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Syringa vulgaris (Common Lilac)

Common Lilac, Flowering Shrubs, Fragrant Shrubs

Syringa vulgaris, Common Lilac, Flowering Shrubs, Fragrant Shrubs,  Spring Flowers, Blue Flowers, Lilac Flowers, Purple Flowers, Pink Flowers, White Flowers
Lilac, Purple Lilac, Lavender Lilac, Syringa vulgaris

Prized for its delightful fragrance, Syringa vulgaris (Common Lilac) is a mainstay of the spring landscape in northern and colder climates. 

What is Common Lilac?

Syringa vulgaris, more commonly known as the common lilac, is a beloved deciduous shrub celebrated for its showy and sweetly fragrant spring flowers.

Havit and Size: Native to southeastern Europe, it has a rounded, spreading growth habit. It typically grows 8-15 feet (2.4-4.5 meters) but there are a few medium-sized cultivars that reach 4-8 feet (1.2-2.4 meters) in height, or even dwarf shrubs that rarely grow more than 3-4 feet tall (0.9-1.2 meters).

Foliage: The foliage consists of heart-shaped, dark green leaves that remain attractive throughout the growing season.

Flowers: The outstanding feature of Syringa vulgaris is its conical clusters of four-petaled flowers that bloom in late spring for 3-4 weeks. Common Lilac is the longest-blooming species within the genus. Its wonderfully fragrant flowers may be single or double and are available in a wide range of colors, including white, cream, rose, magenta, pinkish-purple, lavender, and purple. They occur at the tips of the shoots in long panicles, up to 8 inches (20 cm), before or as the leaves mature. Cultivars of this species can be early, mid-season, or late mid-season bloomers. With thoughtful planning, it is possible to have lilacs in full bloom for at least six weeks.

Hardiness: Hardy in USDA zones 3 through 7, lilacs are robust plants that can tolerate cold winters.

Uses: Lilacs have been cherished for generations for their exceptional fragrance and beauty. They are often used as specimen plants, in borders, or as part of a hedge. The flowers are also excellent for cutting and bringing indoors. Their historical significance and cultural associations add more interest to these charming and highly desirable plants.

Pollinators: The flowers are known for attracting butterflies and other pollinators, making them a great addition to a wildlife-friendly garden.

Deer: Lilac is not generally a plant that deer or other animals seek out to eat, but if other food sources are scarce, they may come along and make a meal out of your Lilac.

Guide Information

Hardiness 3 - 7
Heat Zones 1 - 8
Climate Zones 1, 1A, 1B, 2, 2A, 2B, 3, 3A, 3B, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 14, A2, A3
Plant Type Shrubs
Genus Syringa
Exposure Full Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Late)
Height 3' - 15'
(90cm - 4.6m)
Spread 4' - 10'
(120cm - 3m)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Type Chalk, Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Alkaline, Neutral
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained, Well-Drained
Characteristics Cut Flowers, Fragrant, Showy
Tolerance Deer
Attracts Bees, Butterflies, Hummingbirds
Landscaping Ideas Patio And Containers, Beds And Borders, Hedges And Screens, Small Gardens
Garden Styles City and Courtyard, Informal and Cottage, Traditional Garden
Syringa vulgaris ‘Albert F. Holden’ (Lilac)
Syringa vulgaris ‘Andenken an Ludwig Spath’ (Lilac)
Syringa vulgaris ‘Avalanche’ (Lilac)

Why Should I Grow Lilac?

Common lilac is a great addition to any garden due to its multiple attributes. Here are several reasons why:

