LILAC

FAMILY: Oleaceae | GENUS: SYRINGA

TYPE
  • Deciduous
  • Shrubs
  • Trees
SUN EXPOSURE
  • Partial Shade
WATER
  • Regular Water

Plant Details

If there is one shrub Northerners wish they could bring with them to the South, this is it. No plant is more cherished than lilac for big, flamboyant, fragrant flowers. Most popular are the common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) and its scads of selections, but many other species and hybrids merit attention. Most are medium-size to large shrubs with no particular appeal when out of bloom. Leaves are typically oval and pointed or rounded, with smooth edges. Floral show (always after leaf-out) comes from numerous small flowers packed into dense clusters shaped like pyramids or cones. Depending on where you live, flowering may occur anywhere from earliest spring to early summerthat is, if flowering occurs. Like the Green Bay Packers, most lilacs are used to long, cold winters, and without that chill they are likely to perform poorly. This disappoints folks who are looking for the same spectacle in Atlanta that they enjoyed in Bangor. Some types, however, such as Syringa x laciniata and others described here, bloom well with only light winter chill and put on a good show even in the Lower South. Most lilacs won't bloom in the Coastal Southand certainly not in the Tropical South.

chinese lilac

syringa x chinensis

  • Zones US, MS; USDA 6-7.
  • Hybrid between Syringa vulgaris and Syringa x persica.
  • To 15 feet high and wide, usually much less.
  • More graceful than Syringa vulgaris, with finer-textured leaves to 3 inches long.
  • Profuse, open clusters of fragrant, rosy purple flowers.
  • Does well in mild-winter, hot-summer climates.
  • Alba has white blossoms.
  • Lilac Sunday is a vigorous, disease-resistant selection with light purple blossoms.

syringa x hyacinthiflora

  • Zone US; USDA 6.
  • Group of fragrant hybrids between Syringa vulgaris and Syringa oblata, a Chinese species.
  • Resemble Syringa vulgaris but generally bloom 7 to 10 days earlier; unreliable bloom in most of the South.
  • Asessippi (lavender) and 'Mount Baker' (white) are earliest.
  • Other selections include 'Alice Eastwood' (double magenta), 'Blue Hyacinth' (lavender), 'Clarke's Giant' (lavender; larger flowers than others), 'Esther Staley' (magenta), 'Excel' (light lavender), 'Gertrude Leslie' (double white), 'Maiden's Blush' (pink; excellent performer), 'Pocahontas' (purple), and 'Purple Heart' (purple).

A group of complex hybrids developed by the U.S. National Arboretum include uniform, heavy-blooming, disease-tolerant plants, some of which thrive in the Middle South (USDA 7). Look for 'Betsy Ross', to 10 feet tall, 13 feet wide, with large white flowers; 'Declaration', to 8 feet tall and wide, with reddish purple flowers; and 'Old Glory', to 12 feet tall and wide, with bluish-purple flowers.

cutleaf lilac

syringa x laciniata

  • Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9.
  • Open-structured plant to 8 feet tall, 10 feet wide.
  • Leaves to 212 inches long, divided nearly to midrib into three to nine segments; good rich green color.
  • Many small clusters of fragrant, lilac-colored blooms.
  • Highly mildew resistant.
  • Blooms well even in Lower and Coastal South.

meyer lilac

syringa meyeri

  • Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8, except as noted.
  • From northern China and Japan.
  • Compact, rounded shrub to 56 feet tall and 4 feet wide, with oval leaves to 1 14 inches long.
  • Fragrant, lavender-pink blooms appear in 3 inches-long clusters.
  • Resists mildew.
  • Best-known variety 'Palibin' is slow growing, with dense, twiggy growth to 35 feet tall and wide.
  • It blooms when only 1 feet high; a profusion of reddish purple buds open to fragrant, single bright pink flowers in 5 inches clusters.

Several popular hybrids resulted from crosses involving Syringa m. 'Paliban'. 'Jose' (US, MS; USDA 6-7) grows 6 feet tall, 5 feet wide, with small, fragrant, lavender-pink blooms produced in spring and then occasionally throughout the growing season, often with a second flush of bloom in fall. 'Bloomerang' (US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9) is another reblooming lilac; it grows just 34 feet high and wide, with a profusion of light purple or reddish purple flowers in spring and late summer or fall. 'Tinkerbelle' (US, MS; USDA 6-7), a dense, upright grower to 56 feet tall and wide, has fine-textured foliage and spicy-scented pink flowers; makes a nice specimen shrub or informal hedge.

persian lilac

syringa x persica

  • Zones US, MS; USDA 6-7.
  • Graceful, loose form to 6 feet high and wide; leaves 212 inches long.
  • Many clusters of fragrant, pale violet flowers appear all along arching branches.
  • Alba has white flowers.

