IN THE GARDEN: Growing lilacs
When choosing a shrub for your garden, never pick one unless you are absolutely sure that it is resistant to our winter cold and hardy for this area. We are in a zone 3 and many of the box stores do sell plants that are not hardy outside here in the winter and they will die. Save your money and get a shrub that will survive and thrive here. One such shrub is Syringa Vulgaris an heirloom variety of lilac. This variety can grow 20 feet high and can become large and provide multiple beautiful blooms for your enjoyment. If you want a smaller lilac, there are several dwarf varieties called Miss Kim, Tinkerbelle, and Tiny Dancer, just to name a few.
For the most part, lilacs are a trouble-free shrub in our area. Lilacs like to have a thin layer of mulch to hold moisture but do not like wet feet. Lilacs require about one inch of water per week and prefer a soil that is fertile and drains well and that is slightly acid to alkaline. If your soil is questionable you may want to pick up a soil analysis kit to check the PH so you can amend it if needed. The lilac requires six hours of sun at a minimum.
When planting your lilac, you want to dig a large hole so that you can spread the roots out when you place the plant in the ground. You want to space this variety of lilac approximately 10-15 feet apart to give it adequate room to grow and perform. It is important to keep it well watered the first year.
One of the most important things to remember about lilacs is that once they have finished blooming you need to prune the old bloom off right away. As an early blooming shrub, lilacs develop their next year’s flowering buds during the summer and fall. This is known as flowering on old wood. If you wait, you will be cutting off next year’s blooms.
There are two types of pruning methods used for older established lilacs: rejuvenation and renewal. Rejuvenation or hard pruning is the complete cutting down of all stems to 4-5 inch stubs. This pruning is for lilacs that are not doing very well, with little or no blooms or are too large and totally out of control. This pruning is done early in the year once every 4-5 years as needed. Painful for the owner to do, but it will come back like new I am told.
Renewal pruning the first year is done by taking one-third of lilac old wood stalks to the ground and trim back branches 2-3 feet. The second year, takeout another one-third of the old wood down to the ground and after flowering, prune back 1-2 feet. The third year, complete the same process and cut new growth after blooming. Each year after, trim back new growth after blooming and do not take any more stalks to the ground. Lilacs make suckers at the base of the plant and you will want to prune out two-thirds of these, leaving one-third for further stems. You can also pull them up and plant them, making more plants.
Lilac colors range from light pink to dark pink. There are white, yellow, and lavender to dark purple. There is nothing like the smell of lilacs; I love having a big bouquet of them in the house. These flowers are absolutely stunning!
So if you are looking for a beautiful flowering bush that is easy to take care of, I suggest you get a lilac. All of our local greenhouses carry lilacs in their perennial shrub section. I will be looking for white and light pink this year.
Send any questions you may have or gardening events notice to [email protected]. See you around town.
May Garden Events
Matanuska Experiment Farm, 1509 South Georgeson Road, Palmer. This month’s topic will be raised garden beds and container gardening.
Alaska Rock Garden Society and Alaska Botanical Garden plant sale 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at ABG.
Anchorage Permaculture Club seedling exchange, 3 to 5 p.m., Woodland Park, 36th Ave. in Spenard across from Boys and Girls Club.
Alaska Master Gardeners Program will be on rhododendrons with Doug Tryck, 7 p.m. at CES, 1840 Bragaw St. Chugachmiut building (downstairs).
May 22 - 25
Hiland Mountain Correctional Center plant sale. 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., 9101 Hesterberg Road.
Alaska Rock Garden Society plant sale, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., 3379 Inlet Vista Circle, Wasilla.