Lilac

Syringa (lilac) is a genus of 12 currently recognized species of flowering woody plants in the olive family (Oleaceae), native to woodland and scrub from southeastern Europe to eastern Asia, and widely and commonly cultivated in temperate areas elsewhere. They are part of the olive family, along with other such ornamental plants as ash trees, forsythia bushes, and privet hedges. The outstanding quality of many lilac varieties is the sweet fragrances of their flowers.



Lilac plants are deciduous, with deep green leaves arranged oppositely along the stems. The leaves are usually simple with entire margins, though the leaves of some species are lobed or compound. The small four-petalled flowers are borne in large oval clusters. The fruit is a leathery capsule. The best time to plant lilac bushes is in the early fall before the ground freezes. They have a moderate growth rate of 1 to 2 feet per year.



Table of Contents


Height(Avg)

8 - 15 feet


Width-Circumference (Avg)

6 - 12 feet


Approximate pH

6.5 - 7.0


Types of Lilac


Wedgewood Blue (Syringa vulgaris 'Wedgewood Blue')



While many varieties of common lilac are rather large shrubs, 'Wedgewood Blue' is much smaller, making it a good choice for small gardens and landscapes. Unusual pink buds give way to pale lavender flowers in April and May. The color manages to be both soothing and energizing at the same time. Repeat the wonderful lavender-blue tones in your landscape with companion plantings of wisteria, forget-me-nots, Dutch iris, and grape hyacinth to capitalize on the tranquility of this hue.


Common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)



This is the “old farm lilac” from which most modern hybrids derived. It typically grows taller than they do, up to 16 feet or so, with single flowers whose color is—no surprise here—lilac. As with most of its single-flowered descendants, it produces panicles of highly fragrant, 4-petal florets at its branch ends. Vulgaris varieties usually take at least 2 years, sometimes up to 5 years, to bloom after they are planted.


Common White Lilac (Syringa vulgaris var. alba)



The white-flowered version of the farm lilac, this one also grows tall—and wide due to a multiplicity of suckers. Keep in mind that, on grafted bushes, you should remove all suckers, as lilacs typically are grafted onto privet. However, you can leave the suckers in place on bushes growing on their own roots if you want those bushes to spread into a hedge or living fence.


Primrose Lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘Primrose’)



Derived by Dutch breeder Garrit Maarse from an aberrant limb of the white ‘Marie Legraye’ variant, this lilac isn’t an intense yellow. In fact, the flowers reportedly start out cream and darken to pale yellow as they age. Still, a yellow lilac plant is unique and almost a contradiction in terms! This one tops out at 12 feet.


Sensation Lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘Sensation’)



Also a sensation for its unusual coloring, this lilac produces panicles of purple blooms with a white picotee edging on each floret. It derived from a purple-flowered cultivar called ‘Hugo de Vries’, on which Dirk Eveleens Maarse of the Netherlands spotted one branch with laced lilacs. Reportedly a bit slow-growing, it probably won’t surpass 10 feet in height. However, that lighter edge gives it a distinct edge on the competition.


Yankee Doodle Lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘Yankee Doodle’)



As is implied by its name, this dandy came from an American breeder, Father John Fiala, who founded the International Lilac Society and produced a large number of his own hybrids. This is one of the darkest purple color of lilac flowers, with just a few flecks of white at the centers of the florets. It grows to 8 feet high.


President Lincoln Lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘President Lincoln’)



Introduced by another American breeder, John Dunbar, a horticulturist at Rochester’s Highland Park, this lilac was named for President Abraham Lincoln—perhaps in response to Walt Whitman’s elegy “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” Its flowers appropriately put it among the bluest of the cultivars and it grows to more than 12 feet.


President Grevy Lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘President Grevy’)



Speaking of presidents, this introduction from famed French lilac breeder Victor Lemoine was named for a 19th century president of France and co-prince of Andorra, Jules Grevy. It grows to a stately 12 feet, producing mauve buds followed by double bluish-lavender blooms impressive enough to cause viewers to do a double take.


