Lilac Varieties: 25 Different Types of Lilac Cultivars

Trying to decide what lilac variety to plant this season, but can't pick without a little help? Lilacs have over 25 species, with thousands of cultivars, so it can be hard to settle in and pick the perfect shrub. In this article, certified master gardener Liz Jarosz shares her favorite lilac cultivars you can plant in your garden this season.

lilac varieties

Let’s assume you’re looking to fill a sunny spot in the yard with some old fashioned, sweet smelling, garden goodness. And since you’ve landed on this page, we’re going to assume you’re already grooving on lilacs but aren’t sure which kind is right for you. Let’s break the selection process down a bit and take a closer look at some of your options.

Ranging in height from 3 to 30 feet and blooming prolifically in late spring to early summer, lilacs come in 25+ species with thousands of cultivars, so it’s no wonder you’re overwhelmed. Determine whether you’re looking for a privacy screen, a formal hedge, an ornamental tree, or a small accent shrub before you start clicking around, and that will help you hone in on varieties that will work in your landscape.

Generally speaking, lilacs are categorized as a flowering shrub (between 6 and 15 feet tall), dwarf shrub (less than 6 feet tall), or tree (over 15 feet tall). While there is some overlap and gray area, for the purpose of finding the right lilac for the right spot, we’ll use those headings to help you sift through your options.

Pick a Lilac For Your Space

Lilacs are known for being easy to grow, resilient, laid back. But lilacs do require plenty of sunshine, adequate drainage and good air circulation in order to thrive, so make sure your site can meet those needs before choosing a plant from this genus.

Pay careful attention to your space limitations, as some lilacs will grow very large, very fast. And make sure they will grow well in your region. Most lilacs are hardy in zones 3-7, but there are a few that can handle colder temps and a few that can handle higher levels of humidity. Zero in on those cultivars if you live in zone 2 or 8, and you’ll increase your odds of successful growth.

Shrubs

The horticultural definition of a shrub is a multi-stem, woody plant that does not exceed 15 feet in height. While some lilac species, particularly those in the common lilac family (Syringa vulgaris), can soar to heights of 20 feet or more, we still call them shrubs due to their bushy personalities. If you’re looking for a mid-large sized, lilac shrub, here are a few to consider:

Syringa x hyacinthiflora ‘Declaration’

Declaration Variety Lavender Blooms
Narrow and lush blooms of Syringa ‘Declaration’, consist of many simple purple flowers.
  • Bloom time: Early spring
  • Size: 6-8 feet tall and wide
  • Flower color: red to purple
  • Use: Accent or backdrop

Wonderfully scented, this shrub’s 15-inch blooms are purple in hue and open a week or so before most common lilac species. This timing makes Declaration a good choice for mixed lilac borders, when a month or two of continuous lilac joy is the goal.

Growing 6-8 feet tall and wide, it has a slightly smaller stature and rounder habit than many of its lilac peers. Use it as an accent or backdrop planting for a dramatic effect.

Syringa vulgaris ‘Primrose’

Primrose Variety White blooms
Syringa vulgaris ‘Primrose’ is a very rare variety with original lemon-yellow blooms.
  • Bloom time: late spring
  • Size: 10 feet tall and wide
  • Flower color: cream to yellow
  • Use: Accent or mixed border

Primrose explodes in late spring with massive, 10-inch panicles that are creamy yellow in hue. Growth is fast and large, with a 10-foot spread at maturity. Dark, heart-shaped leaves provide nice contrast. With a profile that is generally considered cottage or classic, this one works equally well in a group or as a standalone.

Syringa x oblata ‘Betsy Ross’

Betsy Ross Cultivar White Blooms
Syringa ‘Betsy Ross’ is a deciduous shrub of compact round shape with large and showy panicles.
  • Bloom time: Early spring
  • Size: 10 feet high, 13 feet wide
  • Flower color: white
  • Use: Locations with high humidity

Abundant, white panicles cover this rounded specimen in early spring and fill the air with a sweet scent. Growing 10 feet high and 13 feet wide, Betsy Ross is known for being resistant to powdery mildew – a common lilac foe. It is also one of the few lilac cultivars that can be grown in southern climates, and it’s hardy to zone 8.

