potted lilacs on balcony?

roxcandy(z5 MKE, WI)May 11, 2005

MegNYC discussed lilacs in a 20" pot on another thread. Any tips/other experience with potted lilacs? My nursery has Dwarf Korean and Miss Kim Dwarf Korean (both grow 4-6'). Miss Kim is on sale 5G. bucket for $25, usu. $40. 2G. buckets are $25.

How do they take to pruning? I wouldn't want them to go much bigger than the existing 5G. size. Also, their zone hardiness goes to 3--safe outside, properly protected, or should/can I winter them in my underground garage?

Also, does one need to prune roots on something like this? I'm new to gardening--just did 3 balcony rail pots of annuals last year--so this would be a novice's investment. If it's a bad idea, would you suggest Alberta spruce as someone else has recommended in another post? Thank you!

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jenny_in_se_pa(USDA7 Sunset 32)

I have 2 on my balcony - a "Miss Kim" that I've had for about 5 years and a "James McFarlane" (which isn't a "dwarf") for going on 10 years. This is my "James McFarlane", with a little view of the blueberries as you move towards the right with a sliver of the "Miss Kim" on the far right.

I need to take a more recent pic of "Miss Kim" and where she is right now but she looked like this when blooming last year (she is running late this year with the blooms as this spring has been unseasonably cool):

Technically, "Miss Kim" isn't a dwarf but is considered a "compact" as she can grow to 12ft or more. But this is considered "compact" when compared to something like the common lilac or Syringa vulgaris, that can go to 20ft or more. Obviously in a smallish container, it's not going to go that size and you can prune. However be aware of when to prune (ie., right after blooming) so you don't lose your blooms for the next year.

Mine were 2 gallon plants and you see them now. If you try to keep them to 5 gallon, then you'll definitely have to do some major pruning - both top and root pruning... essentially to make a bonsai out of them. Mine are in the 21" containers and interestingly enough, I haven't root pruned them yet although I really should. It's interesting that "James McFarlane" continaully sends up 1 or 2 new shoots from the roots to form new branches and I guess technically, I could saw out the oldest trunk to keep the size down and encourage blooms down lower (right now he is covered in flower buds - almost all at the top after he did a major, near 12" growth spurt last summer). "Miss Kim" is good about not suckering and mine hasn't.

The ones I have are supposedly Zone 3/4 hardy so I just leave them out there uncovered. The only time I have had to protect them is usually around March/April if there is a late spring frost and both have already started to leaf out and expose their flower buds (and crossing fingers, looks like this year may be the first time I haven't had to cover buds on my spring shrubs).

Anyway - they are an interesting pleasure for me during the couple weeks when they are in bloom, which should be coming up by the end of this month (these are both later bloomers). They also provide a privacy screen (they are across from my bedroom window) and help to block the blazing sun that comes into my bedroom in summer (I have blinds on the windows but nothing on my bedroom balcony door, so the blockage is welcome - I don't get the sun in there during winter though as I face NE).

You can go for it, although I would recommend going a bit bigger with the container if you can. And in that case, I expect it would depend on how big your balcony is and whether it can hold the weight, etc. (my balcony is 40ft long and poured concrete).

    Bookmark   May 11, 2005 at 10:05PM
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Jenny your plants look lovely. I recently bought a 3ft lilac in 5gal container from costco. It is white lilac with plenty of blooms on it. I want to maintain that in container until next year. Will it survive in the container or do I need to put it in the ground. I am at a rental and I do not want to plant it in ground. The plant needs water everyday, it does not look rootbound at this point, can I keep it the same container for a year without killing it in winter outside?

    Bookmark   May 12, 2005 at 9:03PM
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jenny_in_se_pa(USDA7 Sunset 32)

You could probably keep it in that for another year or you could consider putting it in a 14" container. If anything, the nursery pots tend to heat up faster than a regular container - eg., the lightweight foam or resin containers, and they tend to need constant watering. The regular container would give you a bit more room to be able to mulch the roots and keep them cooler in summer. They should okay in winter, although it might sprout a bit earlier than normal and would need to be protected if there are any late frosts.

