Carmel Creeper lilac that is reported to be less attractive to deer. The Marin Master Gardeners recommend pruning this Ceanothus lightly when it finishes blooming.

Lilac California Rose

Although the classic lilac, known as Syringa, is best suited to areas where winters are colder than California, the Lilac California Rose, which is a cross between Syringa and hyacinthiflora, does well in “low chill” areas of this state. It grows to 20 feet or taller and spreads 10 feet or more, making it a suitable tall hedge or border plant. It thrives in full sun to part shade and blooms from late winter until early spring. Flowers are light pinkish lilac and grow in clusters up to 10 inches long. It will tolerate winter temperatures as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Keywords: lilac California, Ceanothus varieties, California lilac shrubs, native California shrubs, native California plants

About this Author

Barbara Fahs lives on Hawaii island, where she has created Hi'iaka's Healing Herb Garden. Fahs wrote "Super Simple Guide to Creating Hawaiian Gardens," and has been a professional writer since 1984. She contributes to Big Island Weekly, Ke Ola magazine, GardenGuides and eHow. She earned her B.A. at UCSB and her M.A. from San Jose State University.