  • Aromatic Appeal: One of the most appealing aspects of Syringa vulgaris is its fragrant flowers. A single bush can perfume an entire yard, providing a delightful sensory experience each spring.
  • Visual Impact: The lush clusters of flowers, in shades of purple, pink, or white, create an eye-catching display. Their vivid colors contrast beautifully against the dark green foliage, enhancing the aesthetic appeal of your garden.
  • Easy Maintenance: Lilacs are hardy, resilient plants that require minimal care once established, making them ideal for beginner gardeners. They tolerate cold winters, resist most diseases, and require little pruning.
  • Attracts Pollinators: They are a magnet for butterflies, bees, and other beneficial insects. Growing them contributes to the local ecosystem, promoting biodiversity.
  • Longevity: Lilacs are known for their longevity. Some specimens are known to live for centuries, providing beauty for generations to enjoy.
  • Versatility: They are perfect as stand-alone specimen plants, border plants, or as part of a windbreak or privacy screen.
  • Cut Flowers: The fragrant and beautiful flowers are excellent for bouquets, allowing you to bring a piece of your garden indoors.
Syringa vulgaris ‘Katherine Havemeyer’ (Lilac)
Syringa vulgaris ‘Beauty of Moscow’ (Lilac)
Syringa vulgaris ‘Primrose’ (Lilac)

Garden Design With Lilac

Designing a garden with lilacs, presents a great opportunity to create a captivating and fragrant outdoor space. Here are some ideas for incorporating them into your garden design:

  • Specimen Plant: Owing to their large size and impressive spring bloom, lilacs make excellent specimen plants. Their eye-catching flowers and dark green foliage stand out against a backdrop of lawn or lighter-colored plants.
  • Mixed Border: They can be combined with other shrubs and perennials in a mixed border. Pair them with plants that bloom simultaneously for a spectacular spring display, or with plants that bloom later to extend the flowering season.
  • Fragrant Garden: Consider planting lilacs in a garden designed to engage the senses. Combine with other fragrant plants like roses, peonies, or jasmine, and near a window or patio where you can easily enjoy their scent.
  • Wildlife Garden: The flowers attract butterflies, bees, and other pollinators, making them a great addition to a wildlife garden. Plant them with other pollinator-friendly plants to create a buzzing oasis.
  • Screening: Lilacs can provide an attractive, fragrant screen or hedge. Plant in a row to create a natural border that will offer privacy and a windbreak.
  • Cottage Garden: Lilacs are a classic choice for a cottage-style garden, blending well with traditional plants like roses, irises, and delphiniums.
  • Cutting Garden: Include lilacs in a cutting garden. Their sturdy stems and fragrant flowers make excellent bouquets.
Syringa vulgaris ‘Blue Skies’ (Lilac)
Syringa vulgaris ‘Charles Joly’ (Lilac)
Syringa vulgaris ‘Madame Lemoine’ (Lilac)

Companion Plants

When choosing companion plants for lilacs, consider plants that complement the lilac’s beautiful blooms and can handle similar growing conditions. Here are some suggested companion plants:

Conifers
Among nature’s most beautiful and interesting trees, conifers deserve a spot in most gardens. Adding year-round beauty and structure to your landscape, these shapely and statuesque evergreens include Pines (Pinus), Spruces (Picea), Firs (Abies), Cedars (Cedrus), False Cypresses (Chamaecyparis), and many others.

Flowering Crabapples
Flowering crabapples (Malus) are exceptional with two-season interest: blooming abundantly before the lilacs in spring and presenting vibrant fruit from summer to late autumn. While not suitable for human consumption, their fruits are crucial to various wildlife.

Flowering Dogwoods
Flowering dogwoods (Cornus) are exemplary choices for an appealing year-round landscape, pairing beautifully with early-blooming lilacs. They grace spring with their gentle bracts, display vibrant autumn foliage, and attract winter birds with bright red berries.

Flowering Cherries
Flowering cherries (Prunus), with their lavish spring blossoms, appealing foliage and shape, and occasionally glossy bark, peak alongside lilacs, creating an impressive floral spectacle.

Magnolias
Magnolias are remarkable early-blooming trees of splendid beauty that pair well with lilacs. Both flourish in similar growing conditions like deep, well-drained, and nutrient-rich soil.

Clematis
Clematis, flowering after most lilacs, extend the lilac’s season of interest. The mid- to late-season blooming clematis entwines through lilac branches, adding color and elegance.

Passion Flowers
Passion Flowers (Passiflora) are exotic vines that are easy to grow and reward with their striking flowers and, in some cases, tasty passion fruits. They flourish on lilac shrubs, bringing vivid color after lilac blooms have faded.

