Does Your Garden Lack Lilacs?
Lilacs are a fragrant addition to a landscape, and are one of the hardiest shrubs around. They are sturdy, adaptable and forgiving.
“I have seen lilacs grow next to an old homestead long after the place has been abandoned,” said Jerry Goodspeed, Utah State University Extension horticulturist. “No one has pruned, watered, fertilized or paid them a compliment in years, and yet they have survived and even flourished. Even more amazing, I have seen them grow in over-watered lawns, xeric landscapes and in a gravel parking lot. They are very resilient.”
Lilacs can be planted in any soil. They prefer well-drained, slightly acidic soils, but they also grow in heavy clay, straight sand and even rocks with a little soil, he said. The fact that they can survive in a climate without any supplemental moisture shows how drought-resistant they are, and they actually prefer being on the dry side rather than being over-watered.
For gardeners who want this attractive, sturdy bush in their yard, Goodspeed said spring is a good time to plant. Many cultivars are available at local nurseries and garden centers, and each year new lilac varieties are introduced. Although some of them look the same, many have different characteristics that set them apart from the rest.
Most people select lilacs by their color, he said. They can be found in colors from white to blue, and deep-purple to wine-red. This is one reason many lilacs are sold while in bloom.
One thing especially appealing about lilacs is their early bloom time. They are one of the first shrubs to blossom in the spring, and their flowers last three to four weeks.
“It’s almost a rite of spring to cut lilac blooms and bring them into the house to enjoy their sweet fragrance,” said Goodspeed.
Once lilacs are through blooming, they turn back into very ordinary shrubs, which is true for most flowering shrubs, he said. Their blossoms provide a couple of weeks of glory and enjoyment, and then they fade into the background.
Goodspeed said one way to help lilacs make the transition back to regular shrubs is to prune them properly. If left unpruned, lilacs can grow tall and become an unsightly focal point in a landscape. Lilacs are at their best when pruned between 6 and 8 feet tall. This also makes it easier for them to retreat from the spotlight once they quit blooming.
“Once lilacs quit blooming, remove two or three of the older canes at the ground level,” he said. “Even more may be removed, if necessary. I remove any cane that is taller than I can reach with my pruning shears. This opens up the plant, stimulates new growth and keeps the bush natural looking.”
Fortunately, not many pests invade lilacs, Goodspeed said. One that can be a problem, however, is the black root weevil, which comes out at night and cuts small half circles in the leaves. Products are available at local nursery or garden centers to help control them. A systemic insecticide registered for lilacs can also be used for control.
By: Julene Reese - May 1, 2006