- Lilac Plants for Florida
- ‘Blue Skies’
- Chinese Lilac
- Lilac Vine
- Miss Kim Lilac
- Is the South Too Hot for Lilacs?
- Tips for Growing Lilacs
- Common lilac
- Size & Form
- Tree & Plant Care
- Disease, pests, and problems
- Disease, pest, and problem resistance
- Native geographic location and habitat
- Attracts birds, pollinators, or wildlife
- Bark color and texture
- Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture
- Flower arrangement, shape, and size
- Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions
- Cultivars and their differences
- Blimey! This New Lilac Takes the Heat!
- Home-Grown Lilacs–He’s a Believer
- Syringa, Canadian Lilac, Hybrid Lilac, Early Flowering Lilac ‘Angel White’
Lilac Plants for Florida
Lilac image by Aleksander Reshetnik from Fotolia.com
A staple in northern climates, lilacs (Syringa) are a deciduous shrub that produce a fragrant, cone-shaped cluster of flowers in purple or white. The common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) is the most well-known and can grow to 20 feet in the proper climate. Florida’s heat and humidity are not conducive to growing lilacs and these plants will not survive in the central or southern parts of the state. In North Florida and on the panhandle, the ‘Blue Skies’ and ‘Miss Kim’ cultivars can survive, and there are some options for similar plants throughout the state.
The ‘Blue Skies’ lilac, a cultivar of the common lilac, can grow to U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zone 8, as it needs a shorter chill period that standard lilacs for the flower to set. This plant produces a fragrant bloom in late spring to early summer and should be planted in full sun or partial shade. ‘Blue Skies,’ introduced in 1987, can grow to 10 feet. This lilac prefers neutral to slightly acidic soil and should be watered regularly.
Chinese lilac (Syringa x chinensis) is hybrid that has been successful in zones 8 and 9b. The Chinese lilac, which can grow to 10 feet, has a deep purple flower in mid-spring. This lilac is susceptible to powdery mildew and, in Florida, should be planted in partial shade and soil should be kept moist. Also known as the Rouen lilac, this plant fares best in neutral to slightly acidic soil, but cannot tolerate heavy urban pollution. In Florida, this lilac should be planted in the coolest spot in the yard.
The lilac vine (Hardenbergia) is native to Australia and is not related to the common lilac. This plant, which can also grow in North Florida, is an evergreen vine that produces long, narrow clusters of flowers in pink, rose, violet or white. Not as fragrant as the common lilac, this plant does well along fences, walls or on pergolas. The lilac vine should be planted in sandy, well-draining soil, requires moderate water and prefers partial shade in Florida’s warmer areas. Increase water if the lilac vine begins to wilt.
Miss Kim Lilac
A native of Korea, the ‘Miss Kim’ lilac (Syringa patula) is particularly fragrant and has a light lavender flower cone. Also known as the Korean or Manchurian lilac, ‘Miss Kim’ grows into zone 8 and is suited to the state’s panhandle and northern Florida. The shrub grows 4 to 9 feet tall and produces pale purple to ice blue flowers. This lilac is resistant to powdery mildew, but does require more water than the common lilac and should be planted in partial shade or in a container in Florida. Due to the high heat of northern Florida summer’s, this plant should be watered frequently to avoid wilting.
Is the South Too Hot for Lilacs?
When Northerners move to the South, the plant they miss most is lilac. They want to know why they can’t buy one or if they can, why it won’t bloom.
Here’s a typical question about lilac from Jim in northern Florida.
“We live close to Jacksonville and have been looking for a lilac. At one nursery we went to, the guy didn’t even know what a lilac was. At another one, they said they don’t have them because they won’t grow in Florida. I asked him why and he said it was too hot. I can’t understand that, because it southeast Kansas we had a lilac in the yard for as long as I can remember and it often gets over 100 degrees there in summer.”
Jim, the problem with lilacs in the South is not how hot it gets in summer. After all, it can get over 100 degrees in Canada. The problem is the duration of the heat and the length of the winter. The majority of lilacs need a long period of winter chill in order to bloom well. Jacksonville is not going to get that.
A good substitute for lilacs in the South is lilac chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus). It has very showy lavender-purple to deep blue flowers in early summer, although the blooms aren’t fragrant. I have ‘Abbeville Blue’ in my yard and the spikes of deep blue flowers are spectacular. Another good one is ‘Shoal Creek’ with lilac-blue flowers. You can get chaste tree at many garden centers or order them from Forest Farm.
