Lilacs And Other Flowering Shrubs Of May

There are certain shrubs and small trees whose flowers symbolize the peak of spring.

lilac b

The Common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris), is certainly one of these. Though I was somewhat resistant to planting a Lilac in our garden. It’s not native, and except for that brief period when it flowers, it just doesn’t do much.


But Judy longed for a Lilac, so I gave in and put one in the East Bed. I admit it is hard to resist that fragrance. In this spot the Lilac gets considerably less sun, and yet it blooms pretty well. Although I would say it is a bit leggy, but maybe I need to improve my pruning technique. We have very little trouble with powdery mildew and other leaf diseases later in the summer.


Here’s a longer shot that shows more of the East Bed, with lots of Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) in bloom. Did I mention that I placed this shrub right by a window, forgetting of course that the window was painted shut?

I really prefer the plain old Common Lilacs. The whole idea of reblooming Lilacs seems wrong, especially the varieties sold under the label Bloomerang. In my opinion they should be banned for the name alone.


Crabapples also bloom in May. I love Crabapples. The flowers, the colorful fruit – plus it has excellent wildlife value. Here’s ‘Donald Wyman’ blooming in the  front garden.

‘Donald Wyman’

My mother used to make Crabapple jelly, which is another pleasant association. Birds also tend to love Crabapples, and not just for the fruit. Some birds eat the flowers and buds. Insects are drawn to the blooms, and birds eat the insects.

‘Golden Raindrops’ flowers

In the back garden we have a ‘Golden Raindrops’ Crabapple. The name derives from the very small, yellow fruits. The flowers of this Crab are subtly different from ‘Donald Wyman’. I planted it in the back garden about three years ago (it’s supposed to be fairly shade tolerant). It’s put on a good amount of growth but last year it didn’t have any flowers for some reason. This year there were flowers, but they were kind of sparse.


Serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’ is a shrub that normally blooms in April, but this year it was delayed until May.


Serviceberry flowers open before the shrub leafs out. The two Serviceberries in this corner of the back garden have become a lot more vigorous since an adjacent Crabapple in the neighbor’s yard was taken down.

Korean Spice Viburnum

Oh, and I have to mention one more shrub which has left me quite frustrated. This Korean Spice Viburnum (Viburnum carlessii ‘Compactum’) was planted three years ago, and this summer it had only 2 flower clusters! And one of those was bitten off by birds! Grrr!

But enough about me.  Which are your favorite shrubs or small trees for May blooms?

49 Comments on “Lilacs And Other Flowering Shrubs Of May”

  1. I have forsythia, several lilacs, a small redbud, one viburnum and a crabapple (pink). I also have something growing by the garage that I have no idea what it is (I didn’t plant it) but each spring it produces deep pink buds that turn pale pink and then open as soft white flowers. The flowers and leaves have a delicate look and there is a sweet scent that draws in bees.

  2. We had a crabapple tree in our yard when I was a child, and I loved to eat those crabapples! Crabapples have a hard time with disease here, and lilacs don’t like our climate. But serviceberries do well. I have two, which usually bloom in late February or early March. I also have a Korean spice viburnum, which is incredibly fragrant. Like yours, mine did not bloom well this year. Hopefully next year it will do better.

  3. ‘Plain old common lilac’ really is the best! I grew the French hybrids because they were what the clients bought. They were marketed as being more colorful and tolerant of mild winters. I did happen to like the white lilac. Yet, they really are at their best in lilac color, with those big loose trusses and intoxicating bloom. They do just fine here, despite what anyone marketing the French hybrids says. They even grow in Los Angeles!

  4. Not exactly small, but I do love our redbud tree – it’s glorious! I have to say that I’m quite partial to lilacs & am hoping they will add to the privacy in our west border. I planted 2 last year and one (Miss Canada) is now starting to bloom…it’s rather exciting!

  5. Never had any luck with lilacs but other folks near here do. Must be the soil. My Korean spice viburnum was lovely this year – last year not so much. Both serviceberry plants were killed over the winter. I lost a lot of plants this year thanks to the long cold we had. I felt bad until I went to the local nursery and the folks there said they also lost plants.

  6. I was considering a Bloomerang then I read that it has no fragrance. What’s the point of a lilac with no fragrance? I am now considering the Common Lilac. But it bothers me that it has no wildlife value in my mostly native garden…. Do you have any suggestions for native shrubs that flower in May with fragrance? I live in Central Virginia, zone 7B.

