Some grow too tall; some aren’t fragrant. A little research will help you find the right lilac for your garden, yard or container.
MANY PEOPLE LOVE lilac trees, mostly for their scent. However, if you don’t get the right variety and care for it properly, growing a lilac can be a frustrating experience.
In the first place, not all lilacs are fragrant. There are hundreds of varieties, and they each have different scents. If you’re after great fragrance, buy your lilac when it is in bloom at the nursery. That way you can do the sniff test and find one with the perfect fragrance, and pick your favorite color as well.
One to check out is Syringa vulgaris ‘Lavender Lady’, a profuse bloomer with big lavender flowers that emit a strong, pleasing aroma. The pink blossoms of Syringa x hyacinthiflora ‘Maiden’s Blush’ are renowned for extremely intense lilac fragrance with cinnamon overtones. Finally, the brilliant fragrant blooms of Syringa vulgaris ‘Congo’ open red and mature to purple.
What: One of the best lilac collections in the United States, in full bloom.
Where:Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens, 115 S. Pekin Road, Woodland, Wash.
When: April 21 through May 13 (Mothers Day).
What you’ll see: Stroll through the gardens, buy your favorite lilacs, visit Hulda’s Victorian-era home and shop for special lilac-inspired items in the gift shop.
Admission: Adults are $5; children 12 and under are free.
Lilacs can be frustrating because they often take a long time to begin blooming after planting. By the time they finally begin producing, they’ve grown to 20 feet, with most of the blooms occurring out of reach at the top.
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When you buy a new lilac, the only pruning needed is to cut back overly long stems to nodes farther back on the branch to promote bushy growth. Once flowering begins, however, annual pruning is needed to control for height and to promote heavier blooming. Every spring, soon after the flowers fade, remove the spent blossoms by cutting back to a pair of leaves or a side branch slightly farther down on the stem. Removing the spent flowers before they are able to set seed will prevent the tree from wasting energy ripening seed, and will encourage increased flowering next season.
Also, pruning every spring after the blooms fade will help keep the tree from growing too tall. If your lilac is too tall, right after the blooms fade, cut back a few of the tallest stems to vigorous side branches two-thirds of the way down the branch. Remember, however, that on most lilacs, blossoms are produced on the previous season’s growth, so don’t cut too many branches down hard, or you’ll pay for the reduction in size with fewer flowers the following spring.
If you don’t have room for a 20-foot tree, consider planting one of the dwarf Korean lilacs. These small, sturdy shrubs rarely sucker, can be kept below 6 feet and are suited to a container as well as a garden. The trees might be smaller, but the flowers are every bit as fragrant.
Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’, with powerfully fragrant, pinkish-lavender blossoms, is the smallest of all lilacs, maxing out at about 4 feet tall. Syringa meyeri ‘Superba’ gets only a smidgen taller, and its sweetly scented, deep-pink flowers are among the longest-lasting of lilacs. The newly introduced Syringa x ‘Bailbelle’ Tinkerbelle rarely exceeds 6 feet and is an olfactory delight. The deep-pink, single flowers emit a rich, spicy fragrance. Although it isn’t a Korean species, Bloomerang Purple Syringa x ‘Penda’ is a European hybrid that stays shorter than 6 feet tall and is famous for reblooming later in summer, with pinkish-purple, fragrant flowers.
All lilacs perform best in full sun, and well-drained soil. Lilacs prefer alkaline soil, so apply lime every few years to neutralize our acidic soil.