Hey Grumpians! Can any of you grow lilacs? Which ones?
Photo by B Mully.
Tips for Growing Lilacs
Last Updated: May 14, 2015 | by Mike McGroarty
Lilacs are one of those plants that people either love or hate. Gardeners have been growing lilacs for centuries, not only because of the show-stopping spring blooms but also for the flowers’ excuisite fragrance. Folks who hate lilacs think of them as just a weed, but those of us who disagree with that opinion know that growing lilacs is a labor of love. Lilac-haters just misunderstand these lovely plants.
Whenever someone tells me that they hate lilacs, their reason for this disdain is because they think all lilacs send out suckers, causing the plants to spread out of bounds. While it’s true that the ordinary, common lilac, Syringa vulgaris, does sucker, there are over a thousand varieties of lilacs these days and many of those varieties do not sucker.
Non-suckering lilacs will quite happily continue to grow for many years right where they were originally planted, without threatening to overwhelm neighboring plants. The creation of all these lilac varieties serves as a testament to the popularity of growing lilacs.
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Lilac varieties are quite diverse and range from small shrubs that reach only four to eight feet tall, on up to tree lilacs that can grow up to thirty feet tall. Most lilac varieties are hardy in Growing Zones 2 through 7, because lilac plants originated in the cool, lower mountains of Asia. But even those in warmer climates can be growing lilacs these days because there are a few varieties that will bloom in Growing Zones 8 and 9.
Wanted! People who would like to work at home
making and selling rooted cuttings.
Warm-climate lilacs are mainly in the hyacinthiflora and oblate families and they are typically early bloomers, producing their flowers in the cool spring weather. In Zones 8 and 9, you can be growing lilacs called Anabel which produces pink flowers, or enjoying the fuchsia blooms of Pocahontas lilac, or the white flowers of Sierra Snow. In Zones 4-8 you might also look for the cut-leaf lilac, Syringa laciniata. This lilac generally grows up to 8 feet tall and blooms in late spring.
Other varieties that are suitable for growing lilacs in Zones 4-9 include Blue Skies which tolerates heat and humidity. Blue Skies produces highly fragrant lavender-blue blossoms. Lavender Lady is a bit taller than Blue Skies and will bloom reliably in Zones 3-8, while Miss Kim is a bit shorter and is also a good selection for Zones 3-8.
Miss Kim is one of the more popular landscape lilacs these days. Also known as a Manchurian lilac, Miss Kim grows no more than nine feet tall and produces pink buds that open up to ice blue flowers in late spring. In the fall the foliage becomes an attractive dark red color. If you like growing lilacs but you have a small yard, the compact Miss Kim lilac would be a good choice.
Most folks enjoy growing lilacs for their beautiful flowers, but the plants bloom for only a couple weeks each year. To enjoy lilac blooms for even longer, plant several varieties with different bloom times. Charles Joly produces it’s deep purple double blooms fairly early in the season, while Chinese or Japanese tree lilacs bloom about two weeks later. One of my favorite lilacs, James MacFarlane, produces its flowery-scented pink blooms in early to mid-June.
James MacFarlane is a beautiful lilac variety with an unusual scent. This variety does not sucker and it’s a fast grower, quickly reaching its typical height of eight feet, and this lilac will often begin blooming the very next spring after it is planted. Swallowtail butterflies seem to be particularly attracted to James MacFarlane blossoms, another good reason for growing these lilacs.
While most lilacs bloom in shades of lavender, pink or white, there are also yellow-blooming cultivars available now. Primrose is a yellow lilac that is hardy in Zones 3-7. For a real standout in your garden, add a yellow Primrose lilac to your collection.
Growing lilacs doesn’t come without a few pitfalls, and the most common problem is powdery mildew. Powdery mildew often occurs in hot, humid weather and it causes the leaves to develop a dusty white coating. Powdery mildew is unsightly but it rarely causes serious harm to lilacs.
The foliage can be sprayed with a fungicide two or three times a week to treat powdery mildew, or it can be prevented with a spray of potassium bicarbonate which can often be found at garden centers. Some varieties of lilacs are more resistant to powdery mildew than others, so if humidity is a problem in your area, consider growing lilacs that are powdery mildew-resistant, such as Miss Kim or James MacFarlane.
If a lilac bush isn�t blooming up to par, or not blooming at all, there are several possible reasons for the lack of blooms. It could be that the plant is not yet mature enough to bloom. Most varieties will not begin to bloom until after they have been planted for three or even four years. If you’re newly-planted lilac hasn’t bloomed yet, just give it some time to grow up and establish itself. A lilac that has been transplanted will often take a break for a year also before it resumes blooming.
