Fragrant Lilac Plants – How to Grow and All Things You Need to Know

Lilac plants are loved for the large fragrant panicles they produce that bloom in spring. However, consider that lilacs, botanically called Syringa, are large shrubs; measured in feet rather than inches.

As Syringa plants are bred down in size, it is possible to find lilacs for smaller gardens. But a gardener still needs a large planting bed to have space, whether for growing healthy specimen plants or to create a scented garden that includes this sweetly fragrant popular shrub.

Smaller Lilac Cultivars

First available to gardeners in 2010, when Syringa x Boomerang ‘Penda’ was introduced it stirred discussions among horticulturists. The lilac is a rebloomer and smaller lilac but it still grows up to 5’ tall and wide. Syringa x ‘Penda’ develops purple buds that will open to lavender-purple flowers in spring, mid-summer, and fall.

Another lilac labeled a rebloomer is Syringa x tribida ‘Josee.’ The semi-dwarf lilac will grow 4’-6’ tall and wide, opening with a flourish of lavender-pink blooms in May. The volume of flowers through summer and autumn is less dramatic but will still bring color to a late season garden.

Syringa vulgaris

Older examples of lilac plants considered smaller than species are:

Syringa ‘Bailbelle’ Tinkerbelle, a hybrid lilac, compact at 4’-6’ tall and wide, has wine colored buds opening to pale pink flowers with a spicy scent. The plant is very powdery mildew resistant.

  • Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’ is lower growing but spreads out, 3’-5’ tall with a 5’-7’ spread. The Korean dwarf lilac is an earlier bloomer with pale pink flowers; the plant is very resistant to powdery mildew.
  • Syringa pubescens subsp. patula ‘Miss Kim’ is compact but still grows to a 5’ tall shrub. The mounding habit holds erect clusters of bluish lavender color. The foliage may turn reddish bronze in fall.
  • Lilac plants in a small space will provide structure, scent and attract pollinators; adding shorter perennial flowers to a petite garden will further extend the flower season for cutting gardens, too. Gardeners will have improved success by planning ahead to design a generous bed, taking into account the needs of the mature shrubs and perennials chosen.

Syringa Species Plants for Northern Gardens

Fragrant Lilac trees

Syringa shrubs are hardy in zones (2)3 – 7(8) depending on the species or cultivar. Whatever their limits, lilac shrubs are a good choice for northern gardens. If there are any climate concerns, it is for gardeners who experience late spring frosts that can prevent new buds from opening.

Syringa x Chinensis is a Chinese lilac hybrid of Syringa x persica and Syringa vulgaris. Syringa vulgaris is the common lilac native to Europe. Unfortunately, the common lilac plant suckers, develops a ratty appearance and eventually grows into a small tree. However, Syringa vulgaris has the strongest fragrance especially compared with modern day cultivars. The cultivars Wedgewood Blue and Little Boy Blue are related to Syringa vulgaris and have very blue flowers; only Syringa vulgaris ‘Little Boy Blue’ will fit in a small garden.

Tips on Growing Lilac Plants

Fragrant Lilac tree

Lilac plants grow well in areas like the Northern and Eastern United States. New cultivars are less lightly to sucker but pruning maintenance plans should include monitoring this tendency. Generally, prune the shrub after the plant stops blooming as it flowers on old wood next spring.

Lilac plants require good air circulation to avoid powdery mildew. Consider spacing when siting the plant, keeping it away from the side of a building. Gardeners will find many cultivars that excel in powdery mildew resistance; these choices are best for planting where summers are humid.

Syringa Plants Attract Hummingbirds and Butterflies

Syringa plants are shrubs for more than one use in a flower garden. Lilac flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds, have an inviting scent and make an excellent bloom in a bouquet.

A scented garden can be created by growing a magnolia tree, lilac shrub, and peony in one planting bed. One Syringa, with compact growth, can also be the basis of a small scented flower garden for a patio or front door entrance.