Natural gardening: colorful and fragrant lilacs

It was my mother’s favorite flower. She loved the vibrant colors, the prolific flowers and especially the sweet, deep scent of lilac.

In Michigan, we had cold winters, sunny, warm summers, and enough rainfall, which was ideal for producing those heart-shaped leaves and abundant clusters of fragrant flowers. Then there were the intriguing hummingbirds and butterflies. Some childhood memories stay with a person.

Clarence Schmidt

(Courtesy picture)

Its botanical name, Syringa vulgaris, is also known as Common lilac, Persian lilac, Asian lilac and…well, enough aliases to rival Puff Daddy.

And wouldn’t you know… in the wacky world of botany, the lilac belongs to the olive family. Go figure. I think rolling your eyes should count as cardio exercise.

Lilacs are hardy deciduous multi-stemmed shrubs (or small trees) that can grow for decades. There are over 1,000 varieties. These shrubs grow 1′ to 2′ per year. The common lilac grows about 10 feet tall. There are dwarf varieties that mature at around 5 feet tall. Japanese lilacs can reach 25 feet in height.

Its botanical name, Syringa vulgaris, is also known as Common lilac, Persian lilac, Asian lilac and…well, enough aliases to rival Puff Daddy.

And wouldn’t you know… in the wacky world of botany, the lilac belongs to the olive family. Go figure. I think rolling your eyes should count as cardio exercise.

Lilacs are hardy deciduous multi-stemmed shrubs (or small trees) that can grow for decades. There are over 1,000 varieties. These shrubs grow 1′ to 2′ per year. The common lilac grows about 10 feet tall. There are dwarf varieties that mature at around 5 feet tall. Japanese lilacs can reach 25 feet in height.

Small brown capsules split in half at maturity to release two seeds. Its wood is strong and has been used for making musical instruments.

According to the National Gardening Bureau, 2022 is the year of the lilac. They are native to Europe and Asia and were introduced to the United States in the 1750s.

Depending on the variety, most lilacs bloom in late May and only last a few weeks. Of course, the weather has a lot to do with their duration.

Lilacs need more than 6 hours of sun for best flowering and well-drained alkaline soil. They can be planted in spring or fall. Avoid planting in an area with grass directly below; frequent watering may be too much for them. Additionally, grass fertilizers are high in nitrogen, which will result in fewer blooms.

Lilacs prefer slightly moist, but well-drained soil that is rich and slightly alkaline.

High humidity can cause fungal diseases. Cold winters trigger a period of dormancy, which is necessary for them to flower.

Water young lilacs to keep the soil slightly moist. Avoid overhead watering. Mature plants will only need watering during dry spells. Too little water can result in drooping or distorted leaves.

You can grow them from a sucker (branching) of their roots. Dig your hole, plant the sucker and fill it with soil, compost and mulch. Then water and wait patiently for 4 or 5 years.

A faster option is to transplant a lilac purchased from a nursery. Place the plant in the hole and work in topsoil and water. Then wait about 2 years for these flowers. As a reminder, the plants purchased in the nursery are already at least 2 years old. Of course, adapting to a new environment may take longer to establish. Space several plants 5 to 15 feet apart, depending on the variety.

Three years after planting, feed them annually with an all-purpose fertilizer. Lilacs will not bloom if over-fertilized. To promote flowering, use a fertilizer rich in phosphorus.

Officially there are seven colors: white, purple, blue, lavender, pink, magenta and purple with many shades in each color.

According to Calscape.org, Gardenia.net and Monrovia Nurseries, consider Lavender Lady (purple flowers), Yankee Point (blue), Ray Hartman (blue), Dark Star (dark blue), Remote Blue (light blue), Blue Jeans (purple ), Belle de Nancy (pink) and Palibin (pink, dwarf).

The flowers make excellent cut flowers and will last three to five days in daily soft water. Spray their petals as well.

Overwatering, lack of sun, and improper pruning can lead to poor flowering. Browning leaves are caused by lack of water or bacterial blight. Too much fertilizer can also damage foliage. Remove infected foliage to prevent the spread of the disease. Lilacs prefer east or north facing slopes or flat ground.

Lilac bushes can be prone to powdery mildew after a hot, humid summer. Blights, leaf spots and wilting can sometimes affect these plants.

Maintenance consists of watering during prolonged and annual fertilization, and pruning.

Ants, aphids, borers, leaf miners, scale insects and thrips are the main buggers. Treat your plant with good old neem oil or insecticidal soap.

The Iowa State University Extension Service suggests pruning them only in late spring after they bloom. Deadheading is not necessary. Remove any diseased and dead wood, small sprouts, old canes and weak and damaged branches. Severe pruning will cause loss of flowers for one to three years.

Lilac is also associated with Easter as they bloom around this time. The same goes for Easter lilies, daffodils, hyacinths, tulips, hydrangeas and about 10,000 other plants.

Lilacs are often considered to symbolize love. Of course, the same goes for roses, anthuriums, cyclamen, lavender, orchids and around 10,000 other plants.

Mom, you picked a good flower.

Comments are closed.