Make sure your lilacs are growing in full sun. Lilacs bloom best in full sun and may not bloom well if they’re being shaded by taller plants.
If a lilac needs pruning, this should be done immediately after the plant has finished blooming for the season. Lilacs form new buds soon after the flowers die back, so if the plant is pruned later in the summer, over winter or in the early spring, those flower buds will be pruned off and there will be no flower show the following spring.
If high-nitrogen fertilizer is applied to a lilac or to the lawn near a lilac bush, the nitrogen will cause the lilac to spend all of its energy on growing more foliage at the expense of blossoms. Nitrogen fertilizer promotes foliage growth but can prevent the plant from making flowers. Use a fertilizer higher in phosphorus to promote flowering, but lilacs are generally quite vigorous and rarely need fertilization.
Growing lilacs is really quite easy, and by choosing the best variety for your yard, even the most ardent lilac haters can learn to love lilacs.
Questions? I do my best to answer all questions on my blog…
Size & Form
Typically 8 to12 feet high and 6 to 10 feet wide.
Upright to irregular, multi-stemmed shrub.
Sizes vary with cultivar.
Tree & Plant Care
Best in full sun. Avoid shady sites. Needs good air circulation.
Prefers moist, organic rich, well-drained soils.
Intolerant of wet sites.
Flowers on old wood, prune after flowering.
Shallow rooted, a layer of mulch will moderate soil temperature fluctuations.
Disease, pests, and problems
The lilac is susceptible to many pest and disease problems.
Lilac borer, powdery mildew, verticillium wilt
Disease, pest, and problem resistance
Tolerant of salt, heavy clay soil, and deer
Native geographic location and habitat
It is native to open woodlands, rocky hills and scrubby areas in southeastern Europe, but has been widely cultivated throughout Europe and North America
Attracts birds, pollinators, or wildlife
Flowers attract birds and butterflies
Bark color and texture
Young stems are lustrous brownish-gray with small raised lenticels. Older stems are gray.
Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture
Opposite, pointed-ovate to heart-shaped leaves, 2 to 5 inches long,
Leaves are dark gray-green to blue green changing to a yellow fall color.
Flower arrangement, shape, and size
Very fragrant, tubular, 4-lobed, lilac to purple flowers in large conical to narrow-pyramidal panicles, 6 to 8 inches long .
Many hybrids and cultivars have double flowers, and come in a wide variety of colors.
Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions
Clusters of smooth, brown, flattened, dehiscent seed capsules (each to 3/ 4” long) which persist into winter.
Cultivars and their differences
There are literally hundreds of common lilac cultivars in the nursery trade.
Albert F. Holden lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘Albert F. Holden): 8 to 10 feet high by 6 to 8 feet wide; upright habit; deep violet-purple flowers with silver underside.
Miss Ellen Willmot lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘Miss Ellen Willmott’): 10 to 12 feet high; rounded habit; double white flowers.
Ludwig Spaeth lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘Ludwig Spaeth’): 10 to 12 feet high; upright habit; reddish-purple flowers.
Monge lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘Monge’): 8 to 10 feet high; upright habit; dark reddish-purple flowers; long blooming.
President Grevy lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘President Grevy’): 10 to 12 feet high; upright habit; double lilac-blue flowers.
Sensation lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘Sensation’): 8 to 10 feet high; upright habit; purple flowers with white margins.
Blimey! This New Lilac Takes the Heat!
When Northerners move to the South, there’s no doubt about the plant they mourn the most — their beloved lilac. Lilacs just don’t bloom here due to our short, mild winters. But now I hear a new lilac is blooming well all the way down to the Gulf Coast! Could this be true?
The lilac is a recent introduction from Proven Winners called ‘Bloomerang.’ It comes in two colors — light purple and dark purple. Reader Tom Barger from Houston, Texas wrote to tell me that his three-year old ‘Bloomerang’ “exploded with blooms” this spring. Lilacs seldom bloom well in USDA Zone 8. Tom lives in Zone 9.
Image zoom emPhoto; provenwinners.com/em
This is not Tom’s house, but the photo above of the light purple ‘Bloomerang’ gives you an idea of the plant’s shape and size. It eventually grows 4 to 5 feet tall and wide in the garden, but you can also grow it in a container. Tom reports that the flowers are fragrant, but not as highly perfumed as those of old-fashioned lilacs.
