Growing lilacs


Material Information

Growing lilacs
Series Title:
Home and garden bulletin ; no. 199
Physical Description:
ii, 8 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.
Cathey, Henry M ( Henry Marc ), 1928-
United States -- Science and Education Administration
Dept. of Agriculture, Science and Education Administration
Place of Publication:
Publication Date:
[Slightly rev. Feb. 1980.]


Subjects / Keywords:
Lilacs -- Varieties   ( lcsh )
federal government publication   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Statement of Responsibility:
by Henry M. Cathey ; prepared by Science and Education Administration.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
aleph - 001215490
oclc - 06001695
notis - AFW5775
System ID:

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Growing Li




o 1


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Types of lilacs -------------------------------------_ 1
Planting lilacs----_--------------------------------- 3
What to plant---------------------------------_ 3
When to plant--------------------------------- 3
Where to plant----------------------------------_ 3
How to plant---___--------------------------- 3
Caring for lilacs-------------------------------------- 4
Propagating lilacs------__------------------------- 4
Root Sprouts --------------------------------- 4
Layering____-------------------------------- 4
Cuttings, Cleft and Bud Grafts_----------------- 5
Pests --_----------------------------------------- 5

Photos of lilac species supplied by
Highland Park Herbarium, Rochester,
New York and Arnold Arboretum,
Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.

Department publications contain
public information. They are not
copyrighted and can be reproduced
in whole or in part with or without

Jro ning

By Henry M. Cathey, SEA research horticulturist '

Lilacs are versatile flowering shrubs,
which have a wide range of uses in the
home garden. They can serve as border
plants with smaller shrubs, as corner
plantings, as windscreens, or as flower-
ing hedges. Both plants and flowers are
very attractive.
Although lilacs display flowers that
are among the most delicate of the orna-
mentals, the plants are among the most
hardy. Some varieties can survive win-
ter temperatures of -60 F. They are
therefore suited to all parts of the
United States except the South, where
winters are too mild to provide the
plants with the seasonal rest period they
Lilac plants often grow and continue
to flower for many years even if totally
neglected. Normally, the only care they
need is pruning to keep them within
The plants range from 3 feet to as
much as 30 feet in height, depending on
the age or type grown. Most. however,
remain under 10 feet.
Lilac flowers can be white, violet,
blue, true lilac, pink, magenta, purple,
or variations of these colors. Depending
on where you live, and the lilac vari-
eties you choose, lilacs can provide
color and fragrance from April through
June. *

There are many species and kinds of
lilacs. Extensive cross-breeding, how-
ever, has made these species very much
alike. Even botanical experts sometimes
find them difficult to identify.
All lilacs belong to the genus Syringa.
Common to most kinds are unlobed
leaves and flowers that grow in clusters.
Among the best known are the
following :
Common lilac (Syringa vulgaris),
as the name implies, is the best known
of all the lilacs in the United States.
This shrub can be as tall as 20 feet, and
the flowers are fragrant and usually
lilac-colored, although they can be of
other hues. Leaves are somewhat
heart-shaped and smooth.
Persian lilac (Syringa persica) can
grow to a height of 10 feet. The fra-
grant flowers are a pale lilac color and
are about half the size of those of the
common lilac. The leaves are narrow
on drooping branches. This plant
makes a good hedge.
Chinese or Rouen lilac (Syringa
chinensis) is a cross between the Per-
sian and the common lilac. It is some-
what taller than the Persian. The
fragrant, lilac-purple flowers are about
the same as common lilacs, but appear

1 Florist and Nursery Crops Laboratory, Beltsville Agricultural Research Center-West, USDA, Beltsville, Md. 20705

The common lilac, Syringa vulgaris.

