Everyday Gardeners

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Reconsidering Lilacs

The following is a guest blog post from Kylee Baumle – blogger at Our Little Acre. 


There are plants that we’re all familiar with, maybe too familiar, and though we can’t quite imagine the gardening world without them, we don’t always consider them for our own gardens. You know the ones – petunias, geraniums, red salvia, begonias, marigolds.  I call them “grandma flowers.”

These are omnipresent in garden centers, grocery stores, hardware stores, big box stores, and just about anywhere bedding plants are sold. And though we often dismiss them, that doesn’t mean we should.  After all, they’re reliable and easy, which is likely how they ended up in Everyone’s Garden.

Shrubs have their own familiar versions – forsythias, pussy willows, lilacs.  Wait!  Lilacs? Long a favorite of gardeners, they might fall into this labeling as an old-fashioned shrub – and they are – but that’s no reason to dismiss them from your landscape.

Though it’s hard to beat the fragrance of a good old-fashioned lilac (it’s why people placed them near entrances to their homes), old and new varieties of Syringa have that familiar scent as well as interesting colors and forms.

Popular cultivars include:

  • Syringa vulgaris ‘Betsy Ross’  A U.S. National Arboretum introduction, with a height of 8-10’ and spread of 8-10’, it has white flowers.
  • Syringa ‘Declaration’  Another U.S, National Arboretum introduction, this early deep reddish-purple bloomer will reach a height of 6-8’ tall and a spread of 5-6’.
  • Syringa vulgaris ‘Wedgewood Blue’  With a mature height of 8-10’ and a spread of 6-8’, this clear blue single has disease-resistant foliage.
  • Syringa vulgaris ‘Yankee Doodle’ This deep, dark purple flowering cultivar is a larger shrub, topping out at 8-15’ in height and a spread of 6-12’.

    Syringa vulgaris ‘Sensation’

    Syringa vulgaris ‘Sensation’

  • Syringa vulgaris ‘Sensation’  A favorite in recent years, due to its picoteed edging on dark purple petals, this heavy bloomer has a mature height of 10-15’ and a spread of 6-10’.
  • Syringa patula Sweet Treat™ Smaller, at just 3’ by 3’, Sweet Treat™ is perfect for use as a specimen planting and more heat tolerant than some.
  • Syringa vulgaris ‘Prairie Petite’ This introduction from the University of Nebraska has all the characteristics of an old-fashioned lilac, in a small size, growing just 3-5’ in height.

    Syringa Bloomerang®

  • Syringa Bloomerang® Dark Purple  Second in the Bloomerang® series of reblooming lilacs, this relatively compact shrub can reach a height of 5-6’ with a spread of 4-5’.  It blooms heavily in deep purple in spring, and continues less vigorously until frost.
  • Syringa Scent and Scensibility™  Another compact lilac, growing to a mature size of 3’ tall and 2-5’ around, its pink blooms are fragrant and appear intermittently throughout the season, though not as frequently as the Bloomerang® series.
  • Syringa vulgaris ‘Agincourt Beauty’  Considered by many to be one of the best deep purple varieties, this highly fragrant large-floret lilac can grow to a height of 10-12’ with a spread of 8-10’.
  • Syringa patula ‘Miss Kim’  A well-known compact variety used as a specimen planting, ‘Miss Kim’ blooms late and is known for its beautiful fall foliage color. It can reach a mature size of 6-7’ in height and 5-6’ wide. Easily grown on a standard.
  • Syringa x. prestoniae ‘Miss Canada’ A popular pink-blooming variety, this lilac is extremely versatile, being very hardy but tolerating warmer climates better than most. It also exhibits beautiful fall color and can be trained into small tree form. Mature height is 6-9’ with a spread of 5-8‘.

Cutleaf foliage

Lilacs require siting in full sun and good air flow around them for maximum blooms and healthiest foliage.  Unless size restriction becomes necessary, pruning is generally discouraged for best flower production and form, so be sure to take each specific cultivar’s potential size into account when planting.  It’s recommended to feed lilacs in early spring and again in early fall with an all-purpose plant food.

Lilacs do best in alkaline soil, but some are not as sensitive to pH. Each cultivar has specific hardiness ratings, of course, but most lilacs will do well in Zones 3-7. Be sure also to check out the less common varieties like the cutleaf lilac (Syringa x. laciniata), which has fern-like foliage.

No matter which lilacs you choose, their sweet spring fragrance is sure to evoke a pleasant memory and that’s as good a reason to grow them as any.  Grandma knew.






Kylee Baumle gardens in Zone 5b northwest Ohio and is author of Indoor Plant Décor: The Design Stylebook for Houseplants (St. Lynn’s Press, 2013).  You can find her on her blog, Our Little Acre.

8 Responses to “ Reconsidering Lilacs ”

  1. I need help. I have a lilac that is alive but has never bloomed or gotten very big. Had it for at least four years. I have had it on a hillside (clay) in full sun and now in a pot in full sun. What do I need to do?

  2. Give it a good talking to! Just kidding. Make sure you aren’t pruning it after spring. Lilacs form next year’s blooms on old wood. If you delay pruning much past a few weeks after its normal bloom time in spring, you take a chance of pruning off next year’s blooms.

    Where do you live, John? And do you know what cultivar the lilac is? If you live in the south, sometimes they can be temperamental bloomers too, depending on the lilac. Some are more suited to southern climates.

  3. I want to add that most lilacs won’t perform well in containers over the long term, as they don’t like to have their root systems restricted like that. Your best bet is to get that back in the ground. That doesn’t mean it won’t perform for you in the pot, but you’re lessening the chances.

  4. We planted a beautiful white lilac in our garden last spring. This year it is doing well but only had 3 flowers, although big and full of fragrance. The shrub has a lot of branches with out leaves, that are alive, should I prune them?
    Thank you

  5. perhaps my soil here is not alkaline?…how should I soil -aid my non blooming Ms. Kims?

  6. Can somebody tell me how to root lilacs. My neighbor has the most beautiful lilac tree I have ever seen she said her mom planted it over 30 years ago. How can I take a slip of it for my yard?

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