preston lilac

syringa x prestoniae

  • Zones US, MS; USDA 6-7.
  • Group of extra-hardy hybrids developed in Canada.
  • To 12 feet tall and wide.
  • Flowers come on new growth at the end of the lilac season, after Syringa vulgaris has finished.
  • Bulky, dense plants resemble Syringa vulgaris, but individual flowers are smaller and are not as fragrant.
  • One of the best is 'James MacFarlane', a pink-blooming selection that blooms well as far south as Atlanta.

syringa pubescens microphylla 'Superba(Syringa microphylla 'Superba')

  • Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8.
  • Selection of a lilac native to China.
  • Compact grower to 7 feet tall, twice as wide.
  • Mildew-resistant leaves to 2 inches long, with bronze fall color.
  • Deep red buds open to fragrant, single bright pink flowers.
  • May rebloom in early autumn.
  • Heat tolerant.

syringa pubescens patula 'Miss Kim(Syringa patula 'Miss Kim')

  • Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8.
  • Selection of a lilac from northern China and Korea.
  • Dense, twiggy, rounded; eventually to 89 feet high and wide, but stays small for many years.
  • Sometimes grafted high to make a standard tree.
  • Purple buds open to very fragrant ice-blue flowers.
  • Leaves are 2412 inches long; may turn burgundy in fall.
  • Heat tolerant.

japanese tree lilac

syringa reticulata

  • Zones US, MS; USDA 6-7.
  • From Japan.
  • To 30 feet tall, 20 feet wide; can be grown as large shrub or easily trained as single-stemmed tree.
  • Smooth, glossy, red-brown bark.
  • Leaves to 5 inches long.
  • Blooms on new growth late in the lilac season, bearing white, musky-scented flowers in showy clusters to 1 feet long.
  • This is the most problem-free lilac.
  • It makes a good lawn tree, street tree, or informal screen.
  • Ivory Silk is a compact grower to 20 feet tall, with cream-colored flowers borne in profusion even at a young age.
  • Snowdance is slightly smaller, with large panicles of white blooms.
  • Signature, to 25 feet high, has rounded clusters of white flowers.

common lilac

syringa vulgaris

  • Zones US, MS, LS (some); USDA 6-9.
  • From eastern Europe.
  • Can eventually reach 20 feet tall, with nearly equal spread.
  • Suckers strongly.
  • Prune out suckers on grafted plants (no need to do so on own-root plants).
  • Dark green leaves to 5 inches long.
  • Blooms in midspring, bearing pinkish or bluish lavender flowers in clusters to 10 inches long or longer ('Alba' has pure white flowers).
  • Fragrance is legendary; lilac fanciers swear that the species and its older selections are more fragrant than newer types.
  • Make excellent cut flowers.

Selections, often called French hybrids, number in the hundreds. They generally flower a little later than the species and have larger clusters of single or double flowers in a wide range of colors. Singles are often as showy as doubles, sometimes more so. All of these lilacs require 2 to 5 years to settle down and produce flowers of full size and true color. Here are just a few of the many choice selections: 'Andenken an Ludwig Spth' (reddish purple to dark purple), 'Charles Joly' (double dark purplish red), 'Katherine Havemeyer' (lavender-pink), 'Madame Lemoine' (double white), 'Miss Ellen Willmott' (double white), 'President Grevy' (double medium blue), 'President Lincoln' (Wedgwood blue), 'President Poincar' (double two-tone purple), 'Sensation' (deep purple to wine-red with white picotee edge), and 'William Robinson' (double lilac-pink).

Other hybrids include 'Krasavitsa Moskvy' ('Beauty of Moscow'), with large clusters of pink buds opening into white double flowers; 'Nadezhda' ('Hope'), with deep purple buds opening into lilac-blue double flowers; and 'Primrose', with pale yellow blooms.

Descanso hybrids, developed to accept mild winters, perform well in the Lower and Coastal South. Best known is 'Lavender Lady'; others include 'Blue Boy', 'Blue Skies', 'Chiffon' (lavender), 'Forrest K. Smith' (light lavender), 'Sylvan Beauty' (rose-lavender), and 'White Angel' ('Angel White').

Provide well-drained, neutral to slightly alkaline soil. If your soil is strongly acid, dig in lime before planting. These plants typically bloom on wood formed the previous year, so prune just after flowers fade. (Until plants are established, just pinch back any overlong stems.) Remove spent blossom clusters, cutting back to a pair of leaves; growth buds at that point will make flowering stems for next year. Renovate old, overgrown plants by cutting a few of the oldest stems to the ground each year. For the few types that bloom on new growth, prune in late winter, before new growth starts. Major insect and disease problems include borers, scale, and powdery mildew.

blossom clusters, cutting back to a pair of leaves; growth buds at that point will make flowering stems for next year. Renovate old, overgrown plants by cutting a few of the oldest stems to the ground each year. For the few types that bloom on new growth, prune in late winter, before new growth starts. Major insect and disease problems include borers, scale, and powdery mildew.

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