Bloomerang Lilac Starts a Controversy

Who would have thought that Bloomerang® Purple Lilac (Syringa ‘Penda’ ppaf) would create such a controversy? First Slate magazine comes out with an article entitled “Gilding the Lilac: A new hybrid could kill the nostalgia...” and then MaCleans Magazine follows up with an Internet article titled the “Ever-blooming Lilac Wars.” It seems that some people feel a lilac should bloom only once and only in the spring. I disagree and so do the thousands of people that rushed to buy Bloomerang when Better Homes and Gardens magazine did a limited release in March of 2009. Expecting to sell just a thousand plants, BH&G sold over 11,000 plants and turned away a throng of disappointed, potential buyers.



Bloomerang Lilac is not the first reblooming lilac. In 1917 Charles Sargent of the Arnold Arboretum noted that Syringa microphylla (S. pubescens subsp. microphylla var. microphylla) “… if it keeps up its habit of flowering a second time in autumn it will be at least interesting even if other lilacs are more beautiful. In her 1928 book “Lilacs” Susan McKelvey noted that S. microphylla has “… the curious habit of blooming twice in one season.” Syringa ‘Josee’ (syn. MORjos 06F) a small leafed, pale pink flowered cultivar introduced in 1974 by Minier Nursery of France is another noted remontant lilac. ‘Josee’ is a complex cross (Syringa pubescens subsp. microphylla x Syringa pubescens subsp. patula (syn S. velutina) x Syringa meyeri subsp. meyeri) developed by Georges Morel. More recently, Frank and Sara Moro of Select Plus International Nurseries of Quebec, Canada introduced several reblooming cultivars. So why all the fuss about Bloomerang lilac?


There are a number of things that have put Bloomerang in the spotlight. From my observations, (and a good many of the 400 garden writers that trialed the plant) it is the most consistent and prolific remontant lilac to date. The initial bloom is heavy and appears in mid-May. It goes through a rest in June and then begins to rebloom in July and continues on until frost. While the summer and fall panicles are not as large as those in the spring, it puts on a very good show. Every single branch bears flowers (not just an occasional flower). One of the reasons for its propensity to flower is its strong growth. As long as it continues to grow it continues to produce new flowers. You don’t have to prune it get it to rebloom, however, a light shearing after the initial bloom results in a fuller plant with more branches and thus more blooms.


As far as its ability to bloom and rebloom I have no doubt. In the selection process, I tagged only the seedlings with the most prolific summer bloom. Each year I repeated the process and in the end I chose the three plants with the most tags. These three, strongly remontant selections, were then propagated and evaluated further in production and in the garden. Eventually we selected one plant and introduced it as Bloomerang Purple. Of the remaining two plants, one appeared special enough to introduce and should be out in a few years. 



Our Lilac breeding program continues on. I have sowed out F2 crosses and have selected five more remontant plants of various shapes and colors. I have also made crosses that draw in new genetics to obtain plants with dwarf habits, glossier foliage, better fall color and larger flowers. Many of these plants look promising but only prolonged testing and evaluation will determine which, if any, are worthy of introduction. But the plan is to offer a range plants under the Bloomerang series.


As the Product Development Manager at Spring Meadow Nursery, one of my main functions is to find new and superior plants for the Proven Winners flowering shrub line. The shrubs in this line are selected based on a specific criterion that in its most general terms focuses superior performance, improved disease resistance, ease of production and culture, compact and dwarf habits, attractive foliage, and extended or multiple seasons on interest. Adding lilacs to the line was a goal of mine because they offer many fine attributes that make them popular. Most notably lilacs bloom in the spring when people are in the garden center, they offer excellent hardiness, they’re well recognized by consumers, they’re very colorful in bloom and they offer fragrance. On the other hand lilacs typically offer only one season of interest and are susceptible to Powdery Mildew and Pseudomonas. Bloomerang addresses all of these issues and as a result is off to a very good start.