Madame Lemoine Lilac (Syringa Vulgaris ‘Madame Lemoine’)



Madame Lemoine is an upright, deciduous shrub with large, showy panicles packed with amazingly fragrant, double, white flowers. Opening from creamy buds in late spring, the abundant blossoms last 3-4 weeks and make a wonderful display of glistening white.


Monique Lemoine Lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘Monique Lemoine’)



Also from Lemoine, and probably named for one of his relatives, this lilac offers double white blooms. Keep in mind that there is an earlier lilac called ‘Madame Lemoine’ for the wife who helped him with his hybridizing, also with double white flowers. Don’t worry if you get the two confused, since either can produce resplendently bridal blooms on bushes 10 to 12 feet tall.


Paul Thirion Lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘Paul Thirion’)



Another Lemoine French hybrid, this one was named for a Nancy Parks horticulturist. As with most of Lemoine’s cultivars, it produces double flowers, this time on an 8- to 10-foot bush. Those blooms are an interesting reddish pink described as either magenta or fuchsia, so Paul shouldn’t pall on you!


Charles Joly Lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘Charles Joly’)



This lilac was named by Lemoine for Victor Charles Joly, a French physician and—probably more important to Lemoine—a writer on horticulture and vice president of the Central Horticultural Society of France. Like Paul, Charles, too, “wears” double magenta blooms on a bush that can reach 12 feet in height.


Monge Lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘Monge’)



Unusual for Lemoine in that it has single flowers, this lilac was named for Gaspard Monge, Count de Peluse, a French mathematician and physicist. It still “adds up” to a highly impressive cultivar that can be “counted on” to grow to 12 feet and produce dark reddish purple blooms on panicles 9 inches long.


Krasavitsa Moskvy, AKA Beauty of Moscow Lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘Krasavitsa Moskvy’)



One of the most resplendent white varieties, growing to 12 feet and offering double white blooms that contrast with the pink buds, this Russian hybrid is attributed to Leonid Kolesnikov. His Moscow beauty blushes a bit at such praise, often showing a faint tinge of pink on “her” white flowers.


Nadezhda Lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘Nadezhda’)



Speaking of Russian beauties, nada is prettier than Nadezhda—also from Kolesnikov—and its name means ‘hope.” It is somewhat similar in appearance to Lemoine’s President Grevy, with reddish-lavender buds followed by large panicles of double bluish-lavender flowers to help you double down on the hope that summer is really on the way.


Declaration Lilac (Syringa x hyacinthiflora ‘Declaration’)



Although most lilacs are late spring bloomers, Declaration declares itself early and loudly with single reddish-purple blooms in panicles up to 15 inches long, about twice the size of other types. It reportedly begins to flower at least a week earlier than those other types on a bush that can grow to 8 feet.


Golden Eclipse Lilac (Syringa reticulata subsp. reticulata ‘Golden Eclipse’)



Although lilacs have prettily heart-shaped foliage, they mostly just fade into the landscape after they bloom. This Japanese lilac tree introduced by J. C. Bakker and Sons of Canada is an exception to the rule. Its green foliage variegated with yellow will remain bright even after the white blooms fade. Take the “tree” in its description seriously, though, as it can grow to 30 feet high.


Angel White Lilac (Syringa x hyacinthiflora ‘Angel White’)



This lilac definitely will be an angel for gardeners in warmer climates, since it is one of the few varieties that reportedly doesn’t require winter chilling to bloom. Bred by Walter Lammerts for Rancho del Descanso in California, it grows to 10 feet and produces its pristine and early white flowers in heat.


Lavender Lady Lilac (Syringa x hyacinthiflora ‘Lavender Lady’)



Those of you who prefer that your “no-chill” lilac be more of a lilac color might want to try one of Lammerts’ earlier Descanso hybrids. With lavender-hued blooms, this lady can grow to 15 feet tall.


Miss Kim Lilac (Syringa pubescens subsp. patula ‘Miss Kim’)



Popular for “her” petite size, Miss Kim seldom grows taller than 9 feet in USDA zones 3 through 8. In late spring or early summer she wears purple buds, which open into pale blue or lilac purple blooms smaller than those of vulgaris varieties but also quite fragrant. And, unlike the vulgaris varieties, this somewhat heat-tolerant one introduced by Meader & Yeager offers autumn color with burgundy foliage, which “wines” before it falls.