Peonies
Peonies, whether herbaceous or tree types, enhance lilacs with their color, scent, and form. They effectively conceal the base of lilac shrubs and delight with their beauty and pervasive aroma.

Hostas
Hostas, with their large and prominent leaves, beautifully complement lilac blooms. Their vibrant foliage pairs well with different lilac colors, creating an appealing contrast.

Hemerocallis
Hemerocallis, or Daylilies, are vibrant perennials that effectively disguise the base of lilacs. Known for their showy flowers, diverse colors, drought tolerance, and low care needs, they bloom profusely against the green backdrop of lilac shrubs, enriching the garden’s beauty.

Syringa vulgaris ‘Katherine Havemeyer’ (Lilac)
Syringa vulgaris ‘Wedgewood Blue’ (Lilac)
Syringa vulgaris ‘Sensation’ (Lilac)

Growing Tips

Growing lilac, successfully involves a few key steps:

  • Planting: Plant lilacs in fertile, humus-rich, neutral to alkaline, and well-drained soil. Plant in a spot that receives at least six hours of full sun each day. The more sun your lilacs receive, the more flowers they will produce. Common Lilacs are not suited to the heat of the South. They need a long winter chill for buds to mature and bloom the following spring. The recommended growing areas for this species are zones 3 to 7. However, lilac cultivars with low-chill requirements have been bred for warmer zones (generally to zone 8).
  • Watering: Water thoroughly after planting. Afterward, lilacs only need watering during dry periods. They are quite drought-tolerant once established.
  • Fertilizing: Lilacs do not require much fertilizer. Too much nitrogen can lead to excessive leaf growth and few blooms. If needed, apply a balanced, slow-release granular fertilizer in early spring before new growth begins.
  • Pruning: The best time to prune is in the spring, right after flowers have faded. Pruning later can remove next year’s buds. Remove dead and diseased branches and thin out the center to improve air circulation and prevent disease.
  • Disease and Pest Management: Lilacs are generally disease-resistant but susceptible to powdery mildew, a fungal disease that appears as a white coating on leaves. Ensure good air circulation and avoid overhead watering to prevent this. Common pests include lilac borers, which can be managed with the right insecticides.
  • Propagation: Lilacs can be propagated from suckers that grow at the base of the bush. In the late winter, dig up suckers with some roots attached and plant them in another location.

Patience is key when growing lilacs as they might take a few years to start blooming. However, once established, they can provide decades of springtime beauty and fragrance.

Recommended Companion Plants

Passiflora incarnata (Wild Passion Flower)
Cornus florida (Flowering Dogwood)
Paeonia (Peonies)
Hosta (Plantain Lily)
Hemerocallis (Daylilies)
Clematis – Viticella Group

Recommended Guides

How to Plant, Grow and Care for Lilac Bushes
Pretty Lilacs for Small Gardens
Blooming Seasons of Lilacs
Wonderful Lilacs for the Lower South Region
Wonderful Lilacs for the Upper South Region
Wonderful Lilacs for the Middle South Region
Compare All Syringa (Lilac)
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While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.

Guide Information

Hardiness 3 - 7
Heat Zones 1 - 8
Climate Zones 1, 1A, 1B, 2, 2A, 2B, 3, 3A, 3B, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 14, A2, A3
Plant Type Shrubs
Genus Syringa
Exposure Full Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Late)
Height 3' - 15'
(90cm - 4.6m)
Spread 4' - 10'
(120cm - 3m)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Type Chalk, Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Alkaline, Neutral
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained, Well-Drained
Characteristics Cut Flowers, Fragrant, Showy
Tolerance Deer
Attracts Bees, Butterflies, Hummingbirds
Landscaping Ideas Patio And Containers, Beds And Borders, Hedges And Screens, Small Gardens
Garden Styles City and Courtyard, Informal and Cottage, Traditional Garden
Compare All Syringa (Lilac)
Compare Now
Explore Great Plant Combination Ideas
Syringa (Lilac)
Guides with
Syringa (Lilac)

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