Is the South Too Hot for Lilacs?

April 17, 2009 | By | Comments (69)

When Northerners move to the South, the plant they miss most is lilac. They want to know why they can’t buy one or if they can, why it won’t bloom.

Lilac

Here’s a typical question about lilac from Jim in northern Florida.

“We live close to Jacksonville and have been looking for a lilac. At one nursery we went to, the guy didn’t even know what a lilac was. At another one, they said they don’t have them because they won’t grow in Florida. I asked him why and he said it was too hot. I can’t understand that, because it southeast Kansas we had a lilac in the yard for as long as I can remember and it often gets over 100 degrees there in summer.”

Jim, the problem with lilacs in the South is not how hot it gets in summer. After all, it can get over 100 degrees in Canada. The problem is the duration of the heat and the length of the winter. The majority of lilacs need a long period of winter chill in order to bloom well. Jacksonville is not going to get that.

There are a few low-chill hybrids that might possibly bloom for you (although I wouldn’t bet the farm on it). They include ‘Lavender Lady’ (it’s blooming now in Birmingham), ‘Blue Skies,’ and ‘Angel White.’ In the Lower South (Zone 8), you can also grow cutleaf lilac (Syringa laciniata), littleleaf lilacs (S. microphylla ‘Superba’), and ‘Miss Kim’ lilac (S. patula ‘Miss Kim’). A good mail-order source for all of these plants is Forest Farm.

A good substitute for lilacs in the South is lilac chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus). It has very showy lavender-purple to deep blue flowers in early summer, although the blooms aren’t fragrant. I have ‘Abbeville Blue’ in my yard and the spikes of deep blue flowers are spectacular. Another good one is ‘Shoal Creek’ with lilac-blue flowers. You can get chaste tree at many garden centers or order them from Forest Farm.

Hey Grumpians! Can any of you grow lilacs? Which ones? 

 

Photo by B Mully.

COMMENTS

  1. Steve Bender

    Rhiannon,
    It won’t hurt the lilac.

    November 26, 2016 at 7:38 am
  2. Rhiannon Geraughty

    I just moved to zone 8 in Louisiana. I brought my Angel White Lilac with me and plan to put her in the ground tomorrow.Unfortunately, a couple of weeks ago I noticed that fire ants had completely taken over the dirt in her pot so I watered her dirt completely down then sprayed some diluted diazanon throughout the wet soil. Hopefully I didn’t kill her….

    November 23, 2016 at 3:27 pm
  3. Admire The Flowers | Smiles Away

    […] seen lilacs since moving to a different area of the country. And, according to this Q&A at the Grumpy Gardener, I won’t be seeing them in this area because the winter is not long or cold enough. […]

    June 23, 2016 at 11:31 pm
  4. Grumpy Gardener

    Dina,

    You’ll have to turn it WAY UP. They need several months of temps below 45 degrees.

    June 6, 2016 at 2:03 pm
  5. Dina

    Can I bring my lilacs in the house n turn up the air conditioner to give them a winter

    June 3, 2016 at 9:51 pm
  6. Grumpy Gardener

    Diane,

    I wish I could tell you what killed it, but I can’t.

    April 5, 2016 at 10:23 am
  7. Diane

    My lilac (miss Kim) looked great last year. We planted it 3 or 4 years ago. We haven’t pruned it because we wanted it to grow for privacy. This spring we discovered it’s dead. No growth and branches are brittle. We have no idea what killed it. We have another lilac in a different part of the yard that’s only 2 years old and it is blooming now.

    April 4, 2016 at 12:54 pm
  8. Grumpy Gardener

    Paul,

    Wow, I wish you remembered the name!

    April 1, 2016 at 10:50 am
  9. Paul Watkins

    I have a lilac with large single white flowers & a strong lilac scent. It (or its suckers) has bloomed for me in Rock Hill SC (zone 7b), Texarkana TX (zone 8) and Savoy TX (zone 8). Unfortunately I do not remember its name. I purchased it from Wayside Gardens approximately 20 years ago, but they no longer list it. It only grows about 7-8 feet tall and sucker fairly freely. The flowers are larger than the old-fashioned lilacs that I was familiar with in Canada, but has the same smell.

    March 30, 2016 at 12:32 pm
  10. Grumpy Gardener

    Danielle,

    That’s the way to garden. If a favorite plant won’t grow for you, find something similar that will.

    February 11, 2016 at 2:37 pm
  11. Danielle

    Im in zone 8a / Georgia and just got a “pink dawn” Viburnum that smells very much like a lilac – more so than the lilacs that will grow here. I love it very much!

    http://www.monrovia.com/plant-catalog/plants/2189/pink-dawn-viburnum/

    February 3, 2016 at 2:40 pm
  12. Grumpy Gardener

    Pamela,

    I’d go with ‘Lavender Lady.’

    February 3, 2016 at 2:12 pm
  13. Pamela Olson

    We’ve been missing and half heartedly trying to grow lilacs since we moved to Thomasville, NC from Wisconsin 22 years ago. Can you tell us which is the most fragrant of the options you listed in this article? Are there any that would be especially successful in our zone? We have recently moved to a house that actually gets decent sun so our fingers are crossed!!

    February 3, 2016 at 7:50 am
  14. Steve Bender

    Jim,

    If you have the refrigerator space to do that, it’s worth a try. However, the air in there is very dry, so I’d enclose the plant in clear plastic to keep it from turning to dust.

    Linda,

    The only explanation I can think of is that it’s a low-chill selection like ‘Blue Skies’ or ‘White Angel.’

    October 1, 2015 at 1:53 pm
  15. linda kleingardner

    i have a blooming lilac that has just bloomed after 5 years i purchased it in the north and today it has bloomed i live in ocala fl

    September 28, 2015 at 4:43 pm
  16. JIM

    WHAT IF YOU HAVE A POTTED LILAC AND REFRIGATE IT FOR THE WINTER? WILL IT THEN BLOOM WITH FRAGANT FLOWERS?

    July 30, 2015 at 2:23 pm
  17. Steve Bender

    Pamela,

    Lilacs like full sun, even in Lake Charles. GG

    May 17, 2013 at 8:47 am
  18. Steve Bender

    Tom,
    I’ve been curious to see how ‘Bloomerang’ will bloom in the deep South. Your report sounds promising. Thanks!

    May 8, 2013 at 10:59 am
  19. Tom Barger

    I have had some success with the reblooming lilac “Bloomerang” here in Houston Texas Zone 9. It is blooming now with multiple small florets and does have the wonderful lilac smell. I have had it over two years now and this past winter we really did not have any freezing temperatures. True, the florets are not as large as a regular lilac, but it does seem to bloom with VERY little winter chill hours.

    I am also experimenting with “Blue Skies” lilac which is said by the grower to require no winter chill. It has serveral buds now and is just breaking dormancy; will see it it blooms. It actually did bloom last August during our severe drought; when it lost all its leaves; then was watered well; bloomed and then grew another set of leaves!!!

    May 2, 2013 at 2:14 pm

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