Lilacs are highly prized for their sweet fragrance in spring. They thrive in rich, well-draining, slightly alkaline soil in a sunny location. Newly planted lilacs take several years to establish themselves but live for centuries, according to the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University website. They need ample water and flower blossom deadheading to provide abundant, fragrant blossoms. Several lilac varieties are well-known for their strong fragrance.
French lilac (Syringa vulgaris) is the most familiar, commonly known lilac. It grows 10 to 15 feet in height with a branch spread of 6 to 12 feet. The extremely fragrant flowers appear in early to mid-May in colors ranging from purple to mauve to white. The species was introduced to European botanists at the end of the 16th century and quickly became a sought-after garden flower. It blooms more profusely in alternate years when flowers are deadheaded when spent.
The late lilac (Syringa villosa) has purplish-white, tubular-shaped flowers on stems that are 3 to 7 inches long. The bush reaches 6 to 10 feet tall and grows 4 to 10 feet wide. Flowers begin their fragrant blooming in mid- to late May, continuing occasionally into June. Lilac bushes are deciduous and do not provide colorful foliage in the fall. They are hardy to U.S. Department of Agriculture planting zone 3 and thrive in rich, composted soil.
The pekin lilac (Syringa pekinensis) is also hardy to USDA planting zone 3. It is a small tree or multi-stemmed shrub that reaches 15 to 20 feet in height. Its fragrant, creamy white flowers bloom in late May to early summer on 3 to 6 inch stems. The Pekin lilac foliage is dark green and its bark is shiny and copper-colored, making it a prized garden specimen plant.
Japanese Tree Lilac
The Japanese tree lilac (Syringa reticulate) grows 20 to 30 feet in height with a spread of 15 to 25 feet, forming a round- to oval-shaped small tree. The large fragrant white flowers bloom in early to mid-June on stems 1 foot long. Lilacs are hardy and disease resistant but sometimes have problems with powdery mildew and the lilac borer insect. Borers leave a 1/8 inch hole in the lilac's stems and trunk. Oyster-shell scale is another common lilac pest and can be treated effectively by removing diseased branches.
- Photo Credit Flowering lilac in the city park. Novosibirsk, may 2007 image by Igor Zhorov from Fotolia.com
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