Still, I’m not sure why Bloomerang or any other reblooming lilac is so controversial. It seems to me that some people like to complain and to create controversy even where is there is none. I guess it helps them sell magazines and attract blog subscribers. Regardless, it’s strange to read comments like “ Of all the things that plant hybridizers could be focusing on, this type of indulgence is a waste of creativity… (GardenRant.com, August 9, 2009 “How much plant improvement can we stand?”). How can I respond except to say go ahead and call me indulgent and blame me for ruining the joy of lilacs. It will only sell more plants and beautify more yards.

37 comments:

  1. I wouldn't mind growing it but I do prefer the single show in the spring. It's what I wait for!

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  2. I'm not sure either why bloomerang or any other reblooming lilac is so controversial, Tim. We can stand all the improvement we can get, in my opinion. Anything that blooms longer than expected is a winner.

    The garden center where I work in the tree and shrub department, Gethsemane Garden Center in Chicago has Bloomerang this year, by popular demand and I'm sure gonna sing its praises. Keep up the good work.

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  3. Tim,

    You claim that Bloomerang "addresses...the issue [of Pseudomonas]", but we have had quite a few issues with it on our plants, I think is is actually quite susceptible.

    Valerie

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  4. I think most people are complaining because these don't re-bloom well at all. I think you missed the mark on this one!

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  5. I think that with any plant you have to grow it for a while, and let it mature to see what a plant is going to do.

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  6. I planted three 'Josee' lilac bushes about 6 years ago, the promise of re-blooming being advantageous for a cut flower grower like me. With the exception of two blooms, I have experienced no re-bloom on the 'Josee' lilacs. I would be curious to try the 'Bloomerang' lilac and see if it fairs better than 'Josee', but I'm a little leery because of the disappointment with 'Josee'.

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  7. Roger Edmonds9:00 PM

    The reason this plant is causing so much controversy is that most people didn't even know that some lilacs rebloom. They believe that this one is the first. Spend some time talking to the people who buy most plants, they don't know all that much about the plants they buy. As PW well knows people only know what they are told. I believe that Proven Winners is so busy promoting and developing new plants that they are not fully tested and are released too soon. In this case, most customers don't really know what to expect from the plant. Reblooming to them means constant flowering so they are disappointed in the small amount of bloom the second time around. As I hear it from Baily Nursery they seem to believe that Tinkerbelle is a better rebloomer. At any rate I am sure that Proven Winners is very happy with they hype, it sells more plants. Mean time the garden centers who sell these plants to the public are the ones who suffer long term when the plants don't meet the public expectations. All in all Tim I think your lilac is probably a good plant that will not live up to all of the hype, so don't be real surprised if the following releases in the series don't sell as well as Bloomerang Purple. Baily's probably found this out with the Endless Summer Series.

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  8. Richard6:27 PM

    Since Bloomerang is a re-bloomer, am I to assume it re-blooms on new wood, that is, current seasons new growth? In that case, it wouldn't need any chill hours to re-bloom? I live in zone 8B-9A and would be interested in growing this lilac. Help me out if you can on the chill hour aspect. Pocahontas and Miss Kim bloomed this spring in my Garden in Citrus County FL.
    Richard

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  9. It does bloom and old wood and new wood. But I'm not sure it will grow in your area. It may bloom but I am not sure it will take the heat.

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  10. Anonymous9:30 AM

    So how much re-bloom are we talking here? From what I hear there are only a few blooms later in the season which are nothing to be too excited about. You basically are scamming people by marketing this plant as something special when it really isn't.

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  11. Every stems makes a new flower.

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  12. Anonymous5:44 PM

    I just planted 2 bloomerang lilacs. They are about eight inches tall. Can I expect them to
    bloom this year ? I would also like to know how fast they grow to a respectable height.
    May 1, 2010

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  13. Yes, they should bloom this year. The plant grows fast so trim it to build a body.

