Growing, Propagating and Pruning Lilacs
place is surrounded with some great old growing lilacs and as I write,
a bouquet of blooms graces my kitchen table. And what I know for sure
is that I'll be extending the planting of this wonderful
shrub on my own property. Just like these old pioneer shrubs that have
wandered over the back concessions in my neighborhood, my Syringa
vulgaris (the Latin name for lilac) is an adaptable plant.
Growing lilacs is best in full sunshine and indeed that is the only
place the plant will flower reliably. The more shade you give this
plant, the fewer blooms you'll see. If you have a plant that is not
flowering, this is normally the reason. The soil is generally not an
issue in growing lilacs unless it is very heavy clay (they
don't like that). Give it great soil or poor soil and it will
still grow well.
The only thing to
understand is that if you
feed growing lilacs heavily, they will grow leaves at the expense of
flowers. A shovel or two of compost is all it really requires. We often
see this happen with plants at the edges of lawns where they get a
blast of lawn fertilizer in the spring. Great growth but no flowers the
My old growing lilacs never see a pruning shear other than a cleanup of
dead branches. I never prune off or deadhead the spent flowers as it is
way too much work for this lazy gardener.
you do want to prune
flowers or shape the shrub, then do this chore within 6 weeks of the
blooms finishing. If you prune outside of this time, you'll
be cutting off next year's flowers as well as this years
spent ones. In other words, do not prune it in the spring or fall.
The lilac is perfectly adaptable to making a
small tree and this is
what the overgrown plants in my garden area will become over the next
few years as I prune up the lower branches and eliminate the suckers
around the bases. Fast growing lilacs also make an excellent fast hedge
that can be grown into the wild hedge. Or, it can be pruned (again
right after blooming) and maintained as a semi-formal flowering hedge.
Because it is deciduous (drops the leaves in the fall) it will not make
a year round screen but as a summer screen, it has few equals for speed
and ease of growth.
Common Complaint about Growing Lilacs
One complaint I often hear is that newly established lilacs
won't bloom. They will bloom in the container in the nursery
because they are root bound. But when you plant them outdoors,
they'll often take up to 5 years to establish roots and
enough top growth so they're comfortable in throwing a
blossom. And when they start, they'll bloom nonstop with
relatively few pests or problems for the next 50 years. The only reason
they'll stop blooming is if you change their sunshine levels
with surrounding trees.
get new lilacs from the old, dig up the suckers just before they
start leafing out in the spring or just after the leaves had dropped in
the fall. At these two times, the lilac will transplant easily and
establish itself in its new bed with great speed. Taking cuttings
doesn't work well; even the professionals don't
take fresh wood cuttings and expect them to root reliably.
hybrids on the market are budded and grafted for propagating rather
than done from cuttings. They are tricky for home gardeners to bud or
graft and cuttings rarely root in the home garden.
Problems with Growing Lilacs
A white growth sometimes covers the leaves and this is powdery mildew.
See the sections on controlling this problem.
A form of scale will also attack lilacs. You'll need to use a
dormant oil spray early in the spring before the leaves emerge to
Lichens attach themselves to the woody stems – these are not
generally a problem.
Plants to Look
There are several plants in this family you may want to investigate.
While I'm quite happy with the
old-fashioned wild ones, your
tastes may run to the French hybrids. These tend to be more intense
colours than the species and a much wider choice of colours with around
1000 varieties being available.
excellent choice is the Preston
Hybrids. Bred in Ottawa, these hardy plants bloom immediately after the
French hybrids but have equally lovely fragrances and colours. By
growing both, you can extend your bloom time well into 5-6 weeks of
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Silk' is another Canadian breeding that will grow up into a
small 30-foot tall tree. This is a fast growing small tree with white
flowers that are spicily fragrant rather than sweetly scented. I rather
like it and have a place for one in next year's tree planting
If you have a small garden, you might
want to investigate the
dwarf varieties. Most only grow to the 4-6 foot tall range but have the
fragrance and bloom shape of their larger cousins. If you have a small
garden, these are the answer to what to grow in that sunny space where
nothing else seems to want to thrive.
Growing lilacs is indeed easy and great fun for
creating a fast and
fragrant screening plant or small tree.
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