Lilacs explode with perfume and blossoms in May. The tresses of purple blossoms are a perfect symbol of spring’s promise, whether they evoke powerful nostalgia or just brighten a room. In spite of the lilac’s status as a spring icon, though, many gardeners hesitate to plant it because of its large size and exuberant suckering habit. Dwarf Korean lilac (Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’) is a worthy substitute. It carries dense clusters of fragrant blooms in shades of pale pink to pale blue, but is a well-behaved shrub that reaches only about half the height of a common lilac. A bonus: dwarf Korean lilac is said to be very resistant to powdery mildew, the bane of common lilac.
Common name: Dwarf Korean lilac
Botanical name: Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’ (also S. palibiniana and S. velutina)
Plant type: Deciduous shrub
Zones: 3 to 7
Height: 4 to 5 feet tall
• Sun: Tolerates light shade, but blooms best in full sun.
• Soil: Average, slightly acidic
• Moisture: Average to dry
• Mulch: Mulch to help keep soil moist.
• Pruning: Prune as needed after flowering.
• Fertilizer: None needed.
• By cuttings.
Pests and diseases
• No serious insect problems.
• Resistant to powdery mildew.
• Combine dwarf Korean lilac with other shrubs in a foundation planting or an informal hedge. It can also stand on its own as a specimen.
• Butterflies and hummingbirds like the nectar.
• To show off the blossoms, plant dwarf Korean lilac in front of an evergreen.
• Unlike common lilac (Syringa vulgaris), dwarf Korean lilac should not sucker.
• Though dwarf Korean lilac is resistant to powdery mildew, help it out by planting it in a spot with good air circulation.
All in the family
• There are about 20 to 25 species of lilac in the genus Syringa.
• Gardeners are familiar with many of the other members of Oleaceae (the olive family): jasmine, olives, forsythia, ash, and privet.
(Text by Elizabeth Noll, photo of Syringa meyeri ‘Palabin’ courtesy of Monrovia.)