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McKay Nursery Company

Everything to Know about Lilacs!

May 22, 2018 10:01:00 AM

Written by

McKay Staff

in Gardening 101 Plants & Flowers

Nothing underscores spring’s arrival like the smell of lilacs on a fresh, warm breeze. Don’t be fooled; there’s nothing common about the fragrant, mid-spring blooms of common purple and common white lilacs. Their nostalgic blossoms provide welcome food sources for early pollinators and evoke pleasant memories, but don’t let your enjoyment end there.  


With lilac selections like the following, you can expand your gardens, extend the lilac season and enjoy their pleasing perfume for weeks on end:


Early Blooming Lilacs

Left: Marie Frances, top right: Evangeline, bottom right: Marie Frances

Get a jump on spring flowers with early blooming lilacs that flower about two to three weeks before common lilacs bloom. The pink-red buds of Marie Frances lilac open to a soft, pinkish white beginning in late April to early May. Evangeline lilac’s extremely fragrant, pale purple blooms make the perfect early companion. Both these leading lilacs mature around 6 to 8 feet tall and wide, about half the size of common lilacs.


French Hybrids

Left: Charles Joly, top right: Madame Lemoine, bottom right: Charles Joly

In modern lilacs, the term French hybrids signifies luxurious, fragrant, double blooms. Varieties come from several countries, but this group includes heirlooms that started it all in France more than a century ago. Madame Lemoine offers ivory-white buds that open to perfectly perfumed, fully double, white blossoms mid-spring. Charles Joly offers deep berry-purple, double blooms held high above its leaves. Both these French heirlooms grow 10 to 12 feet tall and continue to win devotees.


Late-Blooming Lilacs

Left: James McFarlane, top right: Miss Canada, bottom right: James McFarlane

Extend the season on the opposite end with late-blooming lilacs that flower later than common lilacs and French hybrids. James McFarlane typically flowers about two weeks after common lilacs unfurl their blooms. The rich, true-pink flowers open from slender buds into long, graceful pink panicles in June. For equally eye-catching flowers and delicious fragrance in another late bloomer, try Miss Canada and its brilliant pink, mid-June blooms.


Dwarf Lilacs

Left: Palibin, top right: Bloomerang Dark Puple, bottom right: Palibin

For limited landscapes, look to dwarf lilacs. They stay about one-third to one-half the height and width of common types. Palibin lilac, also known as Dwarf Korean lilac, offers fragrant, lilac-purple flowers on a shrub just 4 feet tall and wide. It’s also available in tree form for a striking small specimen tree that stays under 5 feet tall. Bloomerang Dark Purple lilac grows just 5 to 6 feet tall with fragrant purple blooms that bloom in May. After that flush of flowers, bonus blooms appear periodically through summer and fall.


Insider tip: Lilacs do best in full sun locations with rich, well-drained soil and good air circulation. Improper pruning is the No. 1 reason lilacs fail to bloom. As with pruning hydrangeas, timing makes all the difference. Prune lilacs right after they finish flowering, or you risk removing the flower buds for next spring. One important exception to this pruning rule? Always cut some flowering stems to fill your home with sweet perfume.


Shop our plants online for home delivery anywhere in the continental United States and get your lilac collection growing now. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop in at Winterland Nursery, our new retail garden center in the Madison, Wisconsin area. Come by for free gardening events with McKay experts – or just to see what’s blooming! We look forward to seeing you there.

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