17 Different Lilac Varieties That Thrive in Full Sun

Lilacs are fantastic plants, but they are fairly notorius for their preference of the shade. But did you know there are some varieties that are a bit more sun tolerant than others? In this article, certified master gardener Liz Jaros walks through her favorite lilac varieties that can handle full sun conditions.

full sun lilac

When I’m considering a plant for a hot and sunny yard in a temperate climate (zones 3-7), I often reach for members of the lilac family. Not only does the genus tolerate full sun, it thrives on it. Lilacs require at least 6 hours of direct, unfiltered sunshine in order to flower to their fullest potential, and they can withstand hot afternoon bake sessions to a degree that many other sun loving trees and shrubs can not.

Where a show-stopping anchor plant is needed in a sunny front yard plan, I might select something from the Japanese tree lilac family. Where a living fence is called for to screen a yard from neighbors, I might go with a row of fast-growing French lilacs or suggest a hedge using a little leaf variety. If a pop of color is needed in the front layer of a border garden, I might suggest a mass of reblooming dwarf cultivars.

With so many varieties (there are more than 25 species and thousands of cultivars), lilacs come in both shrub and tree form, ranging in height from 3 feet to 30. They are distinguished in the landscape by a profusion of strong-scented panicles in pink, violet, white, blue, lilac, magenta, or purple in early to late Spring. Read on for a closer look at our favorite types of lilac that will thrive in full sun.

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Syringa vulgaris ‘Yankee Doodle’

Syringa vulgaris ‘Yankee Doodle’
‘Yankee Doodle’ produces deep purple flowers with a strong fragrance, blooming for up to 4 weeks.
  • Bloom time: Late Spring
  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Plant size: 6-8 feet tall and wide
  • Flower color: Dark purple
  • Use: Specimen or screen

Featuring 8-inch long, dark purple panicles, Yankee Doodle is the lilac variety with the most intense colored flowers from the Syringa vulgaris family. Blossoms are abundant, strongly scented, and last for 3-4 weeks.

Structure is open and loose with heights of 6-8 feet tall, making it a cottage favorite. Blue-green, heart-shaped leaves are also distinctive and provide nice contrast to other foliage in the yard.

Syringa vulgaris ‘Primrose’

Syringa vulgaris ‘Primrose’
‘Primrose’ produces white panicles that become a deep creamy yellow.
  • Bloom time: Late Spring
  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Plant size: 10-12 feet tall and wide
  • Flower color: Creamy white to yellow
  • Use: Beds and borders

Upright in habit with large panicles that start out white and fade to a rich, creamy yellow, Primrose turns on the charm in late spring, and this shrub blooms for an unusually long time at 3-4 weeks.

Leaves are a distinctive, chartreuse or light green color and heart shaped, giving this one a nice profile in the yard, even when it’s not flowering. Primrose maxes out at 12 feet and works well in the back of a mixed border.

Syringa x ‘Bailbelle’ or ‘Tinkerbelle’

Syringa x 'Bailbelle' or ‘Tinkerbelle’
‘Tinkerbelle’ produces red buds that burst into charming panicles in mid to late spring.
  • Bloom time: Mid to late spring
  • Size: 5-6 feet
  • Flower color: Wine
  • Use: Informal hedge or mixed border

This dwarf will reach 5-feet tall at maturity with a spread of 5-6 feet. Featuring early red buds that burst into 5-inch long, wine colored panicles in mid to late spring, Tinkerbelle will add a splash of color wherever it’s planted.

Leaves are large, dark, and oval, giving it a nice presence even when flowering is complete. Perfect as an informal hedge, mass planting, or in a mixed lilac border.

Syringa vulgaris ‘Beauty of Moscow’

Syringa vulgaris ‘Beauty of Moscow’
‘Beauty of Moscow’ blooms with beautiful white double flowers with a pinkish tinge.
  • Bloom time: Late spring
  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Size: 8-10 feet tall, 6–8 feet wide
  • Flower color: White to blush
  • Use: Accent or border planting

Double white florets with a hint of blush appear in late spring to give this cultivar a dramatic presence in the landscape. Growing 8-10 feet tall and 6-8 feet wide, Moscow’s form is vase-like, and its branch structure is open.

Light green, heart-shaped leaves contrast nicely with surrounding plants that have dark foliage. It is also known for being powdery mildew resistant, making it a good choice for zones with considerable humidity.

Syringa x hyacinthiflora ‘Anabel’

Syringa x hyacinthiflora ‘Anabel’
‘Anabel’ produces double flowers that bloom in spring.
  • Bloom time: Early spring
  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Plant size: 6-9 feet tall and wide
  • Flower color: Pink
  • Use: Informal or cottage gardens

Uniformly distributed double blooms and an open, arching branch structure define this sweet lilac shrub. Often found draped over a picket fence or alongside a cobblestone path, Anabel is a classic beauty.

Height is modest with a 9 foot max, making this a good choice for smaller landscapes, and it is among the first lilacs to bloom in Spring, making it a nice addition to mixed lilac grouping. Leaves are large and full colored, which give it a nice presence in the yard all season long.

Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’

Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’
‘Palibin’ has purple buds that burst into many tiny pink flowers.
  • Bloom time: Mid to late spring
  • Plant type: Shrub or tree-shrub
  • Plant size: 5-7 feet tall, 7 feet wide
  • Flower color: Purple to pink
  • Use: Foundation plant or low hedge

Commonly known as Dwarf Korean Lilac, Palibin has a compact, round shape that’s slightly wider than it is tall. It maxes out at 5 feet tall and 7 feet wide.

Producing dense clusters of purple buds that become a profusion of tiny pink flowers in mid to late spring, this dwarf has small, glossy leaves that can be shaped easily. Use it as a foundation plant or plant them close together and shear into a low hedge.

Meyeri is also commonly sold in ‘shrub on standard’ form, which basically means it’s been grafted onto the top of a small tree trunk. Often referred to as a ‘dwarf tree,’ a lilac tree-shrub looks a bit like a lollipop in the landscape and is often used to create a more formal effect.

Syringa x laciniata ‘Cutleaf’

Syringa x laciniata ‘Cutleaf’
‘Cutleaf’ is a drought-tolerant lilac variety that produces delicate lavender flowers.
  • Bloom time: Late spring
  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Plant size: 6-8 feet tall and wide
  • Flower color: Light lavender
  • Use: Hedge or specimen, warmer zones

Cutleaf lilac is unique because it flowers at multiple points along its arching branches rather than just at the tips, where most lilacs bloom. It’s also known to be extremely tolerant of heat, making it one of the few lilacs that can be grown in zone 8.

With delicate, 3-inch long lavender florets on a willowy, vase-like structure that maxes at 8 feet, Cutleaf has a whimsical presence in the garden. Airy, lace-like foliage turns yellow green in fall, making it a three season beauty.

Syringa pubescens subsp. patula ‘Miss Kim’

Syringa pubescens subsp. patula 'Miss Kim'
‘Miss Kim’ produces large flowers ranging from lilac to pale pink.
  • Bloom time: Early spring
  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Plant size: 6 feet tall and wide
  • Flower color: Lilac to pale pink
  • Use: Small group or mixed border

Maxing at 6-feet tall and wide, Miss Kim is the common lilac’s little sister. With similar blooms and early spring timing, this small shrub can deliver the same classic style in smaller spaces.

Even though it’s a dwarf specimen, Miss Kim’s lilac to pale pink flowers are large and boldly scented. Leaves are dark green and turn burgundy in fall, giving this one three season interest in the landscape. Use it as a single accent by the patio or in a group along the walkway.

Syringa x oblata ‘Betsy Ross’

Syringa x oblata ‘Betsy Ross’
‘Betsy Ross’ blooms with white panicles producing a sweet fragrance.
  • Bloom time: Early spring
  • Size: 10 feet high, 13 feet wide
  • Flower color: white
  • Use: Border or accent

Abundant, white panicles cover this rounded specimen in early spring and fill the air with a sweet scent. Growing 10 feet high and 13 feet wide, Betsy Ross is known for being resistant to powdery mildew, a common lilac foe.

Cultivated for regions with humid summers and mild winters, this is another variety that extends typical lilac hardiness to zone 8. 

Syringa vulgaris ‘Josee’

Syringa vulgaris ‘Josee’
‘Josee’ produces pale pink star-shaped flowers in late spring.
  • Bloom time: Late spring, mid summer
  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Plant size: 4-6 feet tall, 5-6 feet wide
  • Flower color: lavender-pink
  • Use: Foundation plant or accent

Light pink, star-shaped blooms completely cover Josee in late spring, making this one a dwarf favorite. In cooler climates, this shrub will flower again later in the season, although not as prolifically.

Reaching widths of 4-6 feet and heights of 5-6 feet, Josee has small, dark green leaves and a dense, round habit. Use it in a mixed shrub border or as a foundation planting.

Syringa microphylla ‘Superba’

Syringa microphylla ‘Superba’
‘Superba’ blooms with beautiful tubular pink flowers producing a pleasant aroma.
  • Bloom time: Late spring to early summer
  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Plant size: 5-7 feet tall, 10-15 feet wide
  • Flower color: Pink
  • Use: Low hedge or border planting

This littleleaf lilac has a bushy, spreading habit and a dense branch structure. Although it only gets 5-7 feet tall, it can be 10-15 feet wide at maturity. Tubular pink flowers cover the shrub in late spring to early summer and offer a light, pleasant scent. If sheared after blooming, it may flower again later in the season.

Its small, ovate leaves can be sheared and shaped, making this a good choice for a low hedge or border planting. This cultivar is also slightly more heat tolerant and mildew resistant than your average lilac and can be hardy to zone 8.

