Ten Neat Things About Lilacs
by Shauna Dobbie
by Dorothy Dobbie

The Local Gardener magazines, Ontario Gardener, Manitoba Gardener and Alberta Gardener, are published by Pegasus Publications Inc.

Drawing on her 30 years' experience as a senior executive in the magazine publishing industry, Dorothy launched Manitoba Gardener in 1998, initially running the business out of her home. Two years later, Dorothy's daughter Shauna, living in Ontario, jumped into the fray with Ontario Gardener. And two years after that, they started Alberta Gardener. Visit us at and register for our "Ten Neat things" newsletter. Watch Shaw TV for garden tips and Listen to CJOB for the Gardener Sundays at 9:08

June 19, 2011

1. Lilacs live a long time. Some lilacs shrub varieties can live 200 years, so think about this when you plant them and put them in a place where they aren't likely to be disturbed. Two of the most fragrant are 'Miss Kim' and plain old Syringa vulgaris, the common lilac.

2. Lilacs are immigrants. Lilacs are not native to North America, but were brought here by immigrants from Europe. They were introduced to Europe in the 16th century from Persia. They are hardy from zones 2 to 10!

3. Keep it dry. Lilacs thrive on the prairies where it is usually quite dry and lilacs do not care for wet feet, although they will survive in areas where there is heavy rainfall as long as they have good drainage. Don't over fertilize or you'll get lots of leaves but few flowers.

4. Bush or tree, take your pick. Most people are familiar with lilacs as a shrub, but they also grow as trees and can be as tall as 30 feet with a spread of 15 feet, while shrubs are more likely to grow 10 to 20 feet tall and, depending on the variety, can be much wider. The trees have a lifespan of about 100 years.

5. Pruning and blooming. Lilacs bloom on old wood, meaning they should be pruned immediately after blooms have faded to provide a chance for new growth that will allow flowers to set for next year. Prune stems right to the ground to let air into the bush and improve blooming. Lilac trees will only grow on three-year-old wood. There is now a reblooming lilac called 'Bloomerang' which blooms again in fall. Its blooms are slightly drooping. Somehow, fall blooming seems counter-intuitive for what has always been regarded as a symbol of spring.

6. Give your lilac a spanking. Some lilacs stubbornly refuse to bloom. One remedy, according to a person from Nova Scotia, is to give it a good whacking with a folded newspaper. While this may or may not work, what will work is to take a spade and push it down in a circle about two feet from the stems all the way around, in effect pruning the roots. This may shock the tree into blooming.

7. Lilac roots need air. Lilacs may refuse to bloom if they are planted too deeply. If you think this is the case, try removing the top layer of soil in the spring and see what happens. You can also aerate the soil by pushing a crowbar about eight inches into root zone.

8. Smoking lilacs. No, lilacs are not a mind bender, but the Ottoman Turks used to make smoking pipes from their hollowed out stems.

9. Lilacs symbolize love, but what kind of love? Purple lilacs symbolize passion, while white lilacs stand for purity and innocence. The Latin name for lilac is Syringa. One account says that it is named for a lovely nymph in Greek mythology. According to the story she captivated the god Pan, who chased her through fields and forest. To escape his unwanted attentions (who could blame her, he was such a goaty looking guy?), she turned herself into a lilac bush. Another account claims that the word comes from the Greek "syrinx" which means pipe.

10. A lilac by any other name . . . Lilac simply means "bluish" or blue. It comes from the Persian work nylak, which means blue, or the Arab word, laylak which also means blue.

-Shauna Dobbie

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