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There are not many things in life that can beat the heavenliness of stuffing your nose into the voluptuous blooms of a lilac and taking a deep breath.
Who cares if it gets water and pollen all over your face? The scent is so worth it!
Lilacs are one of those old fashioned favorites that remind us of our Grandmothers who loved them just as much as we do. Everyone should have at least one.
When the word "Lilac" is mentioned, most folks will think of Syringa vulgaris cultivars, or French Hybrid Lilacs. They are indeed, some of the most popular, offering somewhere over 400 different cultivated varieties, in colors ranging from white to blue to purple, and even yellow.
There are however, several additional species of Lilac that are very worth noting and growing. Below we offer information about some of our favorites. Click on links to see typical photos.
Syringa x chinensis - Chinese Lilac - Also listed as Syringa rothomagenesis, it is a hybrid between S. persica & S. vulgaris (Persian & Common Lilacs). Large, 4-6" purple-lilac colored fragrant single flowers bloom at the same time as French Hybrids, but flowering is more profuse. The habit is graceful, broad and arching, to 8-15' tall and wide. Leaves are a bit smaller than S. vulgaris.
Syringa laciniata - Cut Leaf Lilac - Small, single lavender flowers with great fragrance bloom in May. While the flowers are nice, the fine-textured feathery leaves hold the most interest on this plant. It is perhaps the only lilac that can bloom reliably in partial shade, and it can stand up to hot humid conditions better too. Add resistance to powdery mildew, and you have the perfect lilac. Mature at 6-8'. Zones 4-8
Syringa meyeri 'Palibin' - Meyer Lilac - Reddish buds open to pale pink flowers borne on 4" panicles in May. Blooms prolifically and at a young age. Fragrance is nice, but not the typical "Lilac" perfume. Green leaves are edged with purple when new, turning completely green with age. Grows slowly, and matures at just 4-5' tall and 5-7' wide. Makes a nice, dense, round shrub. Zones 3-8
Syringa patula 'Miss Kim' - Miss Kim Manchurian Lilac - Purple buds open to fragrant, single lavender flowers in May. Blooms prolifically, reliably and at a young age. Leaves are long and pointed. "Miss Kim" is one of the only Lilacs to develop nice fall color - reddish-purple. Mature at 3' x 3', but can grow larger with age. Zones 4-8
Syringa prestoniae - Preston Hybrids or Late Lilacs - Developed by Isabella Preston in the 1920's and later, Preston Hybrid Lilacs bloom 2-3 weeks later than most other Lilacs, extending the bloom season for Lilac fans. Flowers occur on the current season's new growth, and are mostly single form flowers in shades of pink, with a scent similar to that of Privet. Foliage is typically healthy and lime-green on stout branches. Excellent overall vigor, and nice bushy habit, mature at 8-10' tall and wide. Zones 3-7
Syringa reticulata - Japanese Tree Lilac - White, heavily scented flowers bloom later than typical Lilacs, in early June. This Lilac grows into an upright tree form, and is among the best choices on The City of Portland's Recommended Street Tree Lists. Mature at 20-30' tall and 15-25' wide with an oval to round crown. Zones 3-8
Syringa pekinensis is another Tree Lilac, similar to S. reticulata with exceptions of super peeling bark, a twiggier branching habit, and smaller eventual height, 15-20'. Zones 4-8
Syringa vulgaris - French Hybrid Lilacs - These are your Grandmother's Lilacs. Heavenly scents, a broad range of colors and single or double flower forms are some of the benefits of French Hybrids. Among their difficulties are increased susceptibility to disease, rangy habits, and foliage that shows its age by the end of summer.
To love this plant, you have to be all about the flowers. Flowers are grouped into color classes: Violet, Blue, Purple, Magenta, Lilac, Pink, White and Yellow. They can be single form, having only 4 petals, and double, or clustered, having 8 or more. Bloom is usually in late April and early May in Portland.
Photo credits for syringa: Monrovia
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Genus: Syringa, from the Greek syrix, a reed or pipe, referring to hollow stems
Common Name: Lilac Origin: Eastern Asia & SE Europe
Characteristics: Many species of deciduous shrubs or small trees with panicles of small, spring-blooming flowers, all of which are fragrant. A broad selection of flower colors exists, from white to pink to purple. Leaves are opposite, simple or pinnate. Fruit is a 2 valve capsule.
Culture: Lilacs prefer full sun, at least 6 hours daily. They enjoy improved soil drainage, and a neutral to alkaline Ph, so adding compost and lime to Portland soil when planting is imperative.
Lilacs need one inch of water per week, and they do not appreciate over watering. Once established, water needs will decrease, but they like a deep drink in the heat of summer.
Pruning: Prune spent flowers immediately after bloom has faded. To renovate, prune 1/3 of the oldest wood to 12-24" from ground level.
Pests and Diseases: Bacterial and fungal problems are the arch enemies of Lilacs in Portland. In the "Manual of Woody Landscape Plants" Michael Dirr lists bacterial blight, Phytophthora blight, leaf blights, leaf spots, powdery mildew, wilt, ring spot virus and witches' broom as potential problems. Not to mention bugs. Yikes!
The best bet for avoiding problems is to improve soil drainage, as suggested above, keep the area around the plant clean by raking leaves in autumn and pulling weeds, fertilize regularly, add a layer of mulch over the roots in spring and fall, and apply preventative dormant sprays.
And pray for sunshine. If problems develop despite your best efforts, there is a slew of fungicides that can help.