Gardeners love lilacs for many reasons, not the least of which are its open sprays and sweet fragrance. A blue-violet cluster boasts hundreds of miniature flower petals, creating a stunning visual effect. Delicate only in appearance, lilacs are a work-horse of sorts. They tolerate droughts, steamy summers, brutal winters and basically like to be planted in anything that resembles dirt. These loyal, easy-to-grow shrubs/trees will not disappoint, offering abundant flowers in everything from small containers to large countryside gardens.
Lilacs, once established, can last for centuries. Originally from Asia, Eastern Europe and France, the flowers have been cultivated worldwide. In America, the oldest living lilac, planted around 1750, is said to be located at the Governor Wentworth estate in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, according to The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University.
In 1767 Thomas Jefferson kept a gardening journal, tracking his lilacs. George Washington transplanted his lilacs in 1785 with great success.
Soil & Planting
Plant your lilacs in the spring after the threat of frost has passed. Lilacs thrive in slightly acid to alkaline soil that's well drained. It'll grow fine without fertilizer, but will flourish if a low-nitrogen fertilizer is applied a year after planting. Though lilacs are hardy, they need at least four hours of sunshine a day. Choosing a location for your shrub or tree is a commitment because lilacs like to spread out, no matter what species.
Space lilacs 6-10 feet apart if possible. Tree lilacs, like the Ivory Silk, can grow up to 25 feet as opposed to shrubs. If you plan to create a hedge, place each lilac 18 inches apart in a single, straight row.
Use pruning shears in the late spring after flowers have faded, before summer arrives. Don't wait too long, as during the summer, new lilac buds are formed for next year--so don't cut into next year's blossoms.
Lilac festivals occur in the summertime in many states, including New York, Washington, Virginia, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan and New Hampshire.
Lilacs are edible and can be used in salads, cookies, cake and ice cream. Tastes vary from plant to plant but it can offer a slight bitter flavor. An excellent book for delicious ideas and recipes is "The Edible Flower Garden" by Rosalind Creasy.
Oyster shell scale is a bug that extracts fluid from the lilac and hatches its eggs during springtime. The stems will be rough and gray, and bumps (the bugs) will appear on the wood. Solve this problem with lime-sulfur solution painted onto the branches.
During the spring, lilac blight can occur due to frost damage or flooding, says "Reader's Digest's The All New Illustrated Guide to Gardening." Young shoots blacken and die off. To treat this problem, cut off the infected leaves. They suggest spraying the plant with benomyl or a Bordeaux mixture. Use it again in the beginning of spring.