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My California Lilac Has Brown Leaves – Is It Dying? Can It Be Revived?

Figuring out what's wrong with one of the plants in your garden can feel like finding a needle in a haystack. Have you started to notice your California lilac's foliage turn brown and don't know what to do? Do brown leaves mean your lilac is dying? Can you save it?

We will answer these questions and many others throughout this article.

Usually, a California lilac's leaves will turn brown if it's getting too much sun exposure. If your plant is in the full sun and the temperatures are hot, it's common for the leaves to become sunburned.

In addition, your California lilac might have brown or discolored leaves because of underwatering, essentially causing the foliage to wilt and fall off.

As we start this post, we will cover all things California lilacs and discuss why yours is turning brown. Whether you're new to this species, live somewhere super hot, or need help caring for your flower, we're here to help out. With that said, let's dive right into this topic below!

Blue Blossom (Ceanothus thyrsiflorus), an evergreen shrub in bloom in city park in sunny day, California, My California Lilac Has Brown Leaves - Is It Dying? Can It Be Revived?

Why Are The Leaves On My California Lilac Turning Brown?

Close up of a bee on a Californian Lilac

One of the leading causes of brown leaves on a California lilac is too much sun. Generally, if the temperatures are consistently hot and your plant isn't getting any shade, it's possible to see some sun burning on its foliage.

Think of this like when we get a sunburn, our skin gets tight and peels. The same thing happens to the leaves on your lilac, although they turn brown before falling off.

Furthermore, your California lilac might have brown leaves because you aren't giving it enough water. This often ties into sun exposure because, without enough hydration, a plant will become unhealthy.

Especially for those in dry, desert climates, watering your California lilac is essential. Brown leaves aren't usually a sign of death, so this shouldn't be difficult to remedy.

However, if you continue to neglect your plant, that's when things can become more serious.

Why Is My California Lilac Losing Leaves?

Considering that California lilacs are evergreen, they shouldn't lose many leaves at once. Therefore, if this happens, you want to check the base of your plant.

Most times, overwatering will be the cause of foliage loss on your plant. As we said, you could also see leaf discoloration with too much sun, which can result in loss.

Water, however, is usually to blame here. Especially in spring or early summer, your plant should not be losing leaves or changing hue.

Since this is its prime growing period, issues like too much sun or over/underwatering can lead to a less-than-ideal blooming cycle and stunted growth.

An easy way to tell why a California lilac loses leaves is to feel them. Does your plant have bloated leaves? That means you're giving it too much water.

In contrast, does your lilac have crispy leaves? That means it needs a good watering ASAP!

How Do I Know If My California Lilac Is Dying?

Ceanothus or California Lilac in Eynsford, England

For those suspecting their California lilac is dying, there are some signs to be aware of. Generally, a dying lilac will have entirely dead or dying sections, often starting with leaf discoloration.

For example, if entire branches of your lilac bush are dead, something more serious is happening. Furthermore, if you notice pests along your plant, especially leaf miners, you want to treat it with an insecticide as soon as possible.

Luckily, you should be able to nurse a California lilac back to health. As long as you're quick, you can stop the spread of whatever pest or fungus has latched onto your flowering plant.

In addition, overwatering a lilac bush can cause fungus and disease, so if you see yellowing leaves and the soil around your plant is soggy, stop watering immediately.

Remember, this doesn't just happen overnight, so try and keep an eye on your California lilac to prevent serious illness/death in the future.

How Do You Revive A Dying California Lilac?

The best thing you can do for a California lilac when it's dying is to assess the soil. As we said, an over or underwatered shrub is the most likely cause of death and leaf loss/discoloration.

Therefore, you want to feel around the base of your lilac and see if it's dry or soggy. If your plant's ground feels super dry, grab a watering can and soak it.

In contrast, if your California lilac feels extremely wet and your plant looks yellow/brown, you need to hold off on adding any more moisture for a week or two.

Time is your best friend here, so try and leave your plant alone while it heals. If your lilac is sunburnt, this won't be life or death, but it could be worth transplanting it to a better spot or giving it more frequent waterings.

