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Diggin' It

Reblooming lilacs: The hype and the reality

Josee and Bloomerang lilacs are sold as rebloomers, which will flower in late summer and fall as well as in spring. How do they really perform in the Midwest?

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Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out quite that way.

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What I expected, what the cultural tag promised me, was a four-to-six-foot bush with tons of big, indispensable sweet-scented blossoms early in the spring on the first flush of bloom, followed by sporadic blooms throughout summer, and one more major flush when the weather cooled.

What I got was a dwarf lilac of fragrant but small, lavender-pink flowers in spring – in the nearly two decades that I’ve enjoyed ‘Josee’, only twice has she rewarded me with a truly sizeable flush of fall blossoms.

As for summer ... apparently, she never read the same tag as I did, for she’s never given me more than a few sporadic flowers here and there during our incredibly hot, muggy dog days of summer.

In those first few years, I would call my friend in Canada to compare notes. In July, she described the sweet fragrance of the blossoms as she gardened under the shrub (while I drooled with envy), and in September, she gloated with one-upmanship as she picked enough stems for bouquets.

Was my ‘Josee’ lacking somehow? I asked myself. She seemed to have settled in, looked healthy, grew several inches each year, so where were the myriad of promised blossoms?

But if truth be told, I should have known better.

Like most lilacs, ‘Josee’ thrives in cool weather. So in the Pacific Northwest, the Rockies, New England, and Canada (and other locales with reasonably cool summers) she will put on a magnificent show, reblooming three – even four times – during a growing season.

But here in the Midwest, our muggy, hot days and nights just put her in a funk.

I did eventually purchase another bush, planting it closer to the house where it gets morning sun and afternoon shade. Though I now accept the fact that there will be no strong waftings of that heady scent in summer, I treasure the few sporadic blossoms she puts forth during those rare cool(er) summers.

The new kid on the block

However, there is a “new” reblooming lilac on the market these days: ’Bloomerang’ purple lilac (Syringa ‘Penda’) from Proven Winners.

I have only one year’s worth of experience with this still-small plant, but so far, so good.

Unlike ‘Josee’, which needs to be pruned after flowering, ‘Bloomerang’ does not. What blossoms I had last year were bigger and deeper in color than ‘Josee’ and, thankfully, produced more blossoms in late summer, which continued until frost.

So, as ‘Bloomerang’ matures, maybe I will finally be rewarded with those longed-for armloads full of fragrant, blowsy lilac stems every fall!

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Betty Earl, the Intrepid Gardener, blogs regularly at Diggin' It. She's the author of 'In Search of Great Plants: The Insider’s Guide to the Best Plants in the Midwest.' She also writes a regular column for Chicagoland Gardening Magazine and The Kankakee Journal and numerous articles for Small Gardens Magazine, American Nurseryman, Nature’s Garden, and Midwest Living Magazine, as well as other national magazines. She is a garden scout for Better Homes and Gardens and a regional representative for The Garden Conservancy. To read more by Betty, click here.

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