Miss Kim Lilacs: Compact Alternative for Small Yards

Your Nose May Decide if You'll Pick Missy Over the Common Version

Image of Miss Kim lilac.
David Beaulieu

Botany of Miss Kim Lilacs

Considered a "Manchurian" lilac (see below), the taxonomy of this plant is Syringa pubescens subsp. patula 'Miss Kim.'

Miss Kim is a deciduous shrub and belongs to the olive family of plants.

Features of Miss Kim Lilacs

The 'Miss Kim' cultivar is sometimes called a dwarf, but that can be misleading. At maturity, it can attain a height of 4 to 9 feet, with a spread of 5 to 7 feet. So at the upper end of those ranges, the shrub will hardly qualify as tiny. Nonetheless, one of the selling points of the cultivar is that it is a smaller shrub than the common or "French" lilac (Syringa vulgaris), the standard against which other lilacs are judged.

Miss Kim lilacs bloom slightly later in May (zone 5) than the French lilacs. The flower clusters are also smaller. Another comparison between the two is this: As a fall foliage tree, this cultivar is superior to the French lilacs, picking up some red or burgundy in its leaves in autumn.

In terms of branching pattern, some plants will have three main branches, others two; still others will have but one. Thus there can be quite a bit of variation, based on:

  • How the plant was shaped at the nursery.
  • Growing conditions.
  • Mishaps (such as branches being lost from storm damage).
  • How you prune.

Nature lovers will value Miss Kim lilacs for the creatures that they draw to the landscape. These bushes are plants that attract butterflies, and their flowers attract hummingbirds, too.

Growing Zones, Growing Conditions for Miss Kim Lilacs, Other Types

Native to Manchuria, the recommended growing zones for this bush are 3 to 8.

Install this flowering bush in full sun and in a well-drained soil with a neutral pH. Ideally, you will want to work some humus into the ground, but Miss Kim is not overly fussy about soil and is likely to succeed with just a little effort on your part regarding location and site preparation. The watering needs of the plant are average.

Other Manchurian types include:

  1. S. pubescens subsp. julianae 'Hers' (which has a weeping form).
  2. S. pubescens subsp. microphylla 'Superba' (which has pink flowers and smaller leaves).

Care (Pruning, Etc.)

Deadheading the flowers after they fade will help produce increased blooming next year, as well as possible reblooming in the current year. As for pruning these shrubs, they fall into the class that you prune right after blooming is done (if you have to prune at all, that is). But do note that Miss Kim lilacs don't require the amount of pruning that Syringa vulgaris does. But if you do prune (to shape the plant, promote reblooming, etc.), just remember to do so right after the blooming period, since the bushes bloom on old wood.

As with Syringa species generally speaking, it's a good idea to promote air circulation by giving them enough spacing (even though Miss Kim lilacs tend to have better mildew-resistance than do the French lilacs).

A possible advantage in growing Miss Kim (depending on your objectives; see below under Uses) is that it doesn't sucker the way Syringa vulgaris does. This means lower landscape maintenance on a property with limited space, where you would have to remove the suckers so as to keep the plant contained in the space chosen for it.

Another benefit of Miss Kim lilacs is that you generally don't have to wait as long for the first blooms on a newly installed specimen. 

Uses in Landscaping

Because Syringa vulgaris is larger and spreads via suckering, it is often used to form a privacy border in landscaping property lines. Its vigor is an advantage in this case, because what you want is a green mass that will screen out prying eyes (during the summer, at least). By contrast, the smaller, better-behaved Miss Kim is better in foundation plantings. But you do not have to choose between the two. Since they bloom at slightly different times of the year, grow both so as to improve the sequence of bloom in your landscape.

Best Features

As noted above, Miss Kim lilac is a smaller alternative to the French lilacs with which you may have grown up, making it a good choice if you're pressed for room in your yard. It also compares favorably to the latter in the following ways:

  • It is said to be a better choice for those landscaping in the South (U.S.).
  • As a later-bloomer, its flower buds are less likely to be damaged by frost.

On the other side of the equation, a possible drawback in growing Miss Kim lilacs is offered below (although this is subjective).

The Nose Knows, But Whose Nose?

Many growers adore the fragrance of Miss Kim lilacs. In fact, they do have a strong smell, but many other gardeners feel that the quality of the scent is inferior to that of Syringa vulgaris. The latter's aroma is powerful but sweet, whereas Miss Kim's flowers smell overly sharp to some noses.

Views on smells are subjective, so cut-and-dried buying advice based on smell cannot be given. Let's just say that, to many gardeners, Syringa vulgaris puts out the kind of plant fragrance that makes them say, "I simply must have that bush!" whereas Miss Kim lilac does not. So don't buy the latter sight unseen (or should one say, "Fragrance unsmelled"?), simply because you heard somebody say that the fragrance equals that of the French lilacs. Your own nose, in the end, may disagree, and, by that time, it will be too late.

What About the Geographical References?

As mentioned above, Miss Kim is considered a Manchurian lilac. We have been contrasting it with the "French" lilac, and perhaps you've also heard of types of Syringa bearing other names that reference geography. Let's conclude with a brief look at some of these.

Many types of Syringa are plants of China and/or come from other places in the Far East. So it's not surprising that we find a lot of Oriental names when discussing this genus, such as:

  • Chinese lilacs (Syringa x chinensis), which are hybrid plants.
  • Korean lilacs (Syringa meyeri), for example, the 'Bloomerang' dwarf type.
  • Japanese tree lilacs (Syringa reticulata).
  • Peking lilacs (Syringa pekinensis).

Note that French lilacs are not, in fact, native to France. They actually hail from southeastern Europe.