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Lilac Bushes Perfume the Air in Northern Cities

The lilacs are blooming. All over the city their sweet fragrance permeates the air. Everywhere you look their delicate lilac-colored flowers light up individual lawn specimens or hedgerows of this hardy bush. The brief, two-week period that lilacs bloom every spring almost makes up for freezing winter weather.


Lilacs are classified as Syringa vulgaris and are reliably hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 7.

Lilac Bushes
Lilac Bushes

Native to both Europe and Asia, lilacs are now grown around the globe. They have adapted well to urban environments. You’ll find stands of lilacs growing alongside highways and freeways, as well as the property lines of city and suburban lots.

Lilacs grow best in full sun, although they’ll do fine with as little as four hours of direct sun a day.

Plant lilacs in well drained, slightly alkaline soil (add pulverized lime to sweeten). They don’t like their feet wet, so don’t plant them in low lying areas where the water stands after it rains.

Lilacs live for 100 years or more. If you live in the city, chances are the lilac bush in your yard has been growing there since the automobile was a “curiosity” and travel by horse and buggy was the norm.

If you’re lucky enough to have well-established lilacs growing on your property, you probably already know that they’ll continue to grow and bloom every spring with very little help from you.

Provide them with water in times of extreme drought and feed them with an all-purpose fertilizer in late spring after they finish flowering, although they’ll most likely thrive without your intervention.

Prune for size and shape at the same time you cut off the spent flower heads, right after they finish blooming. They’re very forgiving. I once watched a well-meaning neighbor “prune” his lilac bush by ripping off several of the large branches. I was convinced that the bush was history, but it bounced back and bloomed again in a couple of years. Go figure.

Just to be on the safe side, prune out no more than 1/3 of a lilac’s branches at a time. If the bush requires more pruning than that, wait until the following year and again, prune out no more than 1/3 of its branches.

Lilacs seem to last only a few hours as a cut flower before wilting. Here’s what to do to keep a bouquet of lilacs that will last longer: cut short branches, not individual flowers, making sure to cut them at the woody part of the stem. Lay the stems on a cutting board and smash the woody ends with a hammer. This will enable them to more easily draw up water and they will last indoors for several days in a vase. Change the water daily.

Add a few tulips and/or peonies for a spectacular looking spring bouquet.

No flowers smell as sweet as spring-blooming flowers.

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