Syringa microphylla ‘Superba’

Superba Cultivar Red Blooms
Syringa microphylla ‘Superba’ is a deciduous flowering shrub, up to 7 feet tall.
  • Bloom time: Late spring to early summer
  • Size: 5-7 feet tall, 10-15 feet wide
  • Flower color: Pink
  • Use: Low hedge or border planting

This littleleaf lilac has a bushy, spreading habit and a dense branch structure. Although it only gets 5-7 feet tall, it can be 10-15 feet wide at maturity. Tubular pink flowers cover the shrub in late spring to early summer and offer a light, pleasant scent. If sheared after blooming, it may flower again later in the season.

Its small, ovate leaves can be sheared and shaped, making this a good choice for a low hedge or border planting. This cultivar is also slightly more heat tolerant and mildew resistant than your average lilac and is hardy to zone 8.

Syringa vulgaris ‘Andenken an Ludwig Spath’

Andenken an Ludwig Spath Variety Lilac
Syringa vulgaris ‘Andenken an Ludwig Spath’ is a very popular variety, thanks to the unusually beautiful dark purple flowers with a pleasant aroma.
  • Bloom time: Late spring
  • Size: 10-12 feet tall, 6-8 feet wide
  • Flower color: wine colored
  • Use: Ornamental screen or singular accent

An upright shrub with open, vase-like branches, this cultivar grows 10-12 feet tall and 6-8 feet wide. Its foot-long, narrow panicles are wine colored and extremely strong scented, and they put on a show for 3-4 weeks in late spring, making Spath one of the longest blooming lilacs available.

Syringa x chinensis ‘Lilac Sunday’

Lavender Colored Flowers on Shrub
It is best to plant ‘Lilac Sunday; on the sunny side of your site, although partial shade conditions are also suitable.
  • Bloom time: Late spring
  • Size: 8-10 feet tall and wide
  • Flower color: Pale purple
  • Use: Backdrop, cottage vibe

Growing 8-10 feet tall and wide, this hybrid is prized for its abundant flowers. While common lilacs send blooms out from their tips, Lilac Sundays produce showy, pale purple flowers all along their branches in late spring.

The heavy blooms create a graceful, arching branch pattern and pour on the charm in borders and screens. This would also be a great backdrop for the cutting garden, since flowers are so plentiful.

Syringa x prestoniae ‘Miss Canada’

Bright Pink Flowers on Shrub
Syringa x prestoniae ‘Miss Canada’ is a light-loving variety, that blooms in late May or early June, for about 2 weeks.
  • Bloom time: Late spring to early summer
  • Size: 6-12 feet tall and wide
  • Flower color: Rosy pink
  • Use: Locations with extreme conditions

One of the few lilacs that extends the genus’ hardiness to zone 2, Miss Canada can withstand extremely cold temperatures and still pack a floral punch.

Blooming in late spring to early summer, this hybrid features tubular rosy-pink blooms with a delicate scent and grows 6-12 feet round. Dark green, lance-shaped leaves hold their color well in summer and turn brilliant yellow in fall, giving this one 3-season interest.

Syringa vulgaris ‘Beauty of Moscow’

Variety ‘Beauty of Moscow’
Syringa vulgaris ‘Beauty of Moscow’ can grow with significant shading, but blooms profusely only in well-lit places.
  • Bloom time: Late spring
  • Size: 8-10 feet tall, 6–8 feet wide
  • Flower color: White to blush
  • Use: Accent or border planting

Double white florets with a hint of blush appear in late spring to give this cultivar a dramatic presence in the landscape. Growing 8-10 feet tall and 6-8 feet wide, Moscow’s form is vase-like, and its branch structure is open.

Light green, heart-shaped leaves contrast nicely with surrounding plants that have dark foliage. It is also known for being powdery mildew resistant, making it a good choice for zones with considerable humidity.

Syringa vulgaris ‘President Lincoln’

Cultivar ‘President Lincoln’
The ‘President Lincoln’ lilac is known for its intense, strong aroma.
  • Bloom time: Early summer
  • Size: 10 feet tall, 6 feet wide
  • Flower color: blue
  • Use: Formal gardens, ornamental specimen

With oversized, wedgewood blue panicles that grow in clusters against dark green foliage, this one is prized for its unique color and formal stature. Maturing at 10 feet tall and 6 feet wide, Lincoln’s branch structure is vertical and rigid, making it a go-to backdrop plant.