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How Much Sun Should A California Lilac Get?

A California lilac should be in full sun. However, giving your plant dappled shade could be better if you live in more desert-like conditions.

That said, lilacs can handle a few hours of shade daily, regardless of location, so they're not opposed to being partially shaded during the warmer afternoon hours.

Timeline-wise, we recommend planting a California lilac somewhere that gets around six hours of direct light every day, although up to eight hours is fine.

Again, some areas have stronger sun exposure than others, so if your yard gets super bright and hot, you can adjust your plant to fit the space better.

In general, the sun shouldn't be an issue until the summer. For example, if the weather calls for 90+ degree days for the next week or even a few months, you will need to water your lilac more often.

Is Too Much Sun Bad For Lilacs?

Although this shouldn't usually happen, a lilac can get too much sunshine. As mentioned above, 6-8 hours of full sun will be okay in normal climates.

However, if you're somewhere like Arizona, Nevada, or southern California, that much sun could cause your plant's leaves to be brown and become sunburnt.

More frequent watering should help keep your lilac in good spirits, but it isn't always enough. If the weather is drought-like, you might see your flowering bush slow down or discolor until things get better.

Even if a plant like the sun, that doesn't mean it will always tolerate intense heat for extended periods.

How Much Water Does A California Lilac Need?

Decorative ceanothus tree growing in garden.

One of the interesting things about California lilacs is that they don't require much water. Specifically, these plants thrive on neglect and don't require more than 1-2 waterings each month.

Of course, younger California lilacs will need water every week until they establish themselves in the soil, so don't neglect them. Once your plant gets bigger, that's when less watering is okay.

California lilacs do amazingly well in drought, so many people choose them for desert gardens. Again, if your summer weather is intense, giving your lilac more frequent watering might be helpful, so this will be slightly different for everyone.

You also need to ensure when you water a California lilac; you're giving it a good soak of 1-2 inches.

What Happens If I Overwater A California Lilac?

One of the first things to happen to an overwatered California lilac is yellowing leaves. Your plant may take on a bloated appearance, followed by browning and dying.

On top of that, an overwatered lilac won't likely produce flowers when it's time. So, adding too much water to help your plant might harm it.

Many experts warn that overwatering may also introduce fungus and disease to your plant's soil, which can devastate it. Depending on your lilac's age, a deadly fungus could kill it in a few weeks, so this can become serious quickly.

Are California Lilacs Easy To Take Care Of?

Macro of a honey bee with full corbiculae on a blue ceanothus flower

Yes, California lilacs are generally easy to grow and manage. Since these flowers are low-maintenance, you don't need to spend much time watering, fertilizing, or pruning them.

One of the most important factors for growing California lilacs is giving them well-drained soil. You also want to ensure the ground isn't heavily compacted, as this can become an issue later.

Drought-tolerant plants thrive in loamy soil, allowing their roots to sprawl into the ground and keep them secure. Sandier soils aren't great for this and don't hold water.

You want your lilac to sustain itself during hotter, drier times, and with the wrong soil, this can be very difficult.

In addition, you don't need to prune California lilacs that much or often, so try and let your shrub become full-size. Since this species grows to be around ten feet tall, it's understandable you might prefer to do some mild shaping.

To Tie Everything Together

Whether you have a California lilac or want to grow one, it's essential to know if your plant is healthy. We found that California lilac leaves will turn brown if they get too much sun and not enough water.

Furthermore, lilac may turn yellow or lose leaves if you overwater, so try and find a healthy moisture balance. These plants are generally drought-tolerant and only require about 1-2 waterings each month.

Regardless, try and give your California lilac well-draining soil and dappled shade if you live somewhere that gets super hot in the summertime.

Made it to the end? Check out these related articles below:

California Lilac: How And When To Prune, Plant, And Transplant?

What To Plant With California Lilac [11 Companion Plants To Consider]

How To Grow California Lilac [From Cuttings Or From Seed]?