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Deciduous, Shrubs

A garden staple in cold-winter regions, cherished for big, flamboyant, fragrant flower clusters at branch tips. Most lilacs bloom best in areas with decidedly chilly winters, but some perform quite well with only light winter chill.

Syringa vulgaris
Syringa vulgaris

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Syringa vulgaris

 From eastern Europe. Can eventually reach 20 ft. tall, with nearly equal spread. Suckers strongly; prune out suckers on grafted plants (no need to do so on own-root plants.) Leaves to 5 in. long, roundish oval with pointed tips. Needs 2 to 5 years to bear flowers of full size and true color. Pinkish or bluish lavender flowers in clusters to 10 in. or longer (‘Alba’ has pure white flowers) in midspring. Fragrance is legendary; lilac fanciers say species and its older varieties are more fragrant than newer types. Superb cut flowers. In Zones 12-16, 18-22 the standard varieties bloom irregularly after mild winters; gradually discontinue watering near end of summer to force dormancy. Many hybrids available, including Descanso Hybrids, which excel in Zones 18-22 and the lower South.

Syringa x hyacinthiflora

Group of hybrids between S. vulgaris and S. oblata, a Chinese species. Resemble S. vulgaris but generally bloom 7 to 10 days earlier. Can reach 20 ft tall and as wide. White, purple or lavender blooms.

Syringa x prestoniae

Group of extra-hardy hybrids developed in Canada. To 12 ft. tall and wide. Flowers, mostly in shades of pink and lilac, come on new growth at the end of the lilac season, after S. vulgaris has bloomed. Bulky, dense plants resemble S. vulgaris, but individual flowers are smaller and are not as fragrant.


Dense, twiggy, growth to a possible 5 ft. tall and wide; often stays at about 3 ft. Sometimes grafted high to make a standard tree with 3–4-ft. trunk. Produces 5-in. clusters of faintly fragrant flowers in purple fading to pink. Leaves to 1 3/4 in. long.

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