This cultivar was introduced in 1916 and was featured heavily in presidential gardens, which is why it received its name. It’s a fast grower with a delightful scent and blooms in early summer. 

Syringa vulgaris ‘Sensation’

Cultivar ‘Sensation’
Syringa vulgaris ‘Sensation’ has purple buds, and purple-red flowers, with a white, clear border along the edge.
  • Bloom time: Early summer
  • Size: 12 feet tall, 8 feet wide
  • Flower color: Purple and white
  • Use: Tall hedge or screen

Maxing at 12 feet tall and 8 feet wide, Sensation shows off in early summer and is valued for its variegated blooms. Its rich, purple petals are edged in white, making it one of the few, true, bi-color lilac cultivars.

Dark, dense foliage and large leaf size make it well-suited to hedge or foundation plantings. Scent is not as strong as other lilac varieties, which makes it attractive to those who find it overpowering.

Dwarf Shrubs

In lilac language, anything that doesn’t get larger than 6’ high qualifies as a dwarf. These lilac varieties are typically bred on rootstocks that produce smaller, denser, woody branch structures, but they still pack a powerful flower punch.

Most dwarfs can be kept as small as you’d like with regular, proper pruning. This makes dwarf lilacs a solid choice for smaller landscapes or accent plantings. Dwarf varieties are also the best to choose if you plant to container plant your lilac. Here are a few tried and true varieties to consider:

Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’

Variety ‘Palibin’
Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’ is compact and the smallest variety of lilac, up to 7 feet tall.
  • Bloom time: Mid to late spring
  • Size: 5-7 feet tall, 7 feet wide
  • Flower color: Purple to pink
  • Use: Foundation plant or low hedge

Commonly known as Dwarf Korean Lilac, Palibin has a compact, round shape that’s slightly wider than it is tall. It maxes out at 5 feet tall and 7 feet wide.

Producing dense clusters of purple buds that become a profusion of tiny pink flowers in mid to late spring, this dwarf has small, glossy leaves that can be shaped easily. Use it as a foundation plant or plant them close together and shear into a low hedge.

Syringa x ‘Penda’

Variety ‘Penda’
Syringa x ‘Penda’ blooms best in open, sunny places, and tolerates a hot and dry climate.
  • Bloom time: Late spring to early summer
  • Size: 3-4 feet round
  • Flower color: Purple to pink
  • Use: Mixed border, accent

Marketed as ‘reblooming’ lilacs under several different brand names, these hybrids come in several shades of purple and pink. They boast a diminutive, 3-4 foot round shape and bloom for an extended period of 3-4 weeks in late spring/early summer.

Foliage is unremarkable, but tidy, making this a good choice in a mixed border or foundation planting. Shear them immediately after blooms have faded and you will likely have another flush of flowers in mid-summer.

Syringa pubescens subsp. patula ‘Miss Kim’

Syringa pubescens subsp. patula 'Miss Kim'
This beautiful spreading Syringa ‘Miss Kim’ shrub blooms in April – June, depending on the climatic zone.
  • Bloom time: Early spring
  • Size: 6 feet tall and wide
  • Flower color: Lilac to pale pink
  • Use: Small group or mixed border

Maxing at 6-feet tall and wide, Miss Kim is the common lilac’s little sister. With similar blooms and early spring timing, this small shrub can deliver the same classic style in smaller spaces. Even though it’s a dwarf specimen, Miss Kim’s lilac to pale pink flowers are large and heavenly scented.

Leaves are dark green and turn burgundy in fall, giving this one three season interest in the landscape. Use it as a single accent by the patio or in a group along the walkway.

Syringa x ‘Bailbelle’

Variety 'Bailbelle'
This dwarf Syringa x ‘Bailbelle’ bush grows up to 5 feet tall with early red buds.
  • Bloom time: Mid to late spring
  • Size: 5-6 feet
  • Flower color: Wine
  • Use: Informal hedge or mixed border

Informally referred to as the ‘Tinkerbelle’ lilac, this dwarf will reach 5-feet tall at maturity with a spread of 5-6 feet. Featuring early red buds that burst into 5-inch long, wine colored panicles in mid to late spring, Tinkerbelle will add a splash of color wherever it’s planted.

