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A lilac to love

Tree version offers summer show of blooms

I THINK THERE SHOULD BE a gardeners’ list called “plants with great reputations.” At the top of this list would be the Japanese tree lilac (Syringa reticulata subsp. reticulata). Despite its great characteristics, it’s not often planted—perhaps because people are so accustomed to traditional lilacs. 

Yes, it’s a real lilac and it’s a tree, growing 20 to 30 feet tall and only 12 to 20 feet wide. Its size makes it a great urban or street tree, but it’s versatile and can be planted singly, as a screen or in a small group. The canopy shape is oval to rounded and it is a modest grower. 

It flowers in June, when many trees have already finished blooming. Large, creamy white panicle flowers are held in clusters and cover the tree. The flowers, slightly fragrant, are attractive to butterflies, hummingbirds and most pollinators. 

A site with full sun and moist but well-drained soil is best, but the Japanese tree lilac is known for tolerating heavy clay soil. It is also drought resistant when established. 

Called the most “trouble free of all the lilacs,” it has very few pest problems. If you need something slightly smaller, check out the ‘Ivory Silk’ Japanese tree lilac, which grows only 20 feet tall. 

Consider planting a Japanese tree lilac this October or November and you will be rewarded with a strong and durable tree that puts on a great show each summer.

SHELLY NOLD is a horticulturist and owner of The Plant Kingdom. Send stories and ideas to her at The Plant Kingdom, 4101 Westport Road, Louisville, KY 40207

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