Image zoom emPhoto: provenwinners.com/em
This is the dark-purple version. You pays yer money, you takes yer choice.
Hype vs Reality When ‘Bloomerang’ first appeared, not only were nurseries touting it for its ability to bloom in the Deep South, but many also labeled it “everblooming.” They said this because under the right conditions, ‘Bloomerang’ may bloom again in summer and fall. A few observations:
1. ‘Bloomerang’ lilac is no more everblooming in the South than ‘Endless Summer’ hydrangea is. You may get a second, lesser blooming later in the year, but the only way ‘Bloomerang’ is going to be everblooming is if it’s growing in a nursery pot and watered and fed all the time, so that’s it’s constantly growing. I presume your garden is not a nursery.
2. Don’t expect great things from ‘Bloomerang’ right away. Give it three years in your garden to get its roots down and your hopes up before it does its thing.
More Blooming Facts ‘Bloomerang’ likes the same growing conditions as other lilacs. Give it full sun and moist, fertile, well-drained soil that’s moderately acid to moderately alkaline (about pH 6.5 to 7.2). Do any pruning immediately after the main spring bloom. Deer pretty much leave lilacs alone.
Other lilacs besides ‘Bloomerang’ bloom well in the South. Check out a previous Grumpy post, “Is the South Too Hot for Lilacs?” for more info on this. Tom reports his ‘Blue Skies’ lilac blooms well in Houston and says it’s more fragrant than ‘Bloomerang.’
Jackie, from Smyrna, GA asked me yesterday about growing lilacs in the South. Originally from up north, she described lilacs as her favorite flower and loves the soft colors and scents. However, she has had misfortunes in getting them to grow here in Georgia.
Here’s what I can say about this. This area of Georgia (Atlanta/middle) is in growing zone 7B. If you don’t know this about lilacs, they don’t flourish here in the South. They require a cold winter in their growing cycle and it just doesn’t get cold enough here for their dormancy. There are a few heat tolerant varieties that have come about- Miss Kim, Lavender Lady, Syringa, and Cutleaf. As far as I can tell, the jury is still out on these for the most part. (If you are having sucess with any of these, please let me know and send me pictures.)
I participated in a flower show recently and one of the horticulture submissions was a lilac. It happened to have won first place in its category. The most interesting thing about this plant is that it was grown in northwest Georgia. It is the old fashioned variety and that it has been in this particular family for many, many years. As it stands now, the plant is is in Zone 7A and is flourishing. I tried to get a picture of it, but the blooms have all gone now. It is standing at around 6′ tall and has relatively full leaves. It is planted on the north side of the house- which the owner says is the secret to its success. Here is a picture of the cutting for the flower show. You can see that the blooms are full and vibrant.
So, I will say, it is not impossible to grow these plants here in the south, but they take some tender loving care. Let me know how yours are coming along.
Thanks to Kristi Beach for contributing.
Home-Grown Lilacs–He’s a Believer
It seems that lilacs do grow, and flower, in Southern California.
A few weeks ago, while writing about other back-East plants, I mentioned that I had never seen a handsome, healthy lilac, outside of the chilly high desert or Descanso Gardens, which is situated in a cool canyon bottom dotted with oaks.
“Perhaps someone will send me a snapshot of his or her lilacs, and I’ll become a believer,” I wrote, “but until then, I’ll continue to think that lilacs look great beside a granite doorstep in New Hampshire but are a poor choice next to a d.g. (decomposed granite) path in Southern California.”
Donna Potts from South Pasadena answered my challenge:
“I read your lilac challenge last Sunday and would like to pick up the gauntlet.”
She sent photos of a bush in full bloom, and peeking over the garage behind was the top a palm tree, so I knew these photos weren’t surreptitiously taken in New Hampshire.
“I have a great lilac in my typical California garden,” she continued, “no decomposed granite path though. I do not know the specific variety, but they have a delightful fragrance.
“You are welcome to come over and see it with your own eyes and assure yourself that we can grow everything in Southern California.”
The picture she enclosed is very pretty, but South Pasadena’s not that far from Descanso Gardens.
However, the next letter I opened was from a reader in Rancho Palos Verdes. E.A. Trabin wrote that they’ve had lilacs blooming in their garden for the last 15 years.
The Palos Verdes peninsula is a long way from Descanso, a completely different coastal climate.
Another photo came from the Turski family in Venice, also a coastal community, of a very young plant in bloom.
