2015-05-27 / Gardening Tips / Columns

Gardening Tips: May 27, 2015

Lilacs
by Bob Beyfuss

I hope that most of you received a significant amount of rain from the scattered thunderstorms that arrived last week. At my house in Scho- harie County, about a half inch in total fell, which was not nearly enough to even make a dent in the current drought. We could really use two or three inches of rain spread out over a few days. I have already noticed some lawns that are going into drought induced dormancy already. We have waited eight months to see green grass and no one wants it to go away so soon! Lawns that are not mowed until the grass is three- inches tall will tolerate the dry conditions much better than those mowed at two inches or less, so resist the urge to mow until you have to. I have yet to mow even once, but I must admit that I should, or try to find someone to bale it!

I did manage to get some spring vegetables planted in my raised beds including snow peas, lettuce, other mesclun greens, potatoes, spinach and two types of beets. My favorite beet is an heirloom variety called “Chioggia” that features a striped white and red interior and has a very mild flavor with little hint of the “muskiness” that most red beets have. This variety does not “bleed” either as do most beets when cut. I think that even kids would eat this vegetable since it really does taste sweet. The other beet variety I planted is called the “Golden beet” and it has golden, yellow flesh, also very sweet and non-bleeding. The downside to both of these varieties is that the seed germination rate is pretty poor and you need to sow it very thickly to get a decent stand. Beet seeds are actually “capsules” that contain four or more seeds each, but they still need to be sowed only about one half inch apart. They can always be thinned if too many sprout.

Good Season for Lilacs

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Forsythia bloom and how this was a good season for this popular shrub. Now I am compelled to write about the Lilac bloom, because it is truly spectacular this spring! The common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) is native to the Balkan Peninsula where they grow wild on rocky hillsides. It is also in the olive family. Like forsythia, it is not an aggressive species and not considered invasive, although these tough shrubs can live and thrive for a long, long time with no care at all. I have come upon stand of lilacs growing in almost completely wooded areas where they once were part of the landscape for houses that are now long gone. Another trait that they share with forsythia is that they are rarely browsed by deer, which makes them even more popular in our region. There are not too many plants that have both a color and a fragrance named after them. The fragrance of lilac is truly lovely and easily identified by many people from a distance. Some cultivars are more fragrant than others (Look for “Congo” or “Maiden’s Blush” for strong fragrance). The flower color “lilac” refers to a pinkish, purple color that is quite common, but lilacs are available in all shades of pink, to dark lavender, to snow white and even a creamy yellow. These shrubs may grow to 20 feet tall if left alone but they are nicest when properly pruned so that the flowers are borne at nose height. Lilacs bloom on one or two year old growth. The best time to prune them is right after they finish blooming, of course and the procedure is to remove a few of the oldest, thickest stems at ground level. This will encourage new suckers to arise from the base and they may be topped when they are a couple of feet tall. A year or two later you will be rewarded with nose level blossoms that also make great cut flowers. Lilacs are not all that fussy about soil conditions as long as it is well drained, but they do prefer full sun. Failure to bloom may be caused by shade or over fertilization in some cases.

My favorite Lilac variety is probably a Persian lilac (Syringa persica, a natural hybrid) called “Miss Kim.”This type of lilac is also called a dwarf Korean lilac and it only grows to about four or five feet tall, which means the flowers, are always at nose height! It also blooms about a week to ten days later than the standard varieties. I am sure you can purchase any number of wonderful varieties at your local garden center. I just hope your sense of smell is working well when you shop!

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