Plant Profile: Lilac

Does any plant say spring in northern gardens quite like lilacs?

Declaration lilac (Photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries)

Declaration lilac (Photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries)

With their lush scent and pretty purple or white blooms, lilacs reach their peak in late May to early June. The old-fashioned common lilac ((Syringa vulgaris) typically grows well over 10 feet tall and wide and can be grouped to form a dense hedge. Over the years, hybridizers have worked to create more petite forms of lilac as well as those with a wider range of colors. Most varieties are hardy to USDA Zone 3, so they work in northern climates very well. Among the popular cultivars are:

‘Sensation’ lilac. This plant graced the cover of Northern Gardener a year ago. It has tight clusters of flowers with white edging around the florets. It has a nice fragrance and attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. This plant gets tall so give it room.

‘Miss Kim’ lilac is a somewhat smaller variety than the common lilac. It grows about 7 feet tall and is hardy to USDA Zone 4 (some sources say zone 3). The flower clusters are slightly smaller than the common lilac with light purple blooms.

Tree form of Tinkerbelle® lilac. (Photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries)

Tree form of Tinkerbelle® lilac. (Photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries)

Tinkerbelle® lilac was the first in the Fairytale® series of lilacs. It grows only 4 to 6 feet tall, has a rounded form, and fragrant blossoms that emerge in late spring. It’s frequently grown on a standards (that is, like a tree). In bloom, it’s a perfect little lollipop for the front yard.

Bloomerang® lilac has been the talk of the nursery trade the past few years. It’s a reblooming lilac. It blooms in spring like all lilacs, then blooms again periodically in the summer and fall. A zone 3 plant, it grows 4 to 6 feet tall.

Other favorite lilacs include the white-flowered ‘Beauty of Moscow’, the creamy yellow ‘Primrose’ and ‘Red Pixie’, a dark-hued dwarf variety.

Lilacs are very easy to care for. Give them plenty of sun, light fertilization and good air circulation and they will bloom and grow for years. Some lilacs reach an enormous size and still bloom every year. Here’s some additional information on care.

What’s your favorite lilac?


  1. Deb on June 6, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    Is there any hope for a lilac that has never produced flowers…I started from a small planting, have cut it down once or twice and it has never produced flowers…

  2. Roberta on May 14, 2018 at 5:30 am

    I transplanted some small lilacs (a single stem about 12-18″ tall). It took them about 7 years to bloom. Also, lilacs bloom on wood that it 3 years old.

  3. […] traditional choice is a flowering shrub, such as lilac or dogwood, but these do not provide year-round seclusion. If you want something that has a fuller […]

  4. Lynn Young on May 6, 2021 at 6:04 pm

    Are Lila s small enough and easy to maintain on the side of the house.

    • Mary Lahr Schier on May 7, 2021 at 4:21 pm

      There are some dwarf lilacs available that might work in a tight spot. Your local garden center might be able to recommend them.

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