I did get some pics of mine this afternoon:

James McFarlane

Miss Kim

    Bookmark   May 12, 2005 at 9:58PM
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Jenny - thanks for responding. I am posting the full pic below. since it is drying out everyday maybe I do should move it into bigger pot. Can I leave it outside all seasons after repotting in 14inch container. What care is required for this plant, soil/fertilizer/water. Does it require watering in winter? I love the light fragrance of the blooms but I do not know the name of this particular lilac.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2005 at 10:05AM
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jenny_in_se_pa(USDA7 Sunset 32)

Yes you can leave it out all year. Mine don't go anywhere. ;-)

Potting to a 14" or larger would be good and would give you a few years before you have to decide what to do next in the potting department.

They are easy to care for. You can fertilize this summer (it has been recommended to give it something with a little higher "P" (Phosphorous)), which is when it begins to set buds for next year's blooms. I have been using slow-release Osmocote fertilizer the rest of the time (I think it's the one that is 14-14-14). I mulch mine with licorice root mulch and just water it. That's about it. During winter when it is mild (temps above 40 F) and the soil isn't frozen, definitely give it a little water. Later in winter, mine get snowed on so that would be sufficent for the moisture.

The only other thing you have to look out for is that some get powdery mildew in summer depending on the weather and humidity levels. And because they are potted, they will often start budding up a bit faster than in-ground lilacs in early spring and then up comes a late frost. It would be wise to cover any emerging leaf or flower buds if that happens.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2005 at 6:46PM
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Someone mentioned pruning lilacs? I've had lilacs for years (inground) and they got tall & bushy on top. I found out the best time to prune is RIGHT AFTER they're done blooming. If you cut new growth later, well, that's where the flowers come from next yr. I cut 1/3 off the top 2 yrs ago, & did a little more last yr. They filled out more at the bottom & are nice & bushier instead of tall & lanky.
Roxcandy, I live in MKE too, on the east side ;-)

    Bookmark   May 15, 2005 at 7:02PM
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roxcandy(z5 MKE, WI)

Jenny, Thanks for pics! I bought a Miss Kim in May, and she is blooming beautifully right now. I have a 15" "Ceramic Lite" (resin?) container, but have not re-potted yet. Overall container volume is 25.2Q, so just over 6 G. I've been waiting to see if I come across packing peanuts (styrofoam) for the bottom, but if I don't find, I'll just have to find some rocks. I love how the lilac looks and smells, just a little concerned about pruning it... do I wait until the flowers die completely (like deadheading)? Also, do you deadhead all of your blooms? Thanks again.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2005 at 6:40PM
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jenny_in_se_pa(USDA7 Sunset 32)

"Miss Kim" doesn't grow as fast as the S. vulgaris or other cultivars so you probably won't need to really prune it much until a bit in the future. You don't have to deadhead it. I've been sortof doing an experiment over the past couple years, with deadheading or leaving them alone and it doesn't seem to make that much difference whether I do it or not with respect to amount of bloom the following year. I've found that both of mine will alternate years with having large amounts of blooms. This year my "Miss Kim" was more subdued with bloom whereas last year she was covered in blooms at the tips of almost every branch. Alternately my James McFarlane didn't have many blooms last year but then based on the growth that he went through last summer I knew this coming season was going to be a bonanza (and it was). I've never seen either of my lilacs forming any seeds on spent blooms that remained on them through summer and fall, etc. However it probably does looks neater when deadheaded and certainly cutting flowers by the bunch to bring inside is "deadheading" enough!!!!

    Bookmark   June 5, 2005 at 7:10PM
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roxcandy(z5 MKE, WI)

wow, Jenny, you must be online now. I'd like to cut some branches to bring indoors... does that affect future growth? Would I cut the buds I'd "want" to prune anyway? This lilac is in full flower. Thanks for all your help! This is a great forum.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2005 at 7:38PM
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jenny_in_se_pa(USDA7 Sunset 32)

The "effect" may end up resulting in more branching eventually. If you cut a flower stem down to just above a leaf node, it may eventually sprout 1 - 2 new stems at that node below the cut or further down on the branch. If those new stems form and grow over this summer, they can potentially form new flower buds for next year!

I bet your "baby" is gorgeous and I know the fragrance is amazing!

    Bookmark   June 5, 2005 at 9:33PM
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