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Friday - September 07, 2012

From: Bloomington, IL
Region: Midwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Planting, Propagation, Transplants, Shrubs
Title: Varieties of Ceanothus suitable for Illinois
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Ceanothus Velutinus is the smell of western Montana, my home, to me, and I have relocated to Illinois. I miss it so much that whenever I go home I bring back a jar of ceanothis leaves and keep them in the refrigerator, so I can open the jar and get my dose of western Montana smell. Can I grow ceanothus velutinus in central Illinois? If not, will ceanothis americanus, the species listed for Illinois, smell enough like velutinus that I can feel happy?


To answer your last question first, will Ceanothus americanus (New jersey tea) smell like Ceanothus velutinus (Snowbrush), and help with your homesickness? We simply couldn't say; only the Snowbrush even had a comment on fragrance in any of the sources we looked at, and that was that it had a balsam-like odor. Since this member of the Mr. Smarty Plants team has never experienced either plant, nor, for that fact, balsam, we could not possibly judge. Something we thought smelled divine you might think stunk and vice versa. Smell is very subjective, and fragrance is in the nose of the smeller.

So, may we propose a practical approach to your request? We looked at our information on Ceanothus americanus (New jersey tea) and Ceanothus herbaceus (Redroot), both native to Illinois, as well as Ceanothus velutinus (Snowbrush), comparing their growing conditions for similarities and differences.

Ceanothus americanus (New jersey tea): note particularly the soil requirements

"Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low , Medium
Light Requirement: Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry , Moist
Soil pH: Circumneutral (pH 6.8-7.2)
CaCO3 Tolerance: Medium
Drought Tolerance: High
Cold Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Well-drained, mesic sand, loam, or limey soils. Sandy, Sandy Loam, Medium Loam, Limestone-based
Conditions Comments: This extremely adaptable species can withstand inhospitable conditions because of massive, deep roots. It is quick to recover after fire."

Ceanothus velutinus (Snowbrush)

"Growing Conditions

Water Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry , Moist
CaCO3 Tolerance: High
Soil Description: Well-drained, rocky soil.
Conditions Comments: Too much shade quickly results in a leggy specimen. This is sometimes considered a perennial herb."

Both need well-drained soils;  it sounds like the one native to Illinois likes a sandy soil, but it also likes limestone in its soil, which might correspond with the Snowbrush preference for rocky soil. Both would do best in part shade (2 to 6 hours of sunlight a day), have medium water use and need good drainage.We like to check the soil needs of a plant native to a certain area (like Illinois or Wyoming) to get an idea what the soils are like in those respective areas.

Now for our plan for your experiment: Go to our National Suppliers Directory and enter your town and state, or just your zip code, in "Enter Search location" box. This will give you a list of native seed suppliers, nurseries and consultants in your general area. All have contact information, so you can inquire in advance if they carry either or both, or could order them for you. If both are available, and you can get them in time to plant before the first frost, plant one of each, for comparison.

If you can't get the Ceanothus velutinus (Snowbrush), you could bring back cuttings the next time you make a trip to Wyoming. Our favorite website with instructions for that is Plant Propagation by Stem Cutting  from North Carolina State University. Since we don't know if you fly or travel by car when you visit, you will have to work out your own arrangements for transportation.

Take several cuttings and attempt to root them according to the instructions, to give you a better chance of success. Then, again following the instructions, get them planted in part shade, prepare the planting hole for drainage by adding some compost. In Illinois, we would think early Spring would be the best time for transplanting woody plants.

Now, patience. Since we have no personal experience with the Ceanothus genus, we can't say when you can determine if you can get the smell of Wyoming in your Illinois garden without bringing it back in a jar.


From the Image Gallery

New jersey tea
Ceanothus americanus

Prairie redroot
Ceanothus herbaceus

Ceanothus velutinus

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