Leaves are large, dark, and oval, giving it a nice presence even when flowering is complete. Perfect as an informal hedge, mass planting, or in a mixed lilac border.

Syringa vulgaris ‘Wedgewood Blue’

Cultivar ‘Wedgewood Blue’
Wedgwood Blue will charm you with its pretty small and light sky-lilac flowers that look extremely touching and elegant.
  • Bloom time: Late spring
  • Size: 4-6 feet tall and wide
  • Flower color: blue
  • Use: Accent or backdrop plant

An upright shrub with light green, heart-shaped foliage, Wedgewood Blue grows 4-6 tall and wide. Lilac-hued buds open to light blue panicles on arching branches in late spring and fill the air with a light perfume. This cultivar works well in the back of a perennial bed or as an accent plant in a smaller setting.

Syringa vulgaris ‘Josee’

Shrub with Red Flowers 'Josee' Variety
Syringa vulgaris ‘Josee’ is very early flowering, with small tubular pink-lavender flowers that have a very pleasant strong aroma.
  • Bloom time: Late spring, mid summer
  • Size: 4-6 feet tall, 5-6 feet wide
  • Flower color: lavender-pink
  • Use: Foundation plant or accent

Light pink, star-shaped blooms completely cover Josee in late spring, making this one a dwarf favorite. In cooler climates, this shrub will flower again later in the season, although not as prolifically. Reaching widths of 4-6 feet and heights of 5-6 feet, Josee has small, dark green leaves and a dense, round habit. Use it in a mixed shrub border or as a foundation planting.

Tree Species

Lilacs that exceed 15 feet in height and feature a single trunk or a multi-stem trunk with a higher canopy are typically considered flowering trees. In non-botanical talk, lilac trees fall into one of three categories (Japanese Tree, Chinese Tree, or Amur Tree), each with its own profile and unique characteristics.

Although Chinese and Amur are actually subspecies of the Japanese Tree Lilac, this is the easiest way to keep them straight and we will examine them accordingly:

Japanese Tree Lilacs

Packing a wallop in the landscape with clusters of fragrant (sometimes overpowering or off-putting), white flowers that are 10 inches wide and up to a foot long, Japanese tree lilacs fill the gap nicely between spring and summer flowering trees.

Sold in both single and multi-stemmed varieties, they can reach heights of 30 feet and spreads of 15-20 feet. With an attractive shape, reddish bark, and white trunk speckles, Japanese tree lilacs offer four-season interest. They are equally at home in the city, on a small property, or on the rambling grounds of a grand estate. Popular varieties include:

Syringa Reticulata ‘Ivory Silk’

Tree Variety ‘Ivory Silk’
Syringa ‘Ivory Silk’ is densely branched and upright growing tree variety.
  • Bloom time: early to mid summer
  • Size: 25 feet tall, 20 feet wide
  • Flower color: white
  • Use: Ornamental

Known for having stocky branches and a more compact canopy than other Japanese tree lilacs.

Syringa Reticulata ‘Ivory Pillar’

Tree Cultivar ‘Ivory Pillar’
Syringa Reticulata ‘Ivory Pillar’ is a showy tree blooming in late spring with panicles of fragrant creamy white flowers.
  • Bloom time: late spring
  • Size: 25 feet tall, 15 feet wide
  • Flower color: cream
  • Use: Privacy screen or small space ornamental

Selected for its narrow, pyramidal form, Ivory Pillar is significantly taller than it is wide.

Syringa Reticulata ‘Summer Snow’

Tree Variety ‘Summer Snow’
Syringa Reticulata ‘Summer Snow’ is a small tree reaching a height of 20 to 30 feet with an impressive autumn bloom.
  • Bloom time: early summer
  • Size: 20-30 feet tall, 20-25 feet spread
  • Flower color: cream to white
  • Use: Urban streetscapes, park plantings

A smaller cultivar of the species, Summer Snow has a reputation for being tolerant of air pollution. Less fragrant than other lilacs.

