Monday, March 11, 2013

Coming Soon: LILACS!

It wont be hard to discern that my focus today is on lilacs (Syringa) and the reason for that is twofold.   I'm, of course, looking forward to lilac season in May and early June as I always do.  Last year the lilacs bloomed almost five weeks early although this year might be a bit more "on track".   Secondly, the International Lilac Society ( will be having their annual conference/convetion in Madison this upcoming May 9th through May 11th.  This convention, aside from having a strong lilac focus, will feature tours of  the lilac collection at Longenecker Gardens of the UW-Arboretum.  This is a collection that my family appreciates as we never miss the lilacs, magnolias or crabapples at Longenecker Gardens every spring!  Dr. Hasselkus has amassed a very impressive collection of woody plants in general and I hope the peak timing of the lilac collection coincides with the tour!   I'll be presenting the keynote at the conference (Sensory Gardens) and for anyone interested, more details can be found at in terms of itinerary, registration, etc.  This is a pretty big deal and it's nice to have this event so close to home.  The photos directly above and directly below are from the 'Ivory Silk' Japanese tree lilac (Syringa reticulata) which blooms about 2-3 weeks later than the standard French lilac (Syringa vulgaris).  This species also has nice coppery bark that becomes most conspicuous in winter.  The second photo down shows 'Golden Eclipse' which is a variegated form of this species although the variegation fades out by July.

Syringa reticulata  'Ivory Silk'
Syringa reticulata 'Golden Eclipse' foliage

The Horticulture Center received a nice, healthy crowd of volunteers today.  Del worked on sharpening tools while Dick H. continued cutting and bending aluminum for our new plant stakes.  Ron Y., Gene, Dave T. and  Jim worked on sanding benches and the guys also started re-mounting the memorial plaques on the finished benches.  Vern continued staining benches and trained Rose to help out next week when he is gone.  Pat worked on various projects while Dr. Gredler continued repainting a gate and some other garden elements.  Urban went out pruning in the arboretum while Dick W. brought in displays from the Holiday Lights Show (HLS).  Gary was in to work on signs and Maury ran many errands for us this morning.  We also saw Jumbo Jim, Karen M., Stan K and Dr. Neeno for a meeting regarding the Japanese garden.  Bill O. came in to help Larry this afternoon and we saw many others including our Horticulture Therapy committee this afternoon.  I worked on multiple "spring prep" projects and continue to get poised and ready for the busy season.

Syringa x laciniata
Syringa x laciniata close-up

When lilacs are in bloom, I think few would contest their beauty in flower and value in scent.  Lilacs (Syringa sp.) have along history in cultivation.  There are between 20 and 25 species of lilacs that are in the olive (Oleaceae) family and most closely related to privet (Ligustrum sp.).  With a native range of southeastern Europe to Eastern Asia, lilacs have proven adaptable and hardy in a wide range of climates, soil types and situations.  Directly above is our cutleaf lilac (Syringa x laciniata) which receives lots of attention when in bloom for the color and scent.  The finely dissected leaves fool many in to not believing that it could be a lilac. Regardless, we have probably 20 different types of lilacs around the gardens which is a small fraction of what is available.  Lilac flower forms might be single or double but universally, they bloom on old wood.  This means that pruning should be done immediately after flowering as later timing will sacrifice flower buds already set for the following spring.  Rejuvenation pruning of older canes is warranted as specimens age and the more sun the better for a high volume of blossoms.  In colder, wet springs, we see mildew issues on the foliage of many selections which is primarily cosmetic.  Fungicides could be effective for mildew control but regardless, collect all autumn leaf debris from the base of the infected lilac and haul them out of the way to minimize re-infection the following spring.  While flowers are the primary ornamental consideration for selection, some varieties have nice foliage that might be variegated or perhaps will get a nice fall color.  The variety 'Aucubaefolia' below has the best variegation in early spring that combines well with the flowers.  However, most variegated lilacs lose their variegation by mid-summer when it gets considerably hotter.  Aside from the Japanese tree lilac seen above, another tree lilac to consider is the Peking lilac (Syringa pekinensis) which also will get in the 20'-25' range, bloom in late May/early June and also features some exceptional, coppery, peeling, ornamental bark.  The selections China Snow and Beijing Gold can be seen at the bottom.  My verbage above doesn't do this genus justice but do appreciate the durable role that lilacs play in our landscapes and at least value what they do in spring to buoy our moods and engage the senses!

Syringa meyeri 'Palibin' (dwarf Korean lilac)
'Madame Lemoine'
'Little Boy Blue'
Syringa x chinensis (Fernwood Botanical Garden)
'Atheline Wilbur'
Syringa pubescens ssp. patula Miss Susie ('KLmone')
Syringa wolfii
Syringa pubescens ssp. microphylla 'Superba'
Syringa pekinensis China Snow ('Morton')
Syringa pekinensis China Snow ('Morton') ornamental bark
Syringa pekinensis Beijing Gold ('Zhang Zhiming')

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