Early Spring's Breath of Fresh Air!

Lilacs, most certainly, are a part of so many of our fragrant dream gardens, whether we have actually grown them or not! The word "lilac" can only mean one thing and that is early spring flowers with a light heavenly fragrance softly filling the air. These beautiful flowers are of pale lavender, creamy white, or rich purple, cascading on foliage of deep green.

We associate these beautiful flowers with happy memories of childhood, family celebrations, and traditions such as weddings, graduations, and other everyday occasions. Mid spring and early summer are the perfect times to use the soft-smelling, pastel colors of these flowers.If you have lilacs growing in your garden, not only will you have a good supply of beautiful, wonderfully scented flowers, but you'll have a handsome landscape shrub as well.These wonderful flowers are often planted as border plants, behind smaller plants,or as corner plants in public or patio areas. They are also used to help protect other plants, to act as a windscreen.

The lilac is a member of the olive family, which includes privets, and is divided into two main group's: (1) vulgares, which bloom on the previous year's wood, and (2) villosae, which bloom later in the season on new growth.

How do we grow Lilacs?

Here are some tips for growing success for your garden:

Plant in spring or fall. Late April or early May, and then again in late September into October are ideal. Always purchase plants growing on their own root system and not ones that are grafted onto roots such as privet.

These plants prefer to be in full sunlight seven or more hours a day. They also prefer to be planted in fertile, loamy soil, that is slightly alkalinic.

Once these plants have a few years of growth with regular watering they will become very drought tolerant. They enjoy having a good fertilizer such as 10-10-10 in the early spring and after they flower. Failure to bloom can be caused by a failure to fertilize.

Proper drainage is a must. These shrubs will die if there is standing water around the roots.. for planting in heavy soils such as clay, dig a hole and fill with very sandy, loose topsoil.

Many varieties will grow into very tall plants with massive foliage and should therefore be planted a minimum of 10 feet apart.

Spread wood chips, bark, or mulch about four inches in depth to the outer edge of the shrub. This will save moisture, help minimize weed pulling, and prevent damage to edge trimmers and mowers

While your plants are becoming established, water them well, about an inch of water per week, especially in early summer when flower buds are forming. You should continue to water in late summer and fall if experiencing a dry spell.

After Lilacs are through blooming, they offer less of the pastel color but do offer a dark green foliage that is beautiful, and works well as back drops for other flowers and plants in the garden.

Different Varieties and Colors...How Do We Choose?

While most gardeners plant lilacs for their spring flowers, the summer foliage on these plants is handsome and can add interest to your garden.

The early spring flowers can be either pinkish purple or soft white, although some of the hybrids are deeper in color, i.e., magenta, blue, and violet. In the summertime, they have leaves that are a dull, blue-green color and are heart shaped and about four to five inches in diameter. Fall colors are that of a soft yellow.

The syringa vulgaris is probably the most widely planted lilac. It was brought to this country from Europe before 1700 by the earliest settlers. Hybridization of this species and introductions of new varieties became a seemingly endless endeavor.

Extensive cultivation and hybridization has led to over 30 known species and 2,000 types of flowers that bloom from as early as the second week of May to the middle of June. Some, of course, are more ornamental than others.

Lilacs have such memorable attributes with their distinctive heart-shaped leaves, their classic flower clusters, and, of course, their unforgettable fragrance! What would Mother's Day or Memorial Day be without masses of lilacs? They come in a variety of colors, and it is often difficult to choose. Their colors vary from pale whites, light violet, darker blues, lilac, soft pinks, light magenta, and shades of purple.

Syringa oblata var. dilatata , the scientific name for the Korean early lilac, is one variety that blooms early. It is also known for havng lots of blossoms. It will have blooms of a soft pink color but may also turn a pretty red shade in the fall. This variety seems to be quite resistant to mildew, although its flower buds can be killed in an unusually cold winters.

Syringa patula 'Miss Kim', a dwarf Manchurian variety that is often selected, grows to a height between 3-1/2 and 5 feet. The small, icy-blue flowers are heavily clove scented, and the foliage can develop a deep reddish purple color in fall. Flowering in mid-May, it is the oldest lilac in cultivation. This shrub has become naturalized throughout the country, and if its not pruned, it will grow very dense, become top heavy, and will send off many suckers.

Syringa persica, the Persian lilac, blooms in late May. The flowers are a pale or light-purple color and are very fragrant, covering the outer surface of the plant in three-inch tall clusters. This is an upright shrub that is very delicate that has a large amounts of smaller flowers and dark green foliage. The leaves grow 2 inches long and 1/2-inch wide and are light bluish green like the common lilac. This species grows about 8 feet high with an equal spread.

Syringa reticulata, known as the Japanese tree lilac, is highly attractive. This very large plant produces soft-white flowered clusters in the middle of June, which is great because most of your flowering trees will have finished with their displays. The bark, which is quite similar to the cherry tree's, is equally ornamental. Originally introduced from Europe by early settlers, this variety became easily established because of its hardiness. It is not uncommon to find it in an open field near the foundation of a house that has long since disappeared. Old plants can grow as high as 15 feet with a spread of about 12 feet. This is usually too large for most present day gardens unless the plants are grown as small trees near a single-story house.

Syringa x chinensis, the Chinese lilac, is somewhat of an oddity in the plant world. It is thought to be the first hybrid lilac, It was first found and identified in Rouen, France, in 1777.

Syringa meyeri is one of the best types for the Midwest, mainly because of its resistance to powdery mildew. Plus, it is extremely floriferous! The dwarf variety, Palibin, will grow to reach a height of up to 5 feet and will show off its beautiful pinkish-white color in May. Its small shape, mildew resistance, and outstanding floral display make it a great choice for smaller landscapes and mixed borders.

Pruning Your Lilacs

The common purple lilac is a tough, reliable shrub that may reach heights of 15-20 feet. Unfortunately, as lilacs mature, the shaded, lower portions of the shrubs usually lose their leaves. Because lilacs are in the olive and privet family, they send off shoots of new suckers that will create new growth. This will cause them to outgrow their area if you do not prune them, making it very unattractive.

The best time to prune is right after they have finished producing blooms. Flowering buds are produced in the summer (June/July) for the following spring, so avoid late pruning which would remove these buds. Cut out 20-25% of the oldest branches each year and take out any crossing stems.

Once young shrubs are four or five years old, annual pruning is essential to ensure that you get flowers all over the shrub, not just at the top!

One way to renew a large, overgrown lilac is to cut the entire plant back to within 6-8 inches of the ground in late winter (March or early April). This kind of heavy pruning will create a large number of shoots that will develop during the next growing season. In late winter of the following year, select and retain several strong, healthy shoots to form the shrub framework and remove all the others at ground level. By hand, cut back the retained shoots to just above a bud to encourage branching.

To prune the older plants, hand-cut back the overgrown shrubs over a three-year period. Begin the procedure by removing one-third of the large, old stems at ground level in late winter. The following year again in late winter, prune out one-half of the remaining old stems. Also, thin out some of the new growth. Keep several well spaced, healthy stems and prune the others. Always prune all of the old wood in late winter of the third year. Additional thinning of the new shoots should also be done. Since lilac wood needs to be 3 or more years of age before it blooms, this pruning method should allow you to enjoy flowers every spring.

The work required to maintain Lilacs is minimal and the beauty and the fragrance you receive from them is worth every second of time you put into them.


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