Josee Lilac (Syringa pubescens ‘Josee’)



Another “little lady,” this everblooming lilac introduced by Georges Morel of France’s Minier Nursery seldom grows taller than 6 feet and features magenta buds followed by panicles of small pink fragrant flowers. Those blooms appear most profusely in late spring with the other lilacs but can pop up off and on again throughout the summer in cooler climates. In warmer ones, the bush might repeat its bloom only in autumn.


Syringa Bloomerang Series



A series of lilacs produced by Tim Wood of Spring Meadow Nursery, Bloomerang now is available in Dwarf Pink, Dwarf Purple, Dark Purple, Purple, and Pink Perfume. Growing to 5 feet—3 feet for the dwarf varieties—these cultivars bloom in spring as most lilacs do, but after a rest in June, they will continue to flower with smaller, darker panicles throughout the rest of the summer.


Planting Lilac


Lilacs thrive in fertile, humus-rich, well-drained, neutral to alkaline soil (at a pH near 7.0). If your soil is in poor condition, mix in compost to enrich it. Make sure the planting site drains well, as lilacs don’t like wet feet and will not bloom if kept too wet.


For the best blooms, lilacs should be planted in full sun, which is defined as being at least 6 hours of sunlight each day.


When to Plant Lilacs

  • Like most shrubs, lilacs can be planted in either spring or fall, although the latter is preferred.


How to Plant Lilacs

  • If you’re lucky, a friend will give you a sucker, or offshoot, of the root system of one of their plants. The sucker will look pathetic at first, but just dig a hole, backfill it with soil, and stick the sucker in. Then water and wait. In 4 or 5 years, you’ll be rewarded with huge, fragrant blossoms.

  • Transplanting nursery-bought lilacs is also easy. If it’s container-grown, spread out the roots as you settle the plant into the ground; if it’s balled or burlapped, gently remove the covering and any rope before planting. Set the plant 2 or 3 inches deeper than it grew in the nursery, and work topsoil in around the roots. Water in. Then fill in the hole with more topsoil.

  • Space multiple lilac bushes 5 to 15 feet apart, depending on the variety.


How to Get Lilacs to Bloom


Lilacs generally bloom in the mid-to-late spring, though the exact timing can differ based on the variety. The conical clusters of tiny four-lobed flowers have an exceptionally sweet fragrance. The blooms only last for a couple of weeks, but they should readily rebloom each year on a healthy plant. Deadheading, or removing the spent blooms, isn't necessary. To enjoy a longer blooming period, consider planting multiple lilac varieties that flower at different times.


A lack of sunlight is often the reason for poor flowering on a lilac. Watch your lilac for a full day to make sure it isn’t in the shade for any prolonged stretch. Lightly moist soil also encourages a stronger bloom. Mulch around the shrub can help to retain soil moisture and suppress weeds that might compete with the lilac.


Lilac Care


Once they’re established, lilacs don’t require much maintenance. They will typically only need watering during prolonged periods of drought, and they prefer annual fertilization. Pruning also is generally an annual task.


Light


Grow lilac bushes in full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days. Lilacs will tolerate some shade, but too little light can limit their bloom. They do not do well in full shade.


Soil


Lilac bushes prefer rich, loamy soil with sharp drainage and a neutral soil pH. They can tolerate clay soil, though it might stunt their growth.


Water


Lilacs like a moderate amount of soil moisture. But soggy soil can lead to root rot and poor blooming. Water young lilacs regularly to keep the soil lightly moist. Mature plants typically will only need watering during periods of drought.


Temperature and Humidity


Lilacs bushes prefer climates that have fairly cool summers. They are not recommended for hot, humid areas, such as the Southern United States. High humidity can lead to fungal diseases on the plant. Moreover, lilacs can tolerate temperatures well below freezing, though they prefer protection from bitter cold winds, which can damage their flower buds and break stems.


Fertilizer


Lilac bushes can benefit from a spring feeding, especially if you have poor soil. However, don't use a fertilizer that's high in nitrogen, which can lead to poor blooming. Instead, use a balanced fertilizer, following label instructions.


