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Help! California lilac fading...

Posted by wmsts 97211 (My Page) on
Tue, Mar 18, 14 at 22:39

This just started late this winter. Right after the recent cold/snow snap I noticed several dead/dying branches on a very large CA lilac in front of my house. I started cutting the dead/dying branches away and found that some of the main stems of the bush had turned brown and were cracking. I cut back as much as I could hoping to save a large branch that was only partly affected, but now it appears to be going too. The brown rot ends at a junction near the main stem of the bush, but I am worried that's it's going to continue to spread and kill the whole. Is there anything I can do, or is it done for?

Thanks for any advice you can offer.

This post was edited by wmsts on Tue, Mar 18, 14 at 22:50

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Help! California lilac fading...

  • Posted by bboy USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA (My Page) on
    Tue, Mar 18, 14 at 22:45

The two main things that get these are low winter temperatures and root rot. The coastal species also often cannot take the heat of interior sites.

Sprouting from old, hard wood does not occur with the evergreen species - anyplace you have cut back that far you have now cut away that section of the shrub.

If it continues to look derelict for some months give up and take the whole thing out. If this is one of the popular evergreen hybrids cold damage can start as high as 15 degrees F.

RE: Help! California lilac fading...


I took a lot out, but I can always put something small in front of it. You can't tell from the photo, but it is massive on top. I'd really like to save it.

RE: Help! California lilac fading...

It sucks to have to rip out plants, but Ceanothus tend to grow very quickly. If you started with a one- or two-gallon plant right now, it'd be most of the way grown in a couple of years. Plus, it would look a lot better than a mature plant that's been cut back heavily.

I don't know which species/selection you have, but I'd strongly recommend going with one of the hardier ones: Buckbrush, Blue Jeans, Concha, etc. I've heard that Julia Phelps is similarly cold-tolerant, but I have no idea how it does in the PNW.

Heavy summer rain can also really damage Ceanothus. I planted a one-gallon Ceanothus thyrsiflorus 'Skylark' last winter and it was looking great... right up until we got 7" of rain during the last two weeks of September. By late October, most of the leaves had turned yellow and/or fallen off. Despite being really young and in the ground for only 8 months, it likely shed most of its root system. (And this is one of the more water-tolerant of the upright Ceanothus.) It's a good thing that I got rid of it and planted something else in that spot, as it likely would've died to the ground in December. (Last year was a bad one to be a California lilac in the PNW.)

RE: Help! California lilac fading...

Aha! 97211 is in Portland, OR, where the cause is most likely the cold we've had during the past several months.

I've lost 2 of my 3 Ceanothus and the 3rd probably won't survive.

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