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Master Gardeners of Douglas County

Master Gardeners of Douglas County

Lilac—Spring's Aromatic Flower

In the Garden with Extension Educator Larry Zilliox, May 22, 2008

Lilacs along with roses are some of our more aromatic flowers. Who doesn't remember their childhood spent at grandmother's when the lilacs were blooming? That aroma was imprinted on my brain and I have associated spring with blooming lilacs ever since. We also use the blooming time as a phenology indicator that our soils have warmed up enough to plant warm season vegetable crops in the garden.

Lilacs have a long history in the United States. Records dating back to 1750's indicate they were grown in botanical gardens in the New England area with the oldest known plants in Governor Wentworth estate in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Today Rochester, New York claims to be the Lilac capital of the World. Highland Park in Rochester has a two-week long Lilac Festival with over half a million people attending each year. The Highland Park has over 500 varieties of lilacs and over 1,200 lilac's bushes. In addition the park contains over 10,000 pansies, 700 rhododendrons, azaleas and numerous trees species. Go to www.lilacfestival.com, to find out more about this unique festival and gardens.

Lilacs originated in Europe and Asia. The common lilac originated in European countries such as the Balkans, France and Turkey, but today we find interest from Russia and Canada in addition to breeding programs in the United States. The French have created lot of fine lilacs over the years and today many are know as "French Hybrids." There are now over 1,000 different varieties of lilacs on the market with lilac, purple, white and pink the most popular colors. Varieties can range from 4 feet to 30 feet in height. It is possible to select varieties of lilac so you will have blooms over a six-week period.

If you are planning to plant some lilacs keep this in mind. Lilacs do not like a windy site. They require a minimum of six hours of sunlight per day in order to have good blooms. They also do not like to be crowded and require about 100 square feet per plant. Soil with good drainage is very important. The plants like water but the roots do not tolerate wet feet.

Lilacs should be fertilized each spring with a fertilizer rich in phosphorus and low in nitrogen, an example would be a 5-10-5. Mulching the roots would also help conserve moisture and keep the roots cool during the hot summer months. Pruning is not necessary each year, but once stems reach 1.5 inches in diameter they should be pruned out. Cut them off at about 12- 15 inches above the soil. Following this practice the lilac will renew it self and continue to bloom each year.