Although we think of this spring flowering shrub as quintessential New England, it hales from Eastern Europe and Asia. It's fragrant, beautiful and a sure sign of spring. It's the lilac.
Lilacs are related to olive trees. The one thing they have in common is their toughness. They survive our severe winters and reliably flower each year.
They also have a penchant for growing. The common purple or white lilac loves to send up suckers and therefore makes an excellent hedge. But they can also grow to 20 feet tall. This is frustrating when all the blooms are too high to reach. Luckily, lilacs can be pruned severely to a few feet off the ground, and will recover. They will take a few years to regrow and start flowering again.
Another way of pruning without sacrificing all the flowers is to cut only one-third of the oldest branches to the ground each year. Leave two replacement sucker branches after each pruning. By the fourth year, you should have a shorter bush that's still flowering. Prune within six weeks after blooming. Pruning later will remove flower buds for next year.
Another common complaint is your lilacs stop blooming. If lilacs get too much shade, they'll stop flowering. Prune nearby trees to give them more sun or replant to a sunnier spot.
While the common and French hybrid lilacs are popular, try some bushier forms from Asia that stay around five feet tall such as the 'Miss Kim' and 'Palibin.' You can even grow repeat blooming lilacs, such as 'Bloomarang' and 'Josee,' to give you two rounds of lilac beauty and fragrance in one year.
Next week on the Connecticut Garden Journal, I'll be talking about kohlrabi. Until then, I'll be seeing you in the garden.