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Lilac Basics - Species and Varieties
"Lilac” means the common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) to most people. It blooms in May and nothing will substitute for the great displays of massed bloom at that time of year. There are literally hundreds of named varieties that can be seen in an arboretum such as the Arnold Arboretum in Boston. A smaller number can be obtained from many commercial sources either as name varieties (‘Congo’, ‘Vestale’, ‘Ludwig Spaeth’) or as a color class (purple, white, blue, violet, lilac, pinkish, magenta).

For those gardeners with limited space, there are some species with a habit smaller than the common lilac. The Rouen lilac (Syringa chinesis) with large clusters of violet blooms has smaller leaves and a more graceful habit than the common lilac, which tends to be upright and stiff. Also, the Persian lilac (Syringa persica), the littleleaf lilac (Syringa microphylla and Syringa meyeri ‘Palabin’), all stay much smaller than the common lilac and work well in restricted spaces.

Lilac Cultivars

Inter Specific Hybrids

What to Buy

Lilac plants are sold as named varieties (‘Primrose’, ‘Lucie Baltet’) or as a color class (purple, white). Whether to buy plants by color or name depends on the wishes of the purchaser. A named variety has specific characteristics that can be described and listed in catalogs. For specimen planting or specific characteristics such as resistance to mildew, this would be desirable. For a general group such as a screen or for background use, color classes alone may be enough. With either named varieties or color classes, the greatest flower color emphasis will be achieved by including two contrasting colors such as white and a dark shade.

Plants for sale are offered in many sizes and conditions. The best size to insure success is a nursery grown non-grafted (own root) plant 2-3 or 3-4 feet tall in a container or with a ball of soil around the roots. Such a plant will have been prepared for transplanting and is big enough to establish quickly and produce a good floral display (in approx. 2-3 years). Larger sizes either balled or burlapped or in containers can also be purchased if instant effect is needed.

Smaller sizes will be less expensive and this may be desirable where many plants are to be purchased. However, small plants, including suckers from an established shrub, must have a year or more in a plant nursery where extra care can be provided until the plant reaches 2-3 feet. At that size they can be moved to the permanent location. Bare root plants must also have extra establishment care. Frequently, plants ordered from catalogs and sent through the mail will arrive bare root (without soil around the roots). These can be very good plants but extra attention must be given to watering, weeding and feeding for the first two years to get them off to a good start.

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Governor’s Lilac and Wildflower Commission | 7 Hazen Drive | PO Box 483 | Concord, NH 03302-0483
603.271-6476 | 603.271-7025 fax


copyright 2008. State of New Hampshire