Pruning and Propagating Lilacs


Pruning


Pruning is critical for lilacs, both to promote flowering and to ensure air circulation to prevent powdery mildew and other problems. The right time to prune is just after flowering is over, as lilacs bloom on old wood. Prune branches to thin out the growth (for better air circulation) and to keep the height of the shrub in check. Cut the oldest branches to the ground, as they won't be strong flower producers anymore, but don't take off more than a third of the total branches. Also, prune any weak or damaged branches.


Propagating Lilacs


Anyone who has grown lilacs knows how readily they expand. Most lilacs are clump-forming plants that spread via shoots extending from the trunk. And these shoots can be used for propagation. Not only is this an inexpensive way to gain a new lilac bush, but it also prevents the existing lilac from becoming overcrowded. The best time to propagate is in the late spring to early summer to give the shoot enough time to become established before cold weather sets in.


To propagate, simply dig down around one of the shoots and cut it from the main plant, keeping the roots intact. Then, replant the shoot in rich soil wherever you wish, and keep its soil lightly moist (but not soggy) at all times until it's established.


Pests and Plant Diseases


Lilacs are fairly hardy shrubs and can survive most pest and disease problems. However, they are susceptible to several. The fungal disease powdery mildew is commonly seen on lilacs, especially during humid summers. It creates whitish powdery patches on the foliage. There are both chemical fungicides and natural methods for combatting powdery mildew. The disease usually won’t be fatal, but you should still treat your lilac as soon as possible to limit fungal spread. Common pests that can affect lilacs and damage their foliage include scales and borers. If you spot these tiny insects on the stems and undersides of leaves, treat your plant with neem oil or another insecticide.


Common Problems with Lilacs


Lilac shrubs are typically not problem plants in the garden. But they can encounter a few common issues.


Poor Flowering


A lilac that isn't flowering as much as it used to might need a rejuvenation pruning. To do so, remove a third of the oldest branches right after the bloom period is over. In the next growing season, remove half of the remaining old branches after flowering. And in the next year, remove the rest of the remaining old branches. New branches that flower more vigorously will replace them in a few years.


Leaves Turning Brown


Lilac leaves turning brown might be due to several factors. Insufficient water, especially for young plants, can result in browning leaves. Too much fertilizer also can damage the foliage, as can prolonged exposure to very strong sunlight. Most often, though, brown spots on the leaves are due to bacterial blight. This infection typically occurs when growing conditions for the lilac are subpar. So correcting its conditions is one of the best remedies for the disease. Also, promptly remove infected foliage to prevent the disease from spreading.


Benefits of Lilac Essential Oil


Lilac essential oil is particularly useful for people dealing with high-stress levels, anxiety, a weak immune system, parasitic infections, sunburn, premature aging, wrinkles, fever, inflammatory conditions, cuts, scrapes, and bruises.


Skin Care


The stimulating and antioxidant properties of this essential oil can help speed the healing process of the skin, particularly when you have small cuts, bruises or scrapes. It will not only protect these open wounds from infection but also stimulate the growth of new cells and increase the rate of healing, even of sunburns, rashes, and other inflammatory conditions.


Prevents Premature Aging


The antioxidants and astringent compounds in lilac essential oil can work in combination to improve the appearance of skin and make you look and feel younger. If you have lines, wrinkles, blemishes or other age-related marks, this oil can help tighten the skin, increase elasticity, and prevent many of the symptoms of premature aging.


Boosts Immune System


Bacterial and fungal infections are particularly susceptible to the effects of lilac essential oil. When inhaled through a diffuser, this oil can help your respiratory and gastrointestinal system stave off attacks from various airborne pathogens.


Reduces Fever


Traditionally known as a febrifuge, lilac essential oil can help to break stubborn fevers and begin the recovery process for people suffering from infections and illnesses. By promoting sweating, febrifuges can stimulate the release of toxins from the body and give your immune system a much-needed break.


Lowers Anxiety and Stress


As one of the most popular aromatherapy oils on the market, lilac essential oil is well known for its effects on stress and anxiety. Simply inhaling a few whiffs of this oil can impact your limbic system, promoting feelings of calmness and lowering stress hormone levels in the body. This can lead to better sleep and lower levels of depression, as well as a reduced risk of chronic disease.


