Miss Kim Lilacs: Compact Alternative for Small Yards

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

Miss Kim lilac (Syringa pubescens -- subsp. patula).

David Beaulieu/The Spruce

Miss Kim lilac is just one of many members of the Syringa genus. Lilacs have been adored for ages, and no gardener living in a region where they can be grown should be without at least one of these late-spring bloomers. The only question is whether you should grow the traditional favorite or one of its rivals.

Botany of Miss Kim Lilacs

Taxonomists list this plant as Syringa pubescens subsp. patula Miss Kim. It's 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's 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. "Compact" would be a better description for it.

Miss Kim lilacs bloom slightly later in May (zone 5) than the common (or "French") lilacs (Syringa vulgaris). 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, Conditions for Miss Kim Lilacs, Other Members of Its Species

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

Install this flowering bush in a well-drained soil with a neutral soil pH. Ideally, you'll want to work some compost into the ground, but Miss Kim isn't overly fussy about soil and is likely to succeed with just a little effort on your part regarding location and site preparation (in fact, it's even reasonably pollution-tolerant). The watering needs of the plant are average, so keep the soil evenly moist. It's one of the best shrubs to grow in full sun.

Other types in the pubescens species include:

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

Best Features, Possible Drawback

One of the selling points of the cultivar is that it's a smaller shrub than the traditional common lilac (the standard against which other lilacs are judged), 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's 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 regards flower scent. True, some 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. To many gardeners, however, Syringa vulgaris puts out the kind of plant fragrance that makes it a must-have, whereas Miss Kim lilac doesn't. So don't buy the latter sight unseen (or fragrance unsmelled, in this case), 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'll be too late.

As is usually true of Syringa species, it's a good idea to promote air circulation by giving them enough spacing. But Miss Kim lilacs tend to have better mildew-resistance than do the French lilacs.

Another possible advantage in growing Miss Kim (depending on your objectives) 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.

Yet 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. 

Care (Pruning, Etc.), Uses in Landscaping

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, 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.), do so right after the blooming period, since the bushes bloom on old wood.

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 more suitable for 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.

Other Kinds of Lilacs

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 from 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)
  • Japanese tree lilacs (Syringa reticulata)
  • Peking lilacs (Syringa pekinensis)

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

Other types of lilacs that are compact include:

  • Syringa meyeri Palibin: zones 3 to 7; 4 to 5 feet tall x 5 to 7 feet wide; pale pink flowers
  • Syringa meyeri Tinkerbelle: zones 3 to 7; 6 feet tall and wide; wine-red flowers
  • Syringa x meyeri Josee: zones 2 to 8; 4 to 6 feet in both height and spread; lavender flowers
  • Syringa x Bloomerang: zones 4 to 7; a true dwarf at just 3 to 4 feet in both height and width; purplish-pink blooms; named for its ability to rebloom; hybrid of S. Josee