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With its sweet scent, pastel blooms, and heart-shape leaves, lilac stands out as a welcome harbinger of spring. The spring-blooming lilac comes in a variety of shapes and sizes—including dwarf shrubs, the midsize common lilac, and large trees with showy bark. Consider planting multiple types of lilacs with a variety of bloom times and colors to enjoy weeks of attractive flowers and fragrances.
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Part Sun, Sun
From 3 to 20 feet or more
To 20 feet wide
The common lilac (with which most people associate the fragrance) comes from the species Syringa vulgaris. Native to Europe, this deciduous shrub was brought to the United States by colonists who could not imagine living without the plant's pleasing scent. The common lilac reaches 8 to 12 feet high and 6 to 10 feet wide, with dark green leaves, purple flowers, and brownish-gray to gray bark. Because of its hardiness, this type of lilac works well as a single specimen planting or en masse as screens, hedges, or shrub borders. The hundreds of cultivars boast a wide range of floral colors that include purple, blue-purple, lavender, magenta, reddish purple, pink, and white.
Dwarf lilac varieties are smaller in scale than the common lilac but offer similar flower colors and scents. These shrubs reach 4 to 6 feet in height, which makes them suitable plants for small gardens and even containers. With their compact branching, the dwarf plants can be trained as hedges and topiaries. Their tighter growth habit requires less time and maintenance than the common lilac. The Meyer lilac, or dwarf Korean lilac, is one of the better known varieties. Four feet high and 5 feet wide, this little shrub produces dark violet flowers. Some varieties boast spectacular fall foliage in shades of orange, yellow, and burgundy.
Japanese tree lilac reaches 20 to 30 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide—proportions that make it a good choice for street plantings and hedges, or as a screen along property lines. This lilac produces fragrant creamy-white flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds in late spring to early summer, a little later than the shrub lilacs. It also boasts dark green leaves and showy reddish-brown bark that peels as the tree ages—an interesting visual to enjoy in winter.
Lilac Care Must-Knows
For best results, grow common, dwarf, or tree lilacs in full sun with well-drained, evenly moist soil. These plants withstand droughts well once they have been established. Common lilacs can adapt to part shade, but doing so will see fewer flowers produced in spring. Part shade also encourages powdery mildew, a frequent disease in lilacs. Counteract mildew by planting lilacs in full sun and pruning them regularly to increase airflow around the plants. Lilacs bloom on old wood, so prune them in the spring after the flower show is over for the season.