Lilacs for Iowa Gardens

Lilacs are one of the most cherished and adored of all flowering shrubs. They are noted for their beautiful blossoms and fragrance. Lilacs are available in a wide range of colors. There are seven color classifications for lilacs: white, pink, violet, blue, magenta (reddish-purple), lilac, and purple. Flowers are also available in single and double forms.

Several species are notable garden additions. For early blooms, try one of the Syringa hyacinthflora cultivars listed below.

Cultivar Single/Double Color Fragrance*
Mt. Baker S White VF
Annabel D Pink VF
Blanche Sweet S Blue VF
Assessippi S Lilac VF
Pocahontas S Violet VF
Maiden's Blush S Pink VF

*VF = Very Fragrant

The Common Lilacs or French Hybrid Lilacs are most noted for their bloom size and fragrance. There are thousands of cultivars available, some dating back to the late 1800's. These became known as French Hybrids due to the work of Victor Lemoine, a French hybridizer, who bred about 200 different lilacs in the 1870's.

Cultivar Color Single/Double Size (ft) Fragrance* Comments
Adelaide Dunbar Purple D 10-12 VF Fairly resistant to mildew
Avalanche White S 9 F Father Fiala hybrid
Agincourt Beauty Violet S 10-12 F Late midseason bloomer
Albert Holden Violet S 7 F Silvery undertones
Charles Joly Magenta D 10 VF Fairly resistant to mildew
Charm Pink S 8-10 VF Large blue-pink florets
Congo Magenta S 12-15 F
De Miribel Violet S 10-12 F
Edith Cavell White D 10-12 VF
Edmond Boissier Purple S 12-15 F One of the darkest
Excel Lilac S 12-15 VF Large florets
Krasavitsa Moskvy White D 12 MF Four sets of petals
Leon Gambetta Pink D 12 F Profuse bloomer
Ludwig Spaeth Purple S 12-15 F Large, narrow panicles
Miss Ellen Willmott White D 12-15 VF
Montaigne Pink D 12-15 VF
Nadezhda Blue D 10-12 MF Russian introduction
Paul Thirion Magenta D 12-15 F
President Lincoln Blue S 15-20 VF Truest of the blues
Primrose White S 10-12 MF Yellowish-white flowers
Sensation Bi-color S 10 F Purple with white edges
Victor Lemoine Lilac D 10-12 VF

*MF = Mildly Fragrant; F = Fragrant; VF = Very Fragrant

For later blossoms, try one of the Preston Lilacs. Preston lilacs have elongated leaves that are more resistant to powdery mildew. Their flowers have a spicier fragrance that is milder than many of the French hybrids.

Cultivar Color Single/Double Size (feet)
Donald Wyman Purple S 10-12
James McFarlane Pink S 10
Miss Canada Pink S 10
Minuet Pink S 6-8

Two lilacs commonly used as foundation plantings are Dwarf Korean Lilac (Sryinga meyeri) and Miss Kim Lilac (Syringa patula). These lilacs produce smaller flower clusters than most lilacs, but make up for their lack of size with shear number of blooms. The lilac to violet blossoms have a spicy fragrance. They normally bloom as the French hybrids are finishing. These are great foundation plants because of their compact size (6 feet at maturity) and freedom from disease.


Plant lilacs in a sunny location. Lilacs require at least 4 to 6 hours of sun daily for good flower production. Lilacs prefer a well-drained soil. Space plants 10-15 feet apart for specimen plants and 5-8 feet apart for hedges. Since lilacs bloom on old wood, prune them immediately after flowering. An easy way to remember this is to prune lilacs before July 4th. Pruning lilacs in late winter or early spring will reduce flower numbers. Avoid using high nitrogen fertilizers close to lilacs since this can prevent blooms from forming.

This article originally appeared in the April 16, 1999 issue, pp. 42-43.


Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Horticulture and Home Pest News, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on April 16, 1999. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.