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I close my eyes this February morning and picture a large bouquet of lilacs – their heady perfume comes to mind immediately. Lilacs are one of the easiest shrubs to grow, especially in the Cariboo. These long-lived shrubs prefer our neutral to alkaline soil and, if given a minimum of six hours of full sun, they will bloom their hearts out for you.
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Most people think of lilacs as common hedges with fragrant purple blooms, but lilacs have much more to offer the residential gardener. There are so many species and cultivars with different types of flowers (single or double) and colours that range from white, blue, magenta, violet, pink and even a bi-colour! Not all have the round, heart-shaped leaf that we are all so familiar with. Some varieties have lovely ruffled leaves or small leaves & there is even one with a striking fall colour. They range in different heights and forms from a tree down to the dwarf. They all don’t bloom at once, so it’s a great way to extend the blooming times in your garden. There is room for more than just one type of lilac in your garden.
HEDGING LILACS are low maintenance and long living
Syringa vulgaris (Common Lilac) is ideal for hedging. This old fashioned favourite is one of the most fragrant. It does have the bad habit of suckering, but this will make your hedge fill in very quickly. Spacing the plants .75m. – 1m. Apart will give you a dense hedge. If you have very dry conditions, I would suggest Syringa villosa. This drought tolerant shrub is non-suckering with fragrant lavender flowers. Both will grow to a height of 3m with a spread of 2m. and are rated as cold hardy to Zone 2.
FRENCH HYBRIDS have the strongest scent
Cultivars of the common lilac were bred around 1800, but it wasn’t until 1900 that some of the better cultivars appeared from France, hence the name ‘French Hybrid’. These hybrids flower at an early age and have a very strong scent. They are ideal for the border or for creating shade and privacy around a patio. They generally bloom with the late flowering tulips; late May – early June. The flowers come in singles, doubles and various colours. Here is a sampling of some of the varieties we have.
Syringa vulgaris cv. - Ht. 3m. - Sp. 2m. - Zone 3
Agincourt Beauty’ - Single, deep purple.
‘Charm’ - Large single lavender-pink
‘Glory’ - Large magenta-red florets.
‘Kathering Havermeyer’ - Double blueish-pink flowers
‘Ludwig Spaeth’ - Single, purple flowers
‘President Grevy’ - Single, lavender blue flowers
‘Sensation’ - Sensational purple flowers with white pinstriped margins.
‘Madame Lemoine’ - Double white flowers.
Stunning plant combo: Madame Lemoine and Ludwig Spaeth underplanted with Bleeding Heart and the very striking pink tulip ‘Elegant Lady’.
TREE LILACS - should be used more in our gardens.
This small tree is underused in our landscape. The creamy white blooms have a delicate fragrance and appear later in mid-June. Besides the unique blooms, I’m drawn to its beautiful form. The layered upright oval requires no pruning. The Ivory Silk cultivar is similar in bloom but has a more compact, oval shape with cherry like bark.
Syringa reticulata Japanese Tree Lilac Ht. 5m. Sp. 3m. Zone 3
Syringa reticulata ‘Ivory Silk’ Ivory Silk Tree Lilac Ht. 5m. Sp. 3m. Zone 4
DWARF LILACS are short and sweet
If you love lilacs but don’t have the space, try the compact Syringa patula ‘Miss Kim’. The twinkling, scented light purple flowers bloom about a week later than the common lilac. This shrub also has a beautiful burgundy-red fall colour that is unique among lilacs.
Syringa patula ‘Miss Kim’ Miss Kim Lilac Ht. 1.5m. Sp. 1m. Zone 3
Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’ Dwarf Korean Lilac Ht. 1.2m Sp. 1.5m. Zone 3
Compact, rounded shrub with fragrant lavender flowers. Small leaves.
PRESTON LILACS have a distinctive look and smell
Isabella Preston, a Canadian breeder, developed the hybrid group S. x prestoniae. These lilacs have a non-suckering habit. The single flowers have a subtle fragrance and appear about ten days later than the common lilac. I find the ruffled leaves very attractive. This non-suckering type blooms later than French hybrids.
Syringa prestoniae ‘Royalty’ Royalty Preston Lilac Ht. 3m Sp. 2m Zone 2
Conical clusters of subtly scented violet-purple flowers.
PRUNING will promote flowers
To encourage the most flowers, prune right after the blooms have faded. The flower buds are formed the summer before they bloom. The best blooms appear on vigorous young wood, so it is important to keep new wood developing constantly. For older lilacs a renewal pruning is beneficial – remove a few of the oldest branches right down to the ground every year.
WHY DOESN’T MY LILAC BLOOM?
Be sure your lilac is receiving at least 6 hours of sun
Remove weeds and grass around base and mulch with 2-3” of bark mulch. The weeds and grass may be out competing the lilac for nutrients.
It sometimes takes up to 7 years for the common lilac to bloom. French Hybrids bloom within a year or two of planting.
Don’t forget to feed a handful of bonemeal every spring and after flowering.
One lilac grower claims making a scrape 2-3” long near the base of one trunk right after blooming season. Nothing fancy – a boot scrape will do. This shock method almost always works for them.