T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” begins with the declaration that “April is the cruellest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire” – not the most optimistic of introductions to one of the world’s liveliest flowers.
Eliot’s poem was written in the shadow of World War One and the fragmentation of modern life and is full of contrast – and what better way to contrast “the dead land” than with one of the liveliest flowers blooming in gardens around the world?
Whatever “memory” of gardening you hold dear, there’s no denying that lilacs are “desired” by garden flower lovers all over the world.
Then again, desire can be fleeting, as can be a lilac’s bloom. Eliot’s symbol for beauty is a suitably fleeting and fickle one for as troubled a time as his (and our own) but if you’re gardening, you’d naturally rather your lilacs retain their bloom longer.
So, how can you keep your bed of lilacs from becoming a wasteland by helping them retain their bloom longer?
An Introduction to Lilacs
While many lilacs do best in the bright summer sun, lilacs are plants that can do with a little cold weather. That said, lilacs are pretty hardy for garden flowers, so while they prefer colder climates such as the British Isles and Northern United States and Canada, you can also find them blooming in warmer climates as well.
Even though they don’t necessarily need an abundance of warmth, however, they do need a fair amount of sunlight, at least six to eight hours of sun per day for the best results.
In terms of their soil, it should ideally be well-drained and slightly on the alkaline side pH level-wise.
Finally, if you take care of them, lilacs can repay you with a healthy amount of growth. They can grow to as much as 15 feet tall and tend to easily surpass five feet.
For this reason, if you are growing these giants alongside other, smaller plants and flowers, you should probably put the shorter ones in front, lest the lilacs dwarf them.
Make Seasonal Lilacs Bloom Longer and Better
Beauty can be fleeting, and flowers like lilacs are no exception. Common lilacs bloom in colder northern conditions for as little as two weeks, though this can be extended to at least six or more with the right assistance, as explained below.
One of the most important things to recognize when planting lilacs with the intention of helping them bloom fuller, longer, and better overall is that different lilacs are suited to different seasons.
Matching the lilac you have to the season in which they flourish best is a good first step toward making sure that they retain their blooms as long as possible.
Despite Eliot’s dour foreboding of April blooming, spring lilacs tend to come into bloom in May if the weather’s warm, and might take a bit longer if it is not. That said, hybrids can bloom even earlier.
This matters because the earlier you get your lilacs to bloom in the season in which they are suited, the better your chances of keeping them in bloom longer.
Adding to Eliot’s bouquet of flower allusions, he writes about a “hyacinth girl,” and sure enough lilac-hyacinth hybrids come into bloom earlier than the common spring lilac.
As later spring and summer lilacs bloom, they often have buds already developed for next season.
To get the fullest and most sustained bloom out of your lilacs, you want to keep an eye out for these and make sure they remain healthy. Naturally, you don’t want to prune these if you want your lilacs to bloom again next year.
Instead, you should clip faded blooms, since these can inhibit further growth.
Summer lilacs include the aptly-named “Late Lilac” (Syringa villosa), though with brilliant shades of white, rose, pink, violet, and red, the wait may well be worth it.
These being summer lilacs, it should come as no surprise that a big key to bringing them into bloom and sustaining it for a longer period of time is making sure they get lots of sunlight.
Finally, there are some lilacs that bloom continuously through spring and then again in midsummer, and some even continue into the fall in areas where the climate permits such long growth. For example, the Josee reblooming lilac (Syringa Josee)blooms throughout summer and fall.
If you want your bed of lilacs to look like they are in full bloom year-round, you’ll want to mix and match the types of seasonal lilacs you keep so as to ensure that you always have one or more varieties blooming.
Lilacs do best in soil that is rich in humus and well-drained.
Water and drowning recur throughout Eliot’s poem, including a whole section entitled “Death By Water” – and that’s exactly what will happen to your lilacs if you do not drain them properly. Their roots will get too wet and drown, rot, or both.
Adding compost can help you improve the overall soil quality.
Lilacs do not tend to need much in the way of fertilizer. It is therefore more important to make sure that the soil quality is in keeping with the description laid out here, as this will give your lilacs the best chance of sustaining growth and thus allowing them to come into bloom earlier and stay that way for a longer period of time.
Finally, aging plays a big role in Eliot’s poetry, and the same is true of lilacs. Younger lilacs are still establishing their roots, and so need a bit longer to come into bloom.
By contrast, more mature lilacs (for example, four to five years) will have a well-developed root system and will therefore stand a better chance of coming into bloom earlier and staying that way longer.
Whatever “Memory and desire” bring your way, there is no denying that lilacs in bloom can be something we should all desire to see, and by following these steps, you can increase the time during which they are in bloom.