Eliminates Parasites


In many parts of the world, the lilac essential oil has been used to cleanse the body of internal parasites and intestinal worms. While many people think of digestive aids as something to consume, it is not recommended that you consume it. Inhaling these powerful compounds or applying them to the skin is enough to promote their effects internally.


Improves Room Odor


Lilac essential oil provides a wonderful aroma to a room when used in an essential oil diffuser, and also has certain antibacterial properties that help to cleanse the room’s air and surfaces. The scent of lilac oil is very pleasant and commonly sought after by people interested in aromatherapy and passive health treatments.


Cosmetic Uses


Lilac essential oil is commonly included in cosmetic products, such as soaps, shampoos, perfumes and bath soaps. This is as much for the lovely smell of lilac as it is for the oil’s potential benefits for the skin and hair.


Cleaning Applications


People who prefer natural house cleaners, as opposed to mainstream products that may contain harsh chemicals, the lilac essential oil is often relied upon. The antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal and anti-parasitic nature of this oil, combined with its pleasant smell, make this an excellent ingredient in cleaning products.


Side Effects of Lilac Essential Oil


Lilac essential oil does incur certain side effects, particularly when used improperly or by certain groups of people with pre-existing conditions or allergies. The active ingredients in this oil can be very powerful and can have serious side effects if consumed or used incorrectly.

  • Allergies – Lilac essential oil does have a reputation for being an allergenic substance, so when you first begin using the oil, apply a small amount to a patch of skin and wait for 60-90 minutes to see if an allergic reaction occurs. If you use it and experience any sort of negative side effect, discontinue use immediately and speak with your doctor.

  • Pregnancy – Due to the high concentration of active ingredients and chemicals in lilac essential oil, it is generally not recommended for pregnancy. However, some women find relaxing and anxiolytic effects beneficial. But always speak to a doctor before using essential oils in any form when pregnant.

  • Skin Inflammation – Aside from allergic reactions, some people’s skin will react to the use of lilac essential oil, particularly when large amounts are used. Reactions may include the skin turning very red and itchy, combines with hives or a larger rash. Using this oil with a carrier oil for topical applications can lower your risk of this side effect.

  • Internal Consumption – Under no circumstances should lilac essential oil be consumed, as it can have toxic effects and lead to stomach upset, nausea, vomiting, headaches, dizziness, and other more serious side effects.


Uses


Decorative Uses


Lilacs have compelling shapes and colors, and many people enjoy using them in a decorative form. According to Growing a Green Family, you can press lilacs to create card covers, gift tags or journal cover decorations. Add lilacs to your mixed bouquets or let them be the main feature in a vase. Some people even use them as wedding cake toppers.


Culinary Uses


Lilac flowers are edible, but make sure they have been well washed and not exposed to chemicals. You can crystallize them and use them as candied flowers on cookies, pies and cakes. Add them to brown rice dishes and fresh green salads. Mix fresh lilac blossoms with honey and Greek yogurt for an aromatic, yet elegant dessert. Create a decadent lilac sorbet by simply mixing lilac flowers with sugar and water.


Fragrant Uses


Lilacs have a subtle fragrance that many describe as a scent of a rose mixed with a hint of vanilla. This is why their oil is commonly used in commercial perfumes. Make your own lilac oil by cold pressing the flower leaves, and then add the oil to your favorite candle. If you want to benefit from this plant’s fragrance without all the work, then simply add lilac flower blossoms to your bath. You can also mix them into homemade soap or sugar scrubs.


Medicinal Uses

These violet flowers have been used medicinally for centuries. According to the website Botanical, they were used in colonial America as a vermifuge, or a medication that treats parasitic intestinal worms. They were also used as a fever reducer and as a treatment for malaria.


Magical Uses

Some plants and herbs are believed to have magical properties and powers. The actual lilac flower symbolizes the first emotions of love, but it has other properties as well. According to the website for Joelle’s Sacred Grove, planted or strewn about lilac blossoms can drive away evil. Also, according to the website, lilacs can be placed in haunted houses to clear away bad energy and it also promotes clairvoyance, divination, peace, harmony and creativity.

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