Multiple types of lilac bushes please the senses
When I breathe in the sweet fragrance of common lilacs (Syringa vulgaris), I am once again a little girl in my mother's garden holding as many stems as my small hands can manage, and inhaling as much of their perfume as my nose can hold.
Lilacs are easy to grow in our Midwestern gardens if planted in a spot with good air circulation, well-drained soil and full sun. They are shallow rooted and require supplemental watering in periods of drought. Adding a layer of mulch around the base of shrubs will help the soil retain moisture.
Lilacs rarely require fertilizer. An organic, all-purpose fertilizer lightly sprinkled around the bases of plants in early spring is plenty. Never feed them with a fertilizer high in nitrogen. It will cause a decrease in flower production.
My mother never deadheaded spent blossoms and her lilacs bloomed beautifully year after year. I deadhead my old-fashioned lilacs for aesthetics, cutting flowering stems back to the first set of leaves. Removing spent flowers on newer, repeat-blooming types is necessary for them to produce another round of flowers.
Pruning traditional lilacs must be done right after they finish flowering. Pruning later in summer or early in spring will reduce the quantity of next spring's flowers.
Begin by removing dead or broken branches and suckers from the base of shrubs. Then eliminate crossing branches or those that are growing in wayward directions.
Prune lilacs to reduce their height or to rejuvenate old shrubs by cutting them back to 6 to 12 inches from the ground. It will take a few years for them to regrow and bloom again. If less drastic action is preferred, rejuvenation can be accomplished by cutting a third of the oldest branches nearly to the ground. Remove another third each of the following two years.
There are countless varieties of lilacs. One of the best cultivars of Syringa vulgaris is Charles Joly. It shows off intensely-fragrant, deep reddish-purple, double flowers.
Donald Wyman boasts purple flowers; President Lincoln displays blue blooms; and Primrose parades creamy yellow flowers. They all grow 8 to 12 feet tall and almost as wide, perfect for a hedge or the back of a large perennial border.
Sensation is a unique cultivar of Syringa vulgaris. It sports uniquely-colored, deep reddish-purple flowers edged in white. It grows 10 to 15 feet tall and 10 feet wide. Plant this beauty where its dramatic flowers can be appreciated up close.
Gardeners with small spaces can also enjoy the beauty and fragrance of lilacs. Miss Kim forms a rounded shrub and is a more manageable 6 feet tall and wide. It is blanketed in lavender flowers -- a bit smaller and a little later than those on traditional lilacs.
Palibin is smaller than Miss Kim in all its parts -- smaller lavender pink flowers and smaller dark green, glossy leaves -- and its stature. It grows up to 5 feet tall and slightly wider. Miss Kim and Palibin are spectacular in mixed borders or planted as specimens in the landscape.
The Bloomerang series of lilacs was introduced to the market in 2009. This group of lilacs bloom on both old and new wood, so they flower heavily in May, take a break in June and begin blooming again in July. Bloomerang lilacs generally grow from 4 to 5 feet tall and wide.
My favorite of the Bloomerang series is Dark Purple. It is larger than the original introduction, Bloomerang Purple, and reblooms more reliably. Pink Perfume shows off light pink flowers. Plant Bloomerang lilacs toward the back of perennial borders with other spring bloomers or in shorter, neighbor-friendly hedges.
• Diana Stoll is a horticulturist, garden writer and speaker. She blogs at gardenwithdiana.com.