in greater profusion. The leaves are
smaller than those of the common lilac.
Late or Himalayan lilac (Syringa
villosa) blooms later than other lilacs.
It grows to a maximum of about 10 feet
and produces fragrant clusters of rose-
lilac blossoms. The leaves are pointed
and have hairy veins.
Hungarian lilac (Syringa josikaea)
resembles the late lilac in many ways,
but the fragrant flowers are darker, and
the leaf veins are smooth, not hairy.
Largeleaf lilac (Syringa oblata) is
among the very first lilacs to bloom in
the spring. It grows to a height of
about 12 feet and has fragrant flowers.
Its relatively 1lig. broad leaves are
tinged with red when young, and turn
red in autumn.
Littleleaf lilac (Syringa micro-
phylla) is a round, low, bush-like plant
that seldom grows more than 5 feet tall.
It prdluces small, late-blooming, fra-

grant, lilac flowers. Both leaves and
flowers of this species are small.
Dwarf Korean lilac (Syringa pale-
binina) is an even shorter bush than
the littleleaf lilac and seldom grows
more than 4 feet tall. Its lilac flowers
are fragrant.
Tree lilacs (Syringa amurensis) re-
semble small trees, and can reach a
height of 30 feet. In early summer, tree
lilacs produce spectacular clusters of
off-white, privet-like blooms. A com-
mon variety is the Japanese tree lilac
(Syringa amurensis japonica), which
produces huge clusters of yellow-white
flowers late in the season. It grows 25
to 30 feet tall.
Other fairly well-known types of
lilacs are: Syringa pekinensis, an at-
tractive shrub with long, yellow-white,
nonfragrant flowers; Syringa reflexa,
the "nodding" lilac, so named because
its pink flowers hang somewhat limply
on the 10- to 12-foot bush; Syringa
prestoniae, a very hardy species that
results from crossing the nodding lilac


Nodding lilac, Syringa reflexa.

Syringa prestoniae, hardy
nodding lilac and

cross between the
late lilac.

around the house and garden. They
should be 2- to 4-feet tall, big enough
to stand transplanting. You can also
buy larger plants that are balled and

When To Plant
The best time to plant lilacs is in the
fall after the leaves have dropped, but
before the ground freezes. You can
plant lilacs in the spring before the
buds start to unfold. Spring periods
are very short, however, and trans-
planting at this time is recommended
only in areas where winters are very
severe. Lilacs planted in the fall usually
have a better chance to survive, because
new roots get a head start in spring
before the shrub leafs out.

Where To Plant

and the late lilac; and Syringa pubes-
cens, a 6- to 12-foot shrub with pale
flowers that are among the most fra-
grant of all varieties.
A new, free-flowering lilac, named
Cheyenne, will withstand the extra cold
temperatures and severe winters of the
northern States. Cheyenne grows to a
height and spread of about 8 feet, and
has dense, symmetrical growth. The
highly fragrant flowers are a distinctive
and delicate shade of light blue-dif-
ferent from most other lilacs.
When selecting lilacs, keep in mind
how you want to use them, and choose
varieties accordingly. Your nurseryman
can suggest the best types for your
particular needs.

What To Plant
Most commonly, you would buy
nursery-grown plants for plantings

Lilacs grow best in an open area that
offers good drainage. They need room,
and thrive where exposed to sun and
wind. A hillside or slope in full sun is
ideal. But they will grow in most garden
The ideal soil for growing lilacs is a
loam that is not too rich and that is
neutral or slightly alkaline. Yet, lilacs
will grow well in all types of soil, ex-
cept for acid soil. If the soil is low in
fertility, mix in cow manure or a fer-
tilizer low in nitrogen and high in
phosphate and potash. Bonemeal is a
good fertilizer for lilacs, and it contains
the lime that can sweeten acid soil.

How To Plant
Dig a hole big enough to accommo-
date the roots without bending or
breaking them. Work a bucket of peat
moss and a cup of 5-10-5 fertilizer into
the hole. This will promote the develop-
ment of a good root system and hasten

the establishment of the plant. Mix peat
moss and fertilizer with the soil
throughout the area. Good soil prep-
aration will aid in producing a good-
looking, heavily flowering plant.
Set the plant 2 or 3 inches deeper
than it grew in the nursery, and work
topsoil in around the roots. Setting the
plant deeper can kill it. Pour in water
and let it drain away. Then fill in the
hole to ground level with more topsoil.
Use a 3-to 4-inch mulch of leaves or
hay around the plant in the fall to keep
moisture in and to prevent heaving-
the alternate freezing and thawing of
soil. Heaving can kill the plant. After
the soil settles, the level around the
plant should be even with the sur-
rounding soil. Allow 6 feet or more
between most lilac plantings.

