Lilacs can do very well in difficult alkaline soils, but are all too often forgotten when plans are made for shrubs in 21st century landscapes. Many varieties and sizes of lilacs are now available, but I fear we have it in the back of our minds that they are somehow too old fashioned.
If you have soils that are properly drained with half a day of sun to full sun, and acid loving plants like yews, pines, azaleas, and rhododendrons have failed, or look sickly, you may want to consider either dwarf or standard size lilacs, depending on how large a plant you desire. The problem with your previous plant choices may be alkaline soil.
Lilacs can tolerate alkaline soils as long as it is properly drained, and the area receives a minimum of four hours of direct sunlight per day sometime during the day throughout the summer months. More sunlight is even better. Dwarf lilac varieties grow from 3 to 7 feet tall and wide, while standard varieties mature to 7 to 15 feet in height.
If you want to maintain a flowering shrub at 3-4 feet tall, choose a dwarf lilac variety and shear it back each year with hedge clippers immediately after it is done blooming. The new sprouts will quickly grow out into a tidy dense appearance, and set the flower buds for a crop of lovely and fragrant blossoms the following spring.Excellent dwarf lilac varieties include “Dwarf Korean”, “Miss Kim”, “Tinkerbelle”, Prairie Petitie”, and Bloomerrange”. Prairie Petite” appears to have the smallest rated size, while “Bloomerang” blooms in both spring AND fall!
Members of the Common Lilac family are numerous, with some of the best time tested varieties including “Charles Joly”, “Albert Holden”, “Pocohontas” “Wonderblue”, ” Montainge”, and the common white and purple varieties.
Don’t forget lilacs when making your plans for a beautiful and fragrant landscape. They may be just the thing for success in alkaline soils. Be sure to avoid planting lilacs in areas that have poor drainage.