Growing Lilacs

February 12th, 2013 posted by Brenda Hyde


Although my love of herbs and flowers keeps me from ever choose just one favorite scent, I would say the lilac is my sentimental favorite. To me, there is nothing more wonderful then a light spring breeze that carries the scent of lilacs across the way. One simple bouquet can scent an entire room. They are old fashioned yet will never go out of style in the landscape. Lilacs came to America in the 17th Century and have been a favorite since then. The old fashioned lilac species is Syringa vulgaris, but this name will also include many French hybrids as well. You can plant lilacs in early spring but it really is better to plant them in the fall before the ground freezes. If your winters are especially harsh then spring planting would be a better option. Where should you plant? A sunny spot that receives at least 6 hours of sun where the soil is very well drained. Lilacs do not like wet feet and will often not survive if it’s too wet. They are VERY hardy, down to about -40, perhaps lower. BUT if the ground is too moist and the roots freeze in essentially what becomes a piece of ice, they might not survive. Also if you are in one of those cold cold climates you may want to place it in a spot protected from the icy winds as well. If your soil is on the acidic side then you may want to add lime to the soil every few years or fertilize with bone meal. Lilacs do better when the soil is not too acidic. So, you’ve planted your lilacs in a nice sunny spot and they just don’t seem to be flourishing. Your grandmother’s bloomed for years and years with no extra care, why aren’t yours doing as well? It could be several things. Lilacs do need to be pruned, but at the correct time. Prune too early or too late and you’ll won’t have blooms at all, or very few. Do not prune in late summer, fall or winter. Prune after they bloom, but don’t wait too long in other words. Later in the summer the blooms for next year are actually forming, and if you prune you interfere with the process. Try deadheading the flowers after the blooms have faded, and at this point prune any dead or old branches. But only prune about a third of the plant at a time. If you’ve never done this and you have a lot of dead wood, just do about a third each year until you have it all. It took a long time to get that way, and you don’t want to shock your lilac by chopping off too much. Two more things that could be hindering your growth or blooms-not enough space to allow the air to circulate around the plant and the wrong kind of fertilizer. Allow AT LEAST 6 foot between lilacs. Even if they are for a large row planting you don’t want to crowd them. They need room to grow! Also, do not treat your lilacs as if they are part of the lawn and fertilize with the same type of fertilizer. You’ll have a lot of green foliage, but less blooms. They don’t need high nitrogen fertilizer, so avoid this type of feeding. Lastly, I grew up with the common, old fashioned lilac. To me it’s fragrance is equal to the beauty of it’s blooms. If you are buying hybrids be sure to inquire about the fragrance. Not all are the same, and some newer types are either too strong or too weak. Research and ask questions so you aren’t disappointed. Edward Bunyard said that lilacs were “the very heart and soul of memory”. Louise Beebe Wilder said “my foolish heart clings to the old fashioned single purple and white, for no flower seems to me to so truly express the fullness of spring”.

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