One of my favorite scents of spring is the scent of the lilacs blooming. Nothing seems to emit the feeling of spring quite like when the lilacs are in full bloom. These days you see them planted nearly in every yard. But in the past many older homes would have a section of lilacs planted where the outhouse was once sited, it was said that the scent from the lilacs would disguise the smell of the outhouse. They are strongly scented.
It used to seem that they only came in different shades of purple, but now they also come in white, magenta, pink and even a shade of blue. There are even a few different available. Dwarf-sized varieties such as Korean types are right around 4 feet, while the standard size are around 12 feet. There are also tall varieties that can grow all the way up to 30 feet. When deciding what varieties to plant, be sure to plan for the mature size.
Lilacs prefer full sun in order to bloom. If located in too much shade the growth of your lilac may be stunted as well. They also love growing in our area because they must have at least 850 hours of temperatures 45 degrees or below. Which means you wouldn’t be able to grow them in Florida unless they have a chilly winter.
When planting be sure to dig your planting hole three times the size of the root ball that you are planning to plant. Be sure to amend the soil with compost to help your bushes to get off on a good start. Follow the variety’s instructions, but most types like to be planted around 10 feet apart unless you are planting a hedge, then plant around 6-feet apart so they can grow into each other.
If you have existing lilacs that seem overgrown, wait until after they bloom, then prune out a third of your stems. Look for the oldest and thickest and choose them first. This will help to rejuvenate your plantings and to bring new life back to them. This works for forsythia bushes as well.
Once finished, flowering lilacs tend not to look like anything more than a green leaved bush. However, if you are wanting to prune your bushes you should do so right after they finish flowering. If you wait longer you may end up cutting off the next year’s blooms.
If you happen to see a white powdery look to your leaves, try not to worry too much. It is most likely powdery mildew which happens when there isn’t enough air circulation. Thin out some branches to help the air blow through and treat with a mix of baking soda and water. One tablespoon baking soda to a gallon of water and mix well. Be sure to spray it every few weeks, especially if we have high humidity which doesn’t help matters.
If you have a friend with lilacs and you are wanting some for yourself, your friend can easily dig some of the offshoots from the sides of their lilac. They seem to populate quickly so there always seem to be more than enough.
Now as much as I love the scent of lilacs, I do my best to enjoy their scent outdoors. Some people seem sensitive to the strong scent if they are brought indoors and it can overwhelm them. So I try to be careful about everyone.
However, I truly do believe I could stay outside all day enjoying their heavenly scent.
Sacha Burns is an organic gardener and owner of Sunkissed Organics in Pinola. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.