    • Clove Currant! Although it blooms more in April. There’s also Sweetspire and Summersweet, but they bloom in summer. Hmm. Hard to say because I don’t know what region you’re in. There may be a fragrant Magnolia that would grow in your area.

  7. I too have crabapples, serviceberrry and lilacs. They are the epitome of May. The Alliums did a pretty show too but were short lived this year due to no rain. The viburnum Mariessi is always beautiful but I would trade her for the smelly spicey smelling one. Still waiting for a generous dollop of rain.

  8. I share your misgivings for lilac, although I simply had to have one. It shuffles along in deepening shade. I adore crab apples, and am glad to learn of their value to wildlife. My neighbor has two, so I enjoy hers. I have oak-leaf hydrangea just coming into bloom, red twig dogwood looking rather magnificent right now, and a few wild plums have decided to grace my garden.

  9. We have a lot of the old common lilac, which I love for the fragrance. I don’t care for the flowers on the more modern lilacs. We tried to grow a serviceberry but it didn’t make it. And we have a leggy Korean Spice viburnum in almost full shade on the north side of the house that flowers nicely. However, at this time of year, when I walk outside, I smell the fabulous scent of black locust trees –they are all over here, and invasive or not, I LOVE them!

  10. Wow – usually your weather and mine match, but not this year. My serviceberry is long past blooming, now forming fruit. My crabs are also done. I had a common lilac, identified by a friend who recognized the mildew; I eliminated it a few years ago. My favorite spring blooming tree is redbud, favorite shrub purple-leaf sandcherry, both also done by now. My pagoda dogwood is blooming now, but it’s blossoms are not very showy, at least not this year. It’s a young tree, though. Would you consider false blue indigo a shrub? It’s almost as big as one and absolutely gorgeous this year.

  11. I am a lilac fan but here they grow too vigorously and are almost impossible to remove once established. Loving the crab apple and viburnum blooms, maybe you will get more flowers next year. Shrubs can be so frustrating!xxx

  12. We’re looking forward to seeing what the lilacs are, in our soon to be “new” house in Quebec. No sign of flowers, yet. And there are a couple of Amelanchiers, too, but they don’t look so robust, although we’ve seen others flowering elsewhere here. Some are large-flowered, not like ours at home in NC. Interesting.

  13. Lilacs are favorites of mine too. It’s a shame they don’t last very long because I love the smell, but if you plant several varieties with varied bloom times, you might be able to get flowers for quite a while. That’s what I’ve read, anyway. Crabapples are gorgeous! I’ve seen some really beautiful flowers ranging from brilliant red, pink, and even almost purple at the Botanic Gardens. Any flowering tree or shrub is good in my book!

  14. Hi Jason, I have weigela, deutzia, and nine bark all blooming right now. Lilacs and spring flowering trees finished up in early May, unfortunately. My viburnum ‘blue muffin’ finally bloomed densely this year, so I’m looking forward to the blue berries later on. I planted it near my front door for that viburnum fragrance, but this variety is a bit stinky instead, drat it! Failure to properly research… As we are almost in June, the shrub type roses (knockout, drift,etc) are in full bloom here in Maryland. I love the open, airy look of your lilac.

  15. Oh yes, lilac is a must, just like Forsythia in spring… just for the flowers even if the shrub itself is not native and nothing special. Your Crab apple tree looks great! And just think of all the thousands of creatures that benefit from that one tree – fabulous!

  16. I think the common lilac has to top my list of favorite spring shrubs, too. There is nothing like the scent of these flowers–I can’t pass by it when it is in bloom without taking a whiff, and I always have to bring some sprigs in for a vase to enjoy inside as well. I was enticed by the ‘Bloomerang’ and planted one a few years ago, but it definitely isn’t that great. I do have a newer ‘Scent and Sensibility,’ which I bought only for its name (me and my literary obsession), and it actually is quite fragrant. I’m wondering what the secret is to Serviceberries–I think mine has grown only about a foot in four years!

  17. In opposite to Chicago May felt like summer here. Today we had unsusual 30°C. I love Syringa and Amelanchier shrubs. Unfortunately most of the shrubs – like Syringa – which I plant in the garden struggle with our loamy and dry soil. What a pity!
    Here Syringa blossom was only very short. Now about 2 weeks too early rose blossom started.

  18. I love lilacs. They are such a New England classic. It’s not unusual to find an old stone house foundation by spotting a stand of ancient lilacs, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. I planted a Korean Spice viburnum by our front door when we moved in here three years ago. I haven’t done a thing to it, but it has bloomed profusely ever since. Just happy there, I guess.

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