K-State Research and Extension News
May 06, 2013
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Selecting Lilacs for Favorable Traits

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MANHATTAN, Kan. ­– Cheryl Boyer, nursery crop specialist with K-State Research and Extension, adores lilacs.  The sweet smell of their strong fragrance made lilacs her favorite flower as a child.

“There will always be a place in my garden for a lilac, just because of the sweet memories I associate with it,” said Boyer, Kansas State University assistant professor of nursery crops.

The lilac blossoms appear to be delicate, but the plant itself is very hardy.  Lilacs’ ability to handle very cold temperatures makes them well suited to Kansas climates. 

Lilac plants can often grow and continue to flower for many years even if they are abandoned or neglected.  Normally, the only care they need is pruning to keep their size maintained.

“In my mind, two saddening traits of lilacs are that they only bloom once a year for about 10-14 days and that they can get quite large, which is challenging for small yards,” said Boyer. “Fortunately, both of those seem to be solvable problems.”

Aside from their annual bloom, usually between April and June, the lilac shrub itself is not very interesting.  However, in the last five to 10 years, there have been new cultivars with a re-blooming trait released into the trade.

Syringa hybrida ‘Penda’ (Bloomerang® Lilac) is one of the first and most widely marketed re-blooming lilacs.

“I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one,” said Boyer, “but when I finally saw it in person, I was less than impressed. The flower panicles seem to be looser and more open than other lilacs and the bloom was not as impressive in May, though it did continue to flower sporadically throughout the summer. In essence, it spread out the blooming feature over a longer time, but it had ‘less of a show’ at any one time. “

Now that the re-blooming trait has been isolated, new re-blooming lilac cultivars will only get better over time as breeders select for the trait, she said.

When it comes to size, lilacs vary considerably with some varieties only growing to four feet tall and others 20 feet.

“If you’re not concerned with re-blooming or plant size, there are a plethora of lilacs to choose from,” said Boyer. “According to various authorities, there may be between 400 to 2,000 cultivars of the common lilac (Syringa vulgaris), with the primary difference being flower color.”

The common lilac is the most widely known of all lilacs in the United States.  It can grow as tall as 20 feet, and the flowers are fragrant and a pale pinkish violet color, although they can be of other hues. 

Based on plant availability lists from nurseries in the area, Boyer has came up with a handful of common lilacs for you to consider:

  • ‘Alba’ – white flowers.
  • ‘Arch McKeon’ – bright reddish-purple flowers.
  • ‘Charles Joly’ – double petals, magenta flowers.
  • ‘Krasavitsa Moskvy’ – double white flower petals, pink in bud making it look bicolor.
  • ‘Prairie Petite’ – light pink flower, fades to lavender.
  • ‘President Roosevelt’ – purple flower, highly fragrant.
  • ‘Sensation’ – purple flower, edged in white.

For more information about lilacs and caring for your garden, visit the K-State Horticulture, Forestry and Recreation Resources website.


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by: Kaitlin Morgan
K-State Research & Extension News

Cheryl Boyer - crboyer@ksu.edu - 785-532- 3504