Yard & Garden Report


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Tough Tree Gains Popularity

Japanese tree lilac has become one of the most popular trees in North Dakota. It's hardy, tough and easy to grow.


The Japanese tree lilac (Syringa reticulata) is one of the toughest and easiest to grow trees in North Dakota. The tree has become popular for its white blossoms, deep green leaves, and showy bark.

Japanese tree lilac is hardy throughout North Dakota and adapts well to our soils. It is one of the finest trees to grow along boulevards. The rounded canopy grows about 25 feet tall and fits neatly under power lines.

When the spring blooms of crabapples and lilacs have faded, the Japanese tree lilac takes center stage with its late display of cream-colored flowers. The fragrance of the flowers is not pleasing; but it’s not disgusting either. Some gardeners feel the flowers smell like privet. Less critical gardeners say the blooms smell like vanilla.

Several selections of Japanese tree lilac have been released. These cultivars generally boast more reliable and heavier blooming habits compared to the standard.  

Ivory Silk® has been a leading cultivar since its introduction from Ontario in 1973. It is a compact, sturdy tree with deep-green leaves. Ivory Silk® blooms at a young age and is known for its heavy set of blooms. Its cherry-like bark is quite showy; this is a welcome sight in winter. The canopy is oval, growing 25 feet tall and 15 feet wide.

First Editions® Snowdance™ was selected for its annual and extremely prolific blooming habits. Its flowers are sterile, keeping the canopy clean of messy seedheads. The foliage is dark green and attractive. The canopy is vase-shaped and spreading, reaching 18 feet high and 20 feet wide.

Ivory Pillar™ is a recent introduction, selected for its pyramidal canopy. It’s a good choice for narrow spaces. The canopy grows 20-25 feet tall and 10-15 feet wide. The flowers are white and large. Its leaves are dark green.

Snowcap™ has a compact habit, growing only 15-20 feet high and 10-12 feet high. It’s especially useful in small gardens and home landscapes.

Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. Updated July 2020. First published in the NDSU Yard & Garden Report, June 15, 2015. Photos courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.

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