From Valencia in the Santa Clarita Valley, Pete Colato wrote:
“Read your article whilst sitting in the garden admiring the neighbor’s lilacs in full flower. Having lived in the East, I am well acquainted with lilacs, and these are as beautiful as any back there.”
He also sent photos of lilacs hanging over the neighbor’s fence.
More photos came from Larry and Helen Merken in Chatsworth, of a bush in full flower that was nearly as tall as their chimney.
And from West Covina, Ruth Midyett sent photos of a big, handsome bush that is 25 years old. Readers in Glendora, Reseda and Thousand Oaks also sent photos.
And Nancy Lewis, who lives in Arcadia near the Arboretum of Los Angeles County, sent a photo of a lilac covered with blossoms. Her plant is the original Descanso hybrid ‘Lavender Lady.’
Of all the lilacs, these hybrids are supposed to do best in Southern California. Other Descanso hybrids for mild climates include ‘White Chiffon,’ ‘Spring in Descanso,’ ‘Mrs. Forrest K. Smith,’ ‘Descanso Giant,’ ‘Sylvan Beauty,’ ‘Pride of the Guild’ and ‘King of Descanso.’
I suspect that most of the lilacs in the photos were ‘Lavender Lady’–since it is the most common at nurseries–or one of these others.
Descanso Gardens was also quick to comment on my article. Rudy Schaffer, the volunteer curator of the lilac collection, suggested that my friend’s lilac, mentioned in my article, did poorly because of watering, not weather.
He said the key to getting flowers on the mild-climate lilacs like ‘Lavender Lady’ is to stop watering them after Sept. 15, letting them live on rainfall alone. This applies only to plants that have been in the ground for two or three years.
This drying out forces dormancy, which makes for good flowers. Resume watering when the first leaf or flower buds begin to open in spring.
For this reason, if you’re planting a new lilac, don’t put it near lawns or shrubs that need irrigation in winter.
He had other suggestions on how to get the most from a lilac in Southern California:
* When lilacs finish blooming, cut off the old flower spikes so seed pods can’t form. If they do, they’ll cause the lilac to bloom poorly the next year.
* Prune and thin plants older than 3 years when they finish blooming. Pruning also enhances flowering, he said.
* Begin the pruning by taking out twiggy growth. Then prune out any growth sprouting from the ground that is thinner than a pencil. Also prune out a few of the oldest, tallest canes that sprout from the ground, those that are 3 to 4 inches thick or more.
This will keep the plant from growing too tall (so you are no longer able to smell the flowers), while encouraging the young, vigorous canes that will make more flowers.
* Don’t prune after June 30.
* You should also fertilize plants about mid-May with a 10-10-10 fertilizer or similar type, and then put a thin mulch around the plants to conserve summer moisture and keep the roots cool.
* Fertilize one last time with a 6-10-10 (if you want more growth) or 0-10-10 mixture or something similar in late June.
* Don’t fertilize lilacs after the end of June.
Lilac fanciers can get a new handout on planting and caring for lilacs in Southern California at Descanso Gardens.
I’ll pass this information along to the friend who was trying to grow lilacs in Beverly Hills, and I guess I’m now a believer.
The clincher came from Monrovia Nursery Co. I had always assumed that this wholesale grower raised its lilacs at its Oregon facility. But the nursery grows its lilacs in Azusa.
Syringa, Canadian Lilac, Hybrid Lilac, Early Flowering Lilac ‘Angel White’
Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater
Unknown – Tell us
8-10 ft. (2.4-3 m)
6-8 ft. (1.8-2.4 m)
USDA Zone 3a: to -39.9 °C (-40 °F)
USDA Zone 3b: to -37.2 °C (-35 °F)
USDA Zone 4a: to -34.4 °C (-30 °F)
USDA Zone 4b: to -31.6 °C (-25 °F)
USDA Zone 5a: to -28.8 °C (-20 °F)
USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 °C (-15 °F)
USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 °C (-10 °F)
USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 °C (-5 °F)
USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 °C (0 °F)
USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 °C (5 °F)
Where to Grow:
Unknown – Tell us
Flowers are good for cutting
This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds
Flowers are fragrant
Unknown – Tell us
Late Spring/Early Summer
Unknown – Tell us
Soil pH requirements:
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)
7.6 to 7.8 (mildly alkaline)
From softwood cuttings
From seed; stratify if sowing indoors
From seed; sow indoors before last frost
By air layering
Allow pods to dry on plant; break open to collect seeds
N/A: plant does not set seed, flowers are sterile, or plants will not come true from seed
This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:
La Canada Flintridge, California