Lilac trees are a beautiful addition to any garden. Both avid gardeners and newbies to the pleasures of gardening are turning their attention to the beauty of sprays of lilac blossoms and their heavenly fragrance.
Much loved in the Victorian era, lilacs have enchanted people for centuries. Van Gogh, Marc Chagall, Claud Monet and Mary Cassatt －all these artists painted lilacs.
There is nothing that heralds spring as much as sprays of lilac flowers. We bring you all you need to know about growing these beautiful trees, which can serve as a hedge, a shrub or even small to large trees. Best of all, they are versatile plants and are easy to grow. Your house will smell heavenly too.
What Is A Lilac tree?
The common lilac (Syringa Vulgaris) is a large flowering shrub or small tree in the genus Syringa, which is part of the olive family Oleaceae. A lilac can grow to between 8-16 ft (2.4 –5 metres). As a shrub, they can reach 1.8– 3.6 metres with multiple trunks. Lilacs are fast-growing with a round crown and the dense foliage provides deep shelter and shade.
The pretty lilac pink and purple flowers are clustered in conical blooms of highly scented individual flowers. They bloom in spring.
Lilacs originated in the Balkans region.
There are some Syringa varieties with growth habits more like a tree than a shrub. The Japanese lilac tree (Syringa reticulata) and Chinese lilac tree (Syringa reticulata subsp. pekinensis) both grow with a single trunk.
Lilacs come in a range of flower colours, ranging from white, mauve, light pink, hot pink and even a deep and dramatic red-violet.
Let’s move on to some important considerations such as how much space you have before you buy a lilac tree.
Different lilacs have different growth characteristics. You need to ask whether you want a shrub, a tree or even a hedge. There are varieties to suit all gardens, from compact to large trees.
How To Grow A Lilac Tree
Bearing in mind the size of an adult lilac tree, choose a sunny spot where you want to make a focal point to grow your showy lilac tree.
They prefer and need at least 6 hours of sun daily and they thrive in alkaline soil. Add limestone to the soil if your soil is acidic or not alkaline enough.
Feed lilacs with fertiliser in early spring and again after flowering in spring. To encourage flowering, include super phosphate in the early spring fertilising.
When To Plant A Lilac Tree
Lilac trees are usually planted in spring or fall. But remember if you plant in spring, keep your lilac well-watered during the hot summer months. If you plant Lilac in the fall (the most preferred time), the shrub or tree will benefit from run-off from snow melts or winter rains.
You can cut back on watering from August. Remember, lilacs do not favour wet feet, which could lead to root rot.
Where To Plant A Lilac Tree
Lilac trees do best in a sunny spot. If you are lucky enough to have the space to plant a few lilacs, space them at least 10-15 feet apart as they can get quite wide.
Many people who lack the space grow lilacs in pots.
How To Grow Lilacs In Pots
Perhaps consider a dwarf variety for smaller spaces. You will see why in the next paragraph.
If your container or pot is large, move it to your chosen sunny position before potting up your lilac. Lilacs need large pots and regular maintenance to control their roots and keep them looking their best. Lilacs have large root systems.
Lilacs need humus or compost-rich soil, which is slightly alkaline. Place gravel and stones at the bottom of the pot for drainage before introducing the soil bed for your lilac to sit on.
Place your lilac on its bed of soil and backfill it with well-composted soil. Avoid using peat moss, which is too acidic for alkaline-loving lilacs. Press down firmly around the stem and water deeply for the first time.
Remember to fertilise your potted lilacs in early spring with a 10-10-10 NPK fertiliser.
As with free-standing shrubs or tree lilacs, remove the dead flowers and follow the pruning guide later in this post.
How To Plant A Lilac Tree In The Garden
Dig a hole to accommodate your lilac’s root ball with room to spare at the same level as the soil line. Fill the hole with soil and compost and push the soil down firmly but gently. Water it well and mulch it to help retain moisture. Adding sand or grit to your soil mixture will help with drainage.
Watch out for snails and slugs, the most common pests to attack lilacs. Lilacs can also get powdery mildew in hot and humid periods but most lilac experts say you can ignore it as it does not harm.
What Is The Meaning Of A Lilac Tree?
Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus described the genus of Syringa formally in 1753. The name Syringa is from the Greek word syrinx, which means ‘tube’ and it refers to the marrow-filled branches of lilacs.
The common name ‘lilac’ comes from the French lilac which probably originated in the Turkish word ‘leylak’. The word lilac is both a name of a colour and a fragrance.
In Greek mythology, there was a beautiful nymph called Syringa. The god of forests, Pan,was captivated by her beauty and pursued Syringa in the forest. Frightened by his affection, Syringa escaped by turning herself into a fragrant bush, which is called lilac today.
As lilacs flower in spring, an all-round meaning of the flower is a fresh start, renewal or new beginnings. It is often referred to as an omen or harbinger of spring. Lilac is also a symbol of Easter as it blooms around Easter time.
Lilac means different things in various cultures. Indians revere lilac for its beautiful fragrance and consider it magical. Lilac was also a fashionable colour in Victorian England, symbolising beauty.
In Russia, a sprig of lilac flowers is placed on a newborn’s chest to impart wisdom, while in the US, some cities such as Boston hold annual lilac festivals.
Lilacs are used widely in aromatherapy and are considered calming with soothing properties for anxiety and stress. Traditional associations with lilac include bold, daring, feminine, spring, Easter and mourning.
Where Do Lilac Trees Grow Best?
Lilac trees prefer cool climates. Cool winters trigger a dormancy period which in turn, prepares the plant for flowering. Enjoy the fragrance and showy flowers as the flowering time is short in spring, around a mere 2 weeks.
Lilacs can be grown in zones 3-7. They can tolerate cold winters, even as cold as -30 degrees Fahrenheit. On the other hand, lilacs favour warm summers. But they do need cold winters.
Most of the UK falls within zones 6-9 and lilacs can be grown just about anywhere in the UK.
Do Lilac Trees Like Sun Or Shade?
Lilac trees like a sunny growing spot but prefer cooler climates with cold winters. Tropical regions are not suitable for growing lilacs.
Getting The Best From Lilacs
Lilac bushes produce buds on older wood. It is important to prune and shape them straight after they stop flowing. This will ensure you don’t remove next year’s flowers and keep your lilacs shapely and neat.
The best time to prune lilacs is in late spring. And remember to remove ground shoots. During their blooming, deadhead flower sprays that are starting to fade.
If you need to renew a leggy old lilac tree, prune it in winter during the dormant period. They respond well to hard pruning, to about 1 metre above the ground. But remember if you do this, you will lose next year’s flowers.
Alternatively, you can prune some of the stems over 2-3 years, which means you will keep your annual spring flower show.
Small Lilac Varieties For Pots And Small Gardens
The following lilac varieties are perfect for smaller spaces:
- The Persian lilac (Syringa persica)
- Bloomerang Dark Purple lilac is a cultivar of the common lilac (Syringa vulgaris). It is compact and has been known to bloom again in summer.
- Miss Kim lilac (Syringa patula ‘Miss Kim’)
- Dwarf Korean lilac (Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’)
- Tiny Dancer Lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘Elsdancer’)
- Scentara Double Blue lilac (Syringa x ‘Scentara Double Blue’)
- Little Lady lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘Little Lady’)
- Wonderblue lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘Wonderblue’).
All in all, lilacs have made a big comeback with many viewing them as the flower of 2022.
Their popularity is sure to last well into 2023 and beyond, so this may be your year to plant a lilac.
They are deeply rewarding plants and you will get hours of pleasure from cut lilacs in a vase in your home or apartment.