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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Tuesday - April 27, 2010

From: New Haven, CT
Region: Northeast
Topic: Invasive Plants, Non-Natives, Shrubs
Title: Could lilacs grow in Georgia?
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Hi Mr Smarty Pants, First off, I want to commend you on your promotion of native plants. I am passionately anti-invasive plants (in fact, it was the subject of my master's thesis). That being said, I would greatly appreciate your help about a plant that is not native (but is also not invasive.) My dad moved to Georgia (metro-Atlanta) about 15 years ago. Other than my brother and I who are still up north, the only thing he says he misses are lilacs. I decided I'd like to give him lilacs for Father's Day. Apparently no florists sell bouquets of lilacs and it seems most lilacs don't like the south because it doesn't get cold enough for long enough. However, there are some varieties that seem to do ok as long as the gardener has a green thumb and enjoys babying the plant. My father does not have a green thumb and he sees yard work as merely a necessary evil. Is there any hope for him to grow maintenance-free lilacs or should I just give up on this idea?

ANSWER:

Thanks for your kind words. Perhaps you should be volunteering for Mr. Smarty Plants?  We do very much appreciate your thoughtfulness in trying to find a plant memento for your father. The intention is good but the execution would range from difficult to impossible. You really already answered your own question when you said your father was not interested in heavy-duty gardening. Frankly, we are not even sure a dedicated gardener would be successful in growing lilacs in Georgia. So, let's discuss it.

From Nature Hills Nursery (and we never did figure out where it is physically located), we found a list of several lilac cultivars available, most of them hardy in Zones 2 to 7 or even 2 to 8. Fulton County, GA is in Zone 7a, so that is at least a possibility. However, let us link you to some previous answers on the problems of growing lilacs, with some more links to informational sites. First, this one from July 2009 concerning lilacs in Maryland. Next, an excerpt from an answer in June 2008:

"Next, before we answer your first question, let's address the lilac you want to bloom. Lilacs bloom only for a quick couple of weeks in the Spring; so, if they have already done that, you're not going to get any more blooming until next Spring. The majority of natural lilacs come from Asia. In Europe, they come from the Balkans, France and Turkey. Of course, being non-native to North America, they do not appear in our Native Plant Database, but here is a website from Gardener's Network How to Grow and Care for Lilac Bushes." 

We realize this is all pretty repetitious, we're saying over and over that we don't think lilacs are going to make it in Georgia. After 15 years, your Dad may have forgotten how much work and what a pain they were to grow, and is just remembering the lovely flowers and fragrance, the first sign of spring.  So, can we offer a possible native alternative that he might like as a replacment? Wisteria frutescens (American wisteria) is native to Georgia and across the south, is less aggressive than similar Asian species, and has a lovely violet-blue bloom, which persists from May to June. Beyond that, we're out of ideas. Perhaps a large photograph or painting of lilacs in bloom in an area familiar to him? You don't have to prune that.

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:


Wisteria frutescens

Wisteria frutescens

Wisteria frutescens

Wisteria frutescens

 

 

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