Training Ceanothus El Dorado into small tree

Bob_B(Sunset 14, Ca.)March 19, 2011

I planted a one gal Ceanothus El Dorado (18" tall), and I would like to train it into a small, single stem or tri-stem tree. Possible? When should I start selecting main stems and cutting off unwanted side stems? Also, one source said it needs some shade from summer heat. True?


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Dan Staley

My experience with other Ceanothus is that they'd rather not be severely pruned, as we expect from short-lived plants. That particular plant is more shade tolerant and its parent is found in more protected (not exposed) sites. In general your rule of thumb is that variegation indicates less tolerance of sun.


    Bookmark   March 19, 2011 at 11:19AM
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Here's a few pictures of ceanothus impressus from the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden, this variety certainly does small tree very well.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2011 at 12:15AM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

Bob my experiences with Ceanothus varieties, is they have their own grow forms, some as ground covers, some as low shrubs and some as trees. I don't think you can successfully change one to the other. I am not familiar with the one called "El Dorado" so don't know what its form of growth will be. Al

    Bookmark   March 25, 2011 at 10:07AM
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Bob_B(Sunset 14, Ca.)

Dak56, thanks for posting the pics of Ceanothus immpressus. Al, I agree with your comments. However, El Dorado is a Ceanothus thrysiflorus, which some sources say can be as tall as 10-12 feet, even 20 feet. This is is why I had hoped that it could be trained quickly into a small, high topped tree.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2011 at 11:18AM
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You're welcome, Bob.

Last fall my husband and I went to the Native Plant sale that was held at the SLO Botanical gardens and purchased two of the ceanothus impressus.

I do remember the woman selling them to us saying that their ceanothus had been trained into that shape. Ceanothus have evolved to accept grazing from the deer, a little selective pruning (less than an inch in diameter) should be fine.

Anyway, I've copied and pasted from their website:

Ceanothus 'El Dorado': Commonly known as the mountain lilac is in the family Rhamnaceae. Originally from California, it can be seen in bed 'A' in the Preview Garden. This evergreen shrub grows to 6 feet in height and width. It has deep blue flowers in the spring and summer and its leaves are dark green with splashes of yellow. The Mountain Lilac is used for a ground cover, on banks, as a background, an accent or a screen in large spaces. It produces leaves that attract caterpillars, pollen and nectar for bees and butterflies and seeds which attract birds. It must be planted in well drained soil and is native to rocky slopes. It should be seldom watered and water should be kept away from the stems. Some supplementary water is required during the summer but should be applied after the soil has dried. It prefers full sun or partial shade in inland areas. After the blooms have faded avoid cutting off limbs more than 1 inch in diameter. Pinch back the shoot tips during the growing season. The roots will rot if exposed to too much water. The Mountain Lilac is native to the chaparral plant community.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2011 at 1:11PM
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Sort of late on this post, but just joined the site. Ceanothus is one of my favorites. See some have asked about growing as a tree and I will say, yes you can. I planted a Ceanothus tree from a local nursey when it was 7' tall, about 1.5" diameter trunk. It's now 2.5" base and 9' tall.

If you ever hike up at Pt Reyes, along the skyline trail, about 7 miles into the hike, you'll walk throw a forest of trees that arch over the path. As I was walking, didn't give much thought to the tree until I decided to look at the trees. They were all Ceanothus. The bases were up to 10" in diameter and stood up to 12'; absolutely gorgeous.

In such a forest, the roots will be more on the surface, but if your planting isolated trees, they will remain deep.

I do the landscaping for a 132 unit condo complex in San Francisco. We are eliminating Brazilian Pepper trees due to their destructive root systems. Someone thought it would be good to plant them in a hot tub area. Want to guess what has happened to our pool decking & wood retaining walls?

We have now replaced the hot tub, decking and the walls to concrete. I have a space that is 12'x 5' Plan to plant a ceanothus tree, or possibly a Cercis Orbiculata (California Red Bud). They are great ornate trees for small areas, and the Bees/Humming Birds love them.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2012 at 4:30PM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

Ceanothus 'Ray Hartman' is a large, upright variety that is well-suited to shaping into a tree. One of the best resources to ask would be David Fross from who co-authored, "Ceanothus" printed by Timber Press, and is the founder of Native Sons Nursery. He grows an extremely large number of Ceanothus varieties at his nursery, and actually I suspect anyone there can give you excellent advice about this particular cultivar, and whether or not it might be suited to pruning into a tree.

Patty S.

Here is a link that might be useful: Native Sons Nursery

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 10:56PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

Recently saw a 'Ray Hartman' staked and growing as a tree for sale. Single stem with side stems coming off of it in a very symmetrical fashion, looked great. Kicking self for not buying it.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 3:13AM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

'Ray Hartman' does very well in our neck of the woods, Hoovb. They can become quite the specimen, growing 20'. Lovely, lovely ceanothus!

Patty S.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 12:25PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

Now I must kick myself again, Patty! ;)

    Bookmark   February 17, 2012 at 1:30PM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

Sorry, Hoovb! Maybe the nursery still has it, or can get one for you?? I'm contemplating planting a grouping of 'Ray Hartman' at the top of my front slope, where I have kind of an open area.

Patty S.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2012 at 7:32PM
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gotsomerice(Sunset 23)

My El Dorado grows pretty fast. Yes if your summer is really hot (valley or 15 miles or more from the coast). It should got some afternoon shade. Yes it is possible to train it into a tree. I would not try to trim it severely at once, especially in the summer.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2012 at 6:34PM
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