Dwarf lilacs are compact, dependable and even reblooming

They look and smell just like their full-size counterparts — without all the insects and diseases.

Late April and early May in the Northwest are high season for all kinds of lilacs. They are coming into full bloom and their heavenly fragrance is enough to put even this cantankerous gardener into a good mood.

I have several of the tall growing French hybrids planted out behind one of our greenhouses, where they are out of sight and completely ignored — except for this time of year when I pick armloads of trusses for my wife to arrange in the house.

For the most part, when we talk about lilacs, we are referring to the French hybrids. These are large shrubs reaching 12- to 15-feet-tall with dark green leaves and an upright growth habit. They tend to sucker from the base, thus creating a small thicket of branches that, in a good year, will be covered with panicles of intensely fragrant flowers, in colors from white to dark purple. Plant them in full sun, water the first year and then forget about them — except to cut a bouquet once a year and remove an occasional old cane.

While these French hybrids can create some frustration, I would never discourage anyone from planting them. We have sold thousands of them in the 30-plus years that I have operated the nursery with very few complaints. However, if you are looking for a shrub with the fragrance of a lilac but without the issues of diseases and insects — and perhaps even a more compact growth habit — look no further than dwarf Korean lilacs.

Dwarf lilacs look and smell just like their full-size counterparts, only they actually bloom every year and don’t get racked with insects and diseases. Since they are an attractive shrub, you don’t have to relegate them to the back of the border and, in fact, you can plant them en masse as a hedge if you like. While the flower clusters may be smaller than those pumped-up French versions, they still will cover the entire plant in spring and have the same intoxicating scent.

“Miss Kim” is probably the best known dwarf lilac on the market. It grows about 6 feet tall and as wide, and has dark glossy foliage that turns a burgundy red in the fall. The buds are purple and open into clusters of fragrant, pale lilac flowers about the same time or shortly after the French hybrids. “Tinkerbelle” is similar but with pink flowers. There are many other hybrids on the market to choose from.

Around 20 years ago, the first reblooming dwarf lilac came onto the market from Canada called “Josee.” (Oddly enough, I have never seen it in the trade here in the Northwest.) More recently, Proven Winners introduced the “Bloomerang” lilac that blooms heavily in the spring and, if sheared back, will repeat bloom sporadically throughout the summer and then heavily again in the fall. Admittedly, results can be variable, but even so, there are bound to be more blooms then just the one shot in spring.

“Bloomerang” now comes in several shades of purple and a pink version called “Pink Perfume.” Another new rebloomer is one called “Colby’s Wishing Star” (it is a sport from “Josee”) that only grows to 4 feet tall and has sweet pink blooms. A portion of the proceeds from the sales of “Colby’s Wishing Star” go toward building a park for disabled kids (Colby’s namesake was born with Down’s syndrome).

If you are looking for a lilac that is more compact, easy to grow and is a repeat bloomer, then give the above dwarf lilacs a try this spring. You won’t be disappointed.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at info@sunnysidenursery.net.

Talk to us

More in Life

Jeff Daniels
Actor Jeff Daniels also knows his way around the blues guitar

The Edmonds Center for the Arts will present a streaming concert by Daniels on Jan. 15.

Freezer-to-table recipes — plus a little help from the kids — makes putting dinner on the table easy. (Jennifer Bardsley)
When families cook together, dinner is ready in a flash

Here’s how you, too, can assemble 14 freezer-to-table recipes in four hours for two weeks of easy meals.

Dr. Paul on making a habit of expressing your appreciation

It can be as easy as putting a sticky note out to remind yourself be on the lookout for a job well done.

Artists Amber and Alex Vincini sit by examples of their artwork outside their studio on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2020 in Everett, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
CARES Act grant helps artists be creative — and pay the rent

The money allows Everett’s Schack Art Center to hire artists and art educators.

When harvesting an Asian pear, the best method is to taste. Asian pears will ripen on the tree. (Getty Images)
Fruit trees 101: A gardener’s CliffsNotes for growing them

If you have any interest in growing your own fruit, it’s prime time to pick up apples, plums, cherries and pears.

Scherenschnitte is a special type of German paper cutting art, and old and new examples are both seen at auctions. This modern example sold for just $40. (Cowles Syndicate Inc.)
G.B. French made this scherenschnitte in the 20th century

The Kovels were surprised French’s paper cutting art was at auction, when artwork from the 1800s is more popular.

"Diane" witch hazel produces dark copper-red flowers in winter, providing quite a show against its bare branches. (Richie Steffen)
Great Plant Pick: Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane,’ Diane witch hazel

“Diane” witch hazel produces dark copper-red flowers in winter, providing quite a show against its bare branches.

Shylah Hallam-Noel left, a worker at Queen Anne Healthcare, a skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility in Seattle, receives the second shot of the Pfizer vaccination for COVID-19, Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, from a Walgreens Pharmacist, right. The facility had an outbreak of COVID-19 in May of 2020 that resulted in more than 100 positive cases among staff and residents, including Allen, and the deaths of 20 residents and two staff members. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
The tricky road to herd immunity, explained

Three researchers who study the spread of infectious disease offer a reality check on how far we’ve come — and how far we have to go.

Photo by Wes Anthony/Firehouse Creative
Lead actress Shannyn Sossamon talks with filmmakers Andrew Morehouse,center, and Nate
Bell while filming “The Hour After Westerly” at the Fort Casey Inn.
Watch film featuring Whidbey Island for free through Jan. 16

The “Twilight Zone”-esque “The Hour After Westerly” is based on a short story by Robert M. Coates.

Most Read