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  14. My problems aren't with PW shrub selections, most have been great. (except the dogwoods which have been so susceptible to canker they don't survive the sales season in a nursery pot) However, PW got ahead of themselves on marketing. I had over 100 ordered from 4 sources. I have none in stock because all 4 sources are oversold by the tens of thousands. I even ordered liners from Spring Meadow, sold out until 2011. I think I've talked to every supplier, all sold out. I would think you'd want a good supply before creating such a tremendous demand. Same goes for Invincibelle Spirit. I'm turning people away, and they're finding them at the chain stores. Tell me how this is good for the industry.

    Now that the negative part of my comment is over, good job on this one Tim. It looks like it will be a good plant.

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  15. Anonymous10:37 PM

    Could you please give instructions on the planting and care of the Bloomerang, the directions that I have are very sketchy?

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  16. Plant Geek - thanks for the comment and sharing your opinions. The funny thing is that Proven Winners did very little consumer promotion of Bloomerang. I think most of this came via Better homes and garden. Still you bring up good points and I hear you load and clear. My other porblem is that when a plant does not sell well at retail - I get complaints that we have not done enough for garden centers. It is a difficult balancing act - but in this case we did not anticipate the demand would be so high.

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  17. Planting instructions - Bloomgerang like all lilacs is a plant that wants full sun and well drained soil. You should not have to fertilize the first year as there is typically fertilizer in the container when you buy the plant. The best time to prune is right after it's first bloom. Planting depth is important with all new shrubs. Match the soil level of the potted plant with that of the garden soil. Do not plant any deeper than this. You can plant is a bit higher than the garden soil level if you need better drainage. Mulch is fine but not more than 3" and not up against the stem. Water immediatly, and keep the soil most but not wet during the first season. Once established it should require less water.

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  18. Anonymous7:51 AM

    I planted mine in May. It is growing beautifully. Can I expect it to bloom this year?

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  19. If your plant is growing - the new stems will form flowers this year - typically starting in in July.

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  20. Anonymous3:35 AM

    I planted two bloomerang lilacs in April/May this spring. I live in Michigan. One is thriving and ready to rebloom. Half of the other plant is green and trying to grow, and the other half of the plant, the leaves are dry and curled and looks like it's dying. I pulled all the leaves off the one side, in hopes that it would produce new leaf growth. So far, it hasn't. What is wrong with the plant? I thought I saw a small green worm of some kind on it when I pulled the leaves off. Can I treat it? The nursery I purchased it from, told me to bring it back next year in the spring and he will replace it. The other is about 2-3 times it's size already.

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  21. Kathy Jones8:57 PM

    I saw a comment on another website that says it gets mildew and doesn't rebloom that well in hot temperatures. I live near Fort Worth, TX, and gets really hot here (and already is). Would I dare plant it this time of the year? Also, would it not do well here considering we have 100 degrees most every day during the summer months (starting about 2 weeks ago!)? Thanks so much for your help.

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  22. Lilac is typically not a plant for such hot climates. I would think Bloomerang is no exception.

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  23. Anonymous3:32 PM

    I live in Kansas and I planted a bloomerang and we have been having extreme heat over 100 with index and it is looking really good

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  24. S. Marty Suso7:40 PM

    My father purchased a lilac bush at the first Home and Flower Show in Akron, Ohio, in the 1950's. It has the same blooming properties, similar leaves and flowers as the hybrids you are describing. I rooted several branch ends of the original tree. My original plant is now over 25 years old. It is 15 feet high, grows from several main stalks in a rounded weeping shape with a circumference of at least 20 feet. The plant blooms heavily in the spring with an overwhelming scent of lilac. Neighbors and those passing by can smell the fragrance and continually remark about the fragrance and the beauty of the tree. The tree then reblooms a month or so later with approximately 1/3 of the original blooms. By September, you may see a few random blooms. This plant has weathered harsh Ohio winters and salt splashed from the roadway. It has never needed to be trimmed nor has it become leggy like many of the new varieties. Since my tree is not this hybrid, what is it?