Syringa reticulata ‘Chantilly Lace’

Tree Lilac Cultivar ‘Chantilly Lace’
Syringa reticulata ‘Chantilly Lace’ has pale cream-yellow variegated leaves. It should be placed away from the direct midday sun.
  • Bloom time: early summer
  • Size: 20-30 feet tall, 15-20 feet spread
  • Flower color: ivory
  • Use: Part-shade locations

Known for its variegated foliage, this cultivar features glossy green leaves with cream colored margins and large ivory flowers.

Syringa reticulata ‘Elliot’

Tree Lilac Variety ‘Elliot’
Syringa reticulata ‘Elliot’ has abundant white flower stalks and is resistant to urban conditions.
  • Bloom time: Late spring to early summer
  • Size: 20 feet high, 15 feet wide
  • Flower color: White
  • Use: Shade tree or accent
  • Chinese Tree Lilacs

Smooth, steel-gray bark gives this one a striking winter profile. Habit is dense and upright.

Also early summer bloomers, Chinese tree lilacs send out yellow-white, honey scented flower clusters en masse. Smaller in size at 10-20 feet high and 10-15 feet wide, with a more delicate leaf and branch structure, this species is often selected for its unusual bark characteristics and winter interest. Its cinnamon to amber colored bark exfoliates in sheets and peels later in the season.

Syringa reticulata ssps. pekinensis ‘Beijing Gold’

Lilac Cultivar ‘Beijing Gold’
Syringa reticulata ssps. pekinensis ‘Beijing Gold’ is a tree blooming in early summer with fragrant tiny yellow flowers.
  • Bloom time: early summer
  • Size: 15-20 feet tall, 10-15 feet spread
  • Flower color: creamy yellow
  • Use: Urban streets and parks

Adaptable to both acidic and alkaline soil conditions, Beijing Gold also tolerates drought and road salt, making it a popular choice for cityscapes.

Syringa reticulata ssps. pekinensis ‘Summer Charm’

Tree Variety ‘Summer Charm’
‘Summer Charm’ is a subspecies of Syringa reticulata with showy creamy white fragrant flowers that bloom in June.
  • Bloom time: late spring to early summer
  • Size: 20 feet tall, 10 feet wide
  • Flower color: creamy white
  • Use: Under power lines, low privacy screen

Known for being multi-stemmed with a low canopy and a tolerance for part shade. This unique tree variety has become more popular as a privacy lilac over the last decade or so. It can survive in a number of environments, and is relatively low maintenance.

Syringa reticulata ssps. pekinensis ‘Yellow Fragrance’

Tree With Bright Yellow Flowers Lilac
‘Yellow Fragrance’ is a spreading deciduous shrub or small tree with conical panicles of small, very fragrant, creamy yellow flowers.
  • Bloom time: Early summer
  • Size: 10-12 feet tall and wide
  • Flower color: light yellow
  • Use: Cottage garden or small urban site

Considered the Chinese tree lilac with the most pleasing scent, it’s also known for being a slow grower with an oval crown.  The yellowish white blooms are beautiful, and this is one of the more popular small lilac trees.

Amur Tree Lilac

Tree Variety ssps. amurensis
Amur Tree Lilac has small flowers of white or slightly cream color, that have an incredibly pleasant honey aroma.
Syringa reticulata ssps. amurensis
  • Bloom time: Late spring to early summer
  • Size: 6-8 feet tall, 4-6 feet wide
  • Flower color: white
  • Use: Small ornamental

Native to Korea and eastern Russia, this is the smallest lilac tree species, maxing out at 6-8 feet tall and 4-6 feet wide. Flower panicles are white and prolific in early summer with a pleasant scent. Amur’s habit is rounded and more shrub-like than the other tree lilacs. A good choice for small properties.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re well-acquainted with lilacs and their glorious, oversized blooms or just learning to pick them out on your strolls through the neighborhood, you are probably familiar with their fragrance. Sweet and powerful, with a heavy blast of nostalgia for a simpler time, lilacs usher in the summer season with a sensory bang.

If you’re considering adding them to the landscape, make sure you have the right growing requirements (sun, airflow, and good drainage), then determine whether you’re looking for a shrub, dwarf shrub, or tree. Take some time getting to know their sizes, bloom times, flower colors, and branch structures.

If conditions are optimal and your lilac is properly cared for, it might live a hundred years or more in the location where it’s planted. Keep that in mind as you make your selection. You’re installing a living legacy of sorts, which is pretty darn cool.

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