Syringa reticulata subs. reticulata ‘Snowdance’

Syringa reticulata subs. reticulata ‘Snowdance’
‘Snowdance’ produces cream flowers with a pleasant aroma.
  • Bloom time: Early summer
  • Plant type: Tree
  • Plant size: 15-20 feet tall and wide
  • Flower color: Creamy white
  • Use: Focal point, shade tree

On this specimen tree, massive creamy panicles can be up to a foot in length and have a scent that is noticeably less sweet than most lilac shrubs. Leaves are dark and dense, with a canopy structure that is broad and ovate.

Look for Snowdance to bloom in early summer after other lilacs have finished. Trunks can be single or multi-stemmed and have a reddish-brown exfoliating bark which gives them winter interest. They are equally at home in formal and cottage gardens.

Syringa vulgaris ‘Little Boy Blue’

Syringa vulgaris ‘Little Boy Blue’
‘Little Boy Blue’ blooms with magnificent blue flowers emitting a sweet delicate aroma.
  • Bloom time: Late spring
  • Plant type: Dwarf shrub
  • Plant size: 3-5 feet tall and wide
  • Flower color: Light blue
  • Use: Hedge, accent, or cutting garden

Attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds and commonly selected for cutting garden use, Little Boy Blue offers clusters of sweetly scented, sky blue flowers on dense, emerald green foliage. A diminutive size and compact habit make this cultivar a good choice for container or urban gardens.

Syringa ‘Bloomerang Dwarf Pink’

Syringa Bloomerang Dwarf Pink
‘Bloomerang Dwarf Pink’ has bright pink flowers that bloom in late spring.
  • Bloom time: Late spring
  • Plant type: Dwarf shrub
  • Plant size: 2-3 feet tall and wide
  • Flower color: True pink
  • Use: Groups, borders, and accents

Dwarf Pink is just one of many ‘Bloomerang’ colors sold in nurseries. Like the name suggests, this variety is cultivated to bloom again later in the season.

Dense and round in form with a size that maxes out at 2-3 feet, Dwarf Pink Bloomerang has star-like, bright pink blossoms that explode in late spring and almost completely cover the shrub. Subsequent blooms will not be as prolific but deadheading after each cycle will help encourage repeat showings.

Syringa reticulata subs. pekinensis ‘China Snow’

Syringa reticulata subs. pekinensis ‘China Snow’
‘China Snow’ is drought tolerant, and produces fluffy white flowers.
  • Bloom time: Early summer
  • Plant type: Tree
  • Plant size: 20-30 feet tall, 15-25 feet wide
  • Flower color: Creamy white
  • Use: Accent or shade tree

Graceful and upright, with a rounded habit, China Snow features a profusion of fluffy white flowers that grow in clusters. A mature height of 20-30 feet makes this one of the tallest lilacs you’ll see in the landscape.

Glossy green leaves keep it looking interesting after flowers have faded, while cinnamon-colored exfoliating bark provides great contrast in winter.

Tolerant of drought, extreme winter temperatures, and road salt, China Snow is both hardy and beautiful, making it a popular ornamental tree in northern regions.

Syringa vulgaris ‘President Lincoln’

Syringa vulgaris ‘President Lincoln’
‘President Lincoln’ is a unique type of lilac that produces large blue panicles with a delicious aroma.
  • Bloom time: Early summer
  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Plant size: 10 feet tall, 6 feet wide
  • Flower color: blue
  • Use: Formal gardens, ornamental specimen

With oversized, wedgewood blue panicles that grow in clusters against dark green foliage, this one is prized for its unique color and formal stature. Maturing at 10 feet tall and 6 feet wide, Lincoln’s branch structure is vertical and rigid, making it a go-to backdrop plant.

This cultivar was introduced in 1916 and was featured heavily in presidential gardens, which is why it received its name. It’s a fast grower with a delightful scent and blooms in early summer. 

Syringa x hyacinthiflora ‘Sister Justina’

Syringa x hyacinthiflora Sister Justina
‘Sister Justina’ blooms with large white flowers with a strong and pleasant aroma.
  • Bloom time: Early spring
  • Plant type: Shrub
  • Plant size: 12 feet tall, 9 feet wide
  • Flower color: White
  • Use: Hedge or screen, accent

This multi-stemmed shrub has an upright habit with a vase-like shape at maturity. In early spring, striking yellow flower buds open to large white panicles that are highly fragrant. Its heart-shaped, blue-green foliage stands out in the landscape and turns deep purple in the fall, giving Sister Justina three-season interest.

Final Thoughts

While wandering through your local garden center or clicking around on your favorite garden forum, pay close attention to the sun requirement listed for a potential plant. When you see the term ‘full sun,’ it means a plant must receive 6 hours of direct sunlight in order to grow and flower properly. Without proper sun, lilacs will struggle to bloom.

While there may be a little wiggle room with some trees and shrubs, lilac is not one of them. Consider the future growth of nearby trees and shrubs as well as the seasonal differences in sun angle to guarantee that this requirement is met before selecting a lilac for your landscape. Doing so will set the stage for a long future of dizzying, dazzling blooms.

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Close up of a beautiful shrub with burgundy foliage and dangling violet blossoms shines in the sun.

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