Enhance your summer garden with lilacs

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Lake Zurich 4/24/12 Lilacs are in bloom during a mild, sunny Spring day at Paulus Park in Lake Zurich on Tuesday, April 24, 2012. | Ruthie Hauge ~ Sun-Times Media

The lilacs were early, but beautiful this year. Lilacs have considerable nostalgia attached to them and are often associated with Grandmother or Mom. My Grandma and Grandpa Simmons had huge lilac bushes that Grandma loved to sit under to enjoy the spring lilac aroma.

If you really like lilacs consider planting several different types together to extend the bloom season. Proper selection can create a garden with six to eight weeks of near-continuous lilac blooming. I've had two bloom phases so far this year in my garden and expect one more.

The common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) usually blooms from mid-May to early to mid-June depending on the cultivar. This year many bloomed in April! Probably 95 percent of the lilacs grown are common lilacs. They come in many colors including white, violet, blue, pink, magenta, purple, and even yellow (actually off-white). The two main types of common lilacs are Fiala's and French. Good cultivars are selected for color, size, form, fragrance, habit of growth and disease resistance. My common lilacs have large purple and traditional white blossoms.

Right now my late lilac (Syringa villosa) is in full bloom. Although the late lilac usually blooms from late May into June, mine began blooming in late April this year. The rosy to white flowers on this lilac are not fragrant, which is a disadvantage to many. This shrub grows six to 10 feet tall, although mine is considerably shorter than the common lilacs next to it.

This year I planted five Bloomerang lilacs. This Proven Winners introduction is supposed to bloom in spring and then again throughout the summer. While traditional lilac varieties bloom for a few short weeks in spring, after a summer-heat rest Bloomerang's fragrant flowers continue until frost. It is a shorter lilac, only reaching three to four feet. Deadheading is recommended to encourage re-blooming.

Another small shrub lilac is the Meyer Lilac (Syringa meyeri), which reaches four to eight feet high and has small rounded leaves. Flowers are typically violet-purple and occur in May for about 10 to 14 days. They are spectacular though, as they cover the entire plant. This is probably my favorite small lilac.

The Miss Kim Lilac (Syringa patula 'Miss Kim') is also a smaller lilac that grows four to six feet tall, but the leaves are larger and more pointed. This plant has lilac-purple flowers from May into June.

The Tree Lilac (Syringa reticulata) offers a completely different form. This is a small tree that grows 20 to 30 feet high and 15 to 25 feet wide. It flowers from early to mid-June with typically white to off-white flowers. A popular cultivar is 'Ivory Silk' that has heavy flowering and deep green leaves, even at a young age.

Today's newer plants are the result of extensive crossbreeding and selection. With careful selection you can find plants with good mildew resistance in the exact color, size, and degree of fragrance you desire.

Source: Rhonda J. Ferree, Extension Educator, Horticulture, ferreer@illinois.edu

UI Cooperative Extension