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  25. Anonymous9:36 AM

    There was a time, long ago, when roses bloomed but once in the spring. How glad I am that someone helped it become a rebloomer. Lilac is wonderful, once, or more than once. And for me, more than once is just prolongs the joy.

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  26. Anonymous4:07 PM

    I live in New Jersey. The garden center told me to prune it down to the ground in the late fall. Is this correct?

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  27. Do not prune Bloomerang back to the ground. The best time to prune it is right after it flowers in spring. Just give it a hair cut to build the body and shape of the plant. Once it is to the size and shape you want there is no nee to prune it. It does not need to be pruned to flower a second time.

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  28. Anonymous5:23 AM

    how do i prune the bloomerang

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  29. Bloomerang Lilac is a fast growing shrub so trim it often when it is young to build a good body. Once the plant reaches the height you want and has a good bushy habit, little to no pruning is necessary. If you do prune an established plant - is should be done right after the first bloom, otherwise you will lose flowers. While you do not have to prune the plant after the first flowering to get it to rebloom, this often stimulates more growth and thus more flowers.

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  30. Anonymous8:26 AM

    Planted my Bloomerang a little over a month ago and has put on at least 2 inches in height and width, very healthy foliage and even the torrential rains from both Irene and Lee, the plant hasn't skipped a beat. I can't wait till next spring to see and smell the flowers. Its my first Lilac and I chose it because its a rebloomer. I actually moved and replaced an entire row of plants to accommodate Bloomerang so I hope the show that I expect comes to fruition.

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  31. Anonymous4:47 PM

    I purchased a PW Bloomerang Purple in June. I planted it immediately. It is about 12"-18" tall with beautiful blooms on most branches. I was so excited to see them at the end of October as I've been watching for them. They were there upon my return from vacation. They still look great and look healthy. I'll be looking forward to spring. From what I'm reading, I don't really have to prune, especially after this fall blooming session. I will see after the spring bloom. Any suggestions? Oh, I live in Ohio.

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  32. You do not have to prune Bloomerang to get it to bloom a second time, but pruning is recommended to build a bushy plant during the first few years in the garden. The best time to prune in immediately after the spring bloom. A light shearing will increase the branching and give you a fuller plant with more stems that flower.

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  33. Carol9:37 AM

    I've been searching for a shrub to fit into a perennial bed. The shrub/tree person at a local garden center suggested Bloomerang. We're in central VA where lilacs will still grow, but our soil isn't the best. About 12" down we hit a pretty hard clay.

    My husband loves lilacs and while no spring chicken, is willing to dig a 2 foot by 2.5 feet wide hole. Is that large enough to address this plant's need good drainage? We'll amend the soil with aged farm compost, peat moss, Espomas organic slow-release Plantone, and maybe a little Superphosphate.

    Or, what size hole would you suggest to be successful, keeping in mind we don't own a Bobcat!? Ha ha! Thankfully we need just two plants that will mirror each other in the long bed. How wide and deep do the roots of this shrub grow? Thanks for your help.

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  34. Lilacs like well drained soil. I would suggest you plant them in raised beds or on top of the current soil level and then mound soil around the root ball and slope it down from there. Here is a link to a drawing. http://rhodyman.net/images/raisedmound.jpg

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  35. Anonymous1:51 PM

    I understand pruning but what exactly do we prune the old flower or the stem section of the plant? I am so used to butterfly bushes and azaleas that I am not sure with this new plant.
    Thank you

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  36. Pruning Bloomerang Lilac - I would trim more than just the old flowers. A young shrub benefits from shearing to shape the plant and to increase the number of branches and overall bushiness.

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  37. Janette Clayton7:03 PM

    I have both the Josee Reblooming Lilacs and Bloomerangs. I find the Josee's rebloom more often and grow much quicker than the Bloomerangs, however; the Bloomerang fills out more thickly, but also more daintily. I had to put chicken wire fences around my Bloomerangs but never with my Josee's.

    I love them both and will sing their praises forever. I'm just waiting for the rest of the lilacs to become rebloomers so I can have multiple shades of colors in my yard.

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