Lilacs require a minimum of care.
They seldom need supplemental wa-
ter-only in conditions of drought. If
weeds grow around the plant, pull them
out by hand; then apply mulch. Do not
cultivate around the base of the plant.
Do not overprune lilacs. Let the plant
develop several branches from the base,
instead of only one or two. This allows
you to remove stems that have grown
too tall, or have been attacked by dis-
eases or insects, and still have flowering
Pruning is unnecessary for the first
3 or 4 years. Thereafter, limit pruning
to the removal of weaker wood from
the center of the bush. This prevents a
thicket from developing. You should do
this soon after flowers have fallen.
Do not prune in late summer, fall, or
winter; late pruning often results in
removal of flower buds.
Old bushes with runaway growth will

need severe pruning. In such cases, re-
move about a third of the height of the
plant each year for 3 years, until the
old wood has been cut to about level.
(See illustrations on pages 6 and 7.)
Remove dead flowers soon after they
wither. This helps insure vigorous
growth for the rest of the season and
abundant blooming the following year.

Lilacs can be propagated from root
sprouts, by layering, by cuttings, and
by cleft and bud grafts. Each method
has its advantages and disadvantages
in time and degree of difficulty. The
easiest methods for the home gardener
are root sprouts and layering, using
a named variety.
Growing lilacs from seed is not rec-
ommended. Because most lilacs are hy-
brids, plants grown from seed will not
produce plants just like the parent
plant. Few seedlings are worthy of a
place in the home garden.

Root Sprouts
Root sprouts provide the simplest
and most usual way of propagating
the common lilac. Some lilacs send out
suckers near the base of the plant. Dig
up these new sprouts in the fall and
transplant them elsewhere in the garden
or in a nursery. They often develop
into satisfactory plants in about 3
years. This method, however, will not
be satisfactory for grafted plants, be-
cause the suckers will not be like the
tops of the plants. Look for a graft
union near the soil line to determine if
a plant is grafted.

Layering is an easy, but slow process
for increasing lilac plants in the home

garden. The new plants are identical to
the parent, even if the parent plant was
grafted. It is a satisfactory method of
propagation for the home gardener
with limited equipment and time.
Layering is most successful in spring
or late summer, since cool weather is
an aid to rooting.
Start layering by working peat or
leafmold and sand into the soil where
the branch is to be layered. Next, make
a slanting 2-inch cut on the upper side
of the branch about a foot from the tip.
Dust rooting stimulant on the cut. Bend
the branch down, and fasten it to the
ground at a point between the trunk
and the wound. Use a wooden peg or
wire wicket, or simply weigh it down
securely with a stone. Bend the tip up-
right at the wound, and as you do,
twist the tip a half-turn to open it. Then
place another peg or pin over the
branch at the point of the wound, and
mound 3 or 4 inches of firmly packed
soil over the wound. Place straw or leaf
mulch on the mound, and water
If you layer in the spring, the branch
should develop roots by the following
spring. If you layer in the fall, roots
will develop by the second spring.
When roots have developed, you can
cut the new plant free from the parent.
Leave the new plant in place for 3 weeks
to recover from the shock of being cut.
Then transplant it to a nursery bed and
tend it for a year or more.
To prevent water loss that can kill
the new rooted layers, prune one-third
of their original length from all side
branches of these rooted layers as soon
as you plant them in the nursery bed.
As a further measure to prevent water
loss, screen the new plants to shade
them from the sun. A makeshift screen

