Garden Clippings for June 6, 2020
Back in my days at Michigan State, Professor Ronald Spangler once said that a good connoisseur of plants (AKA plant snob) would dislike more plants than he or she liked.
That was about 40 years ago, and I chose to dislike Lilacs. Not much has changed since then. I don’t dislike Lilacs as badly as I detest Pussy Willows, Manitoba Maples and Mulberries, but I dare say that if Lilacs would suddenly disappear off the face of the earth, I wouldn’t shed a tear.
But the other day I biked past the house about 4 doors down and the fragrance made me do an instant U-turn. It was huge Lilac and I actually admired it. The Lilac was plastered in flower and its fragrance was simply outstanding.
This plant snob is justified in his dislike for Lilacs (syringa species). Lilacs bloom for a few weeks and then become a tall plant that takes up too much space in the landscape. Eventually the bush becomes overgrown, with plain green leaves that appear on its top half, leaving the bottom half empty. In winter, Lilac bushes are shapeless, with a mumbo jumbo mix of limbs that go in no particular direction.
My Mom loved Lilacs. She would cut a few stems in March and bring them indoors with the hopes that indoor heat would force them into flower. In late May and early June, Mom would cut Lilac blooms and put them in a vase on the kitchen table where the familiar fragrance would fill the house.
Lilacs grow and perform under neglect. Mom, who in many respects was a better gardener than Ron Spangler, used to say that the best flowering Lilacs grew behind the barn where they were never watered, never fertilized, never pruned and weeds and rocks were allowed to grow underneath.
Lilacs have come a long way in the past few decades. The original Common Lilac has a fragrance that cannot be beat, but the plant gets too big for the average city sized lot. Lilacs can be pruned to a manageable size, but excessive pruning will reduce flower production.
The most popular Lilacs are French Hybrids, with flowers in white, pink, and all shades of purple. French Hybrid Lilacs will eventually reach heights of nearly 15 feet with almost equal width.
For smaller gardens, look to Dwarf Korean Lilac (Syringa Palabin) which becomes a compact, low spreading shrub covered with lilac coloured blooms in early June. Flowers are longer lasting, equally fragrant and smaller than traditional Lilacs. Dwarf Korean Lilac is also popular as a tree form with a 4-foot single straight stem supporting a compact bush. For best flower performance, prune Dwarf Lilacs in late spring after flowers have faded.
‘Bloomerang’ Lilac is a new introduction marketed by Proven Winners. Expect ‘Bloomerang’ to bloom as usual in spring and then again in fall. Flowers are deep purple. Mature plant size is a well behaved 4 to 5 feet.