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Deciduous, Shrubs

A garden staple in cold-winter regions, cherished for big, flamboyant, fragrant flower clusters at branch tips. Best known are common lilac (S. vulgaris) and its many named varieties, but there are other species of great usefulness. All are medium-size to large shrubs with medium to deep green foliage and no special appeal when out of bloom. Floral show comes from number of small flowers packed into dense pyramidal to conical clusters; individual flowers are tubular, flaring into four petal-like lobes (in single types) or into a clutch of “petals” (in double kinds). Depending on climate, bloom comes from early spring (in the earliest kinds) to early summer, always after leaves have formed.

Most lilacs bloom best in regions with decidedly chilly winters, but some do well with only light winter chill. Give well-drained, neutral to slightly alkaline soil. If soil is strongly acid, dig lime into it before planting.

Until plants are established, just pinch back any overlong stems. Once they begin to bloom, prune yearly for best flower production. Most lilacs bloom on wood formed the previous year, so prune just after flowering ends. Remove spent blossom clusters, cutting back to a pair of leaves. For the few types that bloom on new growth, prune in late dormant season, cutting previous year’s growth to varying lengths. To encourage new shoots, cut out a few of the oldest stems yearly.

Leaf miner, scale, and stem borer are the only important pests; bacterial blight, leaf spot, and downy mildew may be problems.

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