By Barbara Fahs, Garden Guides Contributor
Lilacs rank as one of the world's most beautiful and fragrant flowering plants. A member of the olive family, the Syringa genus includes 20 to 25 species of lilacs that are native to Europe and Asia. They form attractive perennial shrubs that can grow up to 30 feet tall. Lilacs normally produce their fragrant light purple flowers in the spring and are deciduous in winter.
Lilacs prefer a slightly alkaline soil, but can tolerate clay or sandy soils. Work some compost or humus into the soil before planting as this will help to nourish the plant and to keep the soil moist during dry spells. Favor areas such as hillsides or other locales where your plants will not be in standing water.
In the language of flowers, purple colored lilacs symbolize first love, while the white-flowering varieties represent youthful innocence. Lilacs are typically grown for their beauty and fragrant flowers. Common lilac is the state flower of New Hampshire, as it stands for the hardy character of that state's people.
Choosing a Variety
Common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) and French lilac are most likely the varieties you will find at nurseries, although many types exist. However, if you can find several different varieties, lilacs' relatively short blooming period can be extended through staggered plantings.
The fastest way to get a blooming lilac bush is to buy a young plant from a nursery. Even then, you might need to wait for two or three years to see and smell your first lilac flowers. Starting lilacs from seed can be difficult and if you succeed, you will need to wait four or five years for your plant to bloom.You can take shoots from an existing plant and start them in pots. Shoots pop up at the base of older plants and are attached to the root system, so try to dig up as much root as possible for the best success. When your young shoots are robustly growing, transplant them to the garden, add some compost to the planting hole and plant three to five shoots in an area to make certain that at least one survives. Try to transplant in early spring when the weather is cool, as they do not care for hot, dry weather.
Lilacs are very carefree and will provide you with many years of enjoyment. The older wood on lilac bushes is what produces the most flowers, so avoid pruning. However, it's a good practice to snip off spent flowers. If you begin seeing powdery mildew, to which lilacs are prone, dust with natural sulfur powder and perhaps do some pruning around the plant to improve air circulation. Lilacs like moist soil, but make sure the area where they are located doesn't get waterlogged. You don't need to fertilize your lilacs more than once a year, in the early spring. They thrive with a bit of general-purpose fertilizer, especially one that is high in phosphorus, which promotes blooming. Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers because they will encourage vegetative growth and discourage blooming. A good way to stimulate blooming is to collect some fireplace ash and spread it around the base of your lilacs.