will do-burlap or other porous mate-
rial on a simple wood frame, for ex-
ample. You can remove the screen after
the first winter. By then, plants should
be strong enough to transplant from
the nursery to their permanent
Cuttings, Cleft And
Bud Grafts
Cuttings, cleft grafts, and bud grafts
are still other methods of propagating
lilacs. You can root lilac cuttings from
suckers at the base of an older plant
for use as understock. Cuttings from
terminal growth of new wood can be
grafted onto these. This method pro-
duces high-quality plants. The process
requires a great deal of knowledge,
however, and takes several months in
a greenhouse or glass-covered frame,
where the air can be kept moist con-
tinuously. Cleft grafting is the most
common way of propagating the named
varieties of lilacs on a commercial
basis. And bud grafting is an especially
economical and a very rapid method
if you want to grow many new plants.
The techniques for propagating by
cuttings and by cleft or bud grafting
are detailed in Home and Garden Bul-
letin No. 80, "Home Propagati6n of
Ornamental Trees and Shrubs". You
can obtain a copy from the Office of
Government and Public Affairs, U.S.
Department of Agriculture, Washing-
ton, D.C. 20250. The information
applies generally to many woody plants,
including lilacs. Be sure to include your
return address and ZIP code number
when ordering.

A number of insects and diseases
attack lilacs, but only a few cause
serious injury.

Pruning Lilacs


Too tall for area

. -Many

Few flowers

Base heavily shaded -,,


Stems trimmed
all to same level


Pruned when
in growth

small branches

dead branches

stems at base

just after
/ in Spring

Dead stems


left on


I I I -


i,.? .Yii,


Remove 1/3 Of Tall Branches Each Year For 3 Years

New I

\ i\ I

Stumps from 1 j
old branches


All old branches gone;
Looks like a new,
young plant

Stumps completely
covered with new
growth .


Old branches
(1/3 left)

Many new


(2/3 left)


Itinned and trimmed final time

Trimmed and trained
every year to control
height and to allow for
growth of strong, new


Powdery mildew is the most common
disease. It appears on foliage in late
summer, and gives leaves a whitish,
dusty appearance. You can control it
by dusting with sulfur as soon as you
notice the disease.
Oystershell scale and San Jose scale
pierce the bark and suck sap from the
plant, thus weakening flower-bearing
stems. To control scale insects, use
either carbaryl or malathion.
Lilac borers, as the name uIi'~-e-'!Is,
burrow into the wood of the plant,
sometimes leaving small amounts of
sawdust as evidence of their presence.
Larvae are creamy-white caterpillars

Powdery mildew.

Oystershell scale.

about %:-inch long. These larvae usu-
ally concentrate on old branches, but
they may also go after healthy new
wood. They are especially damaging to
grafted plants. A serious, uncontrolled
infestation can affect the entire bush,
causing leaves to wilt and stems to
break off. You may have to remove
seriously riddled branches. You can
dig borers from the stems with a knife,
or kill them by probing their burrows
with a wire.
Borers can be controlled with endo-
sulfan spray. Apply spray to the main
trunk and branches in early May and
repeat 2 or 3 times at 3-week intervals.
For further information on pests of
PN-235(; lilacs, consult your county extension


This publication is intended for nationwide distribution. Pesticides
are registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for
country-wide use unless otherwise indicated on the label.
The use of pesticides is governed by the provisions of the Federal
Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), as amended. This
act is administered by EPA. According to the provisions of the act, "It
shall be unlawful for any person to use any registered pesticide in a
manner inconsistent with its labeling," (Section 12(a) (2) (G)).
The optimum use of pesticides, both as to rate and frequency, may
vary in different sections of the country. You may wish to contact your
Cooperative Extension Service, State agricultural experiment stations,
or county extension agent for local information.
The pesticides mentioned in this publication are available in several
different formulations that contain varying amounts of active ingre-
dient. Because of these differences, the rates given in this publication
refer to the amount of active ingredient, unless otherwise indicated.
Users are reminded to convert the rate in the publication to the strength
of the pesticide actually being used.
The user is cautioned to read and follow all directions and precau-
tions given on the label.
Federal and State regulations require registration numbers. Use
only pesticides that carry one of these registration numbers.
USDA publications that contain iiuggeltions for the use of pesticides
are normally revised at 2-year intervals. If your copy is more than 2
years old, consult your county extension agent to determine the latest
pesticide recommendations.


lll3 1262 085ll III82 9249111
3 1262 08582 9249


Issued August 1973
Slightly revised February 1980

Washington, D.C.

For sale by the u Iii, i, ii lit I of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office
%\\ -liIIti,,i, D.C. 20402

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