How to Grow a Lilac Shrub (2024)

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How to Grow a Lilac Shrub (1)

Caption

Huge blooms, wonderfulscent.

Photo Credit

Wally Patrick

Botanical Name

Syringa spp.

Plant Type

Trees, Shrubs, and Vine

Sun Exposure

Full Sun

Part Sun

Soil pH

Neutral to Slightly Alkaline

Bloom Time

Spring

Summer

Flower Color

Blue

Pink

Purple

Red

White

Yellow

Special Features

Attracts Butterflies

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Planting, Growing, and Pruning Lilacs

Catherine Boeckmann

How to Grow a Lilac Shrub (2)

Lilacs truly smell like spring! Lilacs are among the most carefree spring-flowering shrubs and provide a sweet, haunting fragrance, too! Learn how to plant, grow, and prune yourlilacs.

Lilacs, said to symbolize the joy of youth and associated with spring’s awakening, are hardy, easy to grow, and low-maintenance. Although they can reach heights of 5 to 15 feet (or more), depending on the variety, the ideal lilac shrub produces flowers at eye level—all the better to enjoy their sweetfragrance.

AboutLilacs

The common lilac, Syringa vulgaris, is well-loved for its toughness, reliability, and fragrance. In fact, lilacs are so tough that they can grow for 100+ years, often outliving the homes they were planted around. The fragrant flowers are good for cutting and are attractive tobutterflies.

While the blooms are usually lilac/purple in color (from very pale to very dark), there are also lilac varieties in white and cream and even pink and yellow. Individual flowers can be single ordouble.

In northern states, lilacs bloom for about two weeks from mid-to-late spring. However, there are early-, mid-, and late-season lilacs, which, when grown together, ensure a steady bloom for at least sixweeks.

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Planting

Lilacs thrive in fertile, humus-rich, well-drained, neutral to alkaline soil (at a pH near 7.0). If your soil is in poor condition, mix in compost to enrich it. (Learn more about soil amendments and preparing the soil for planting.) Choose or prepare a site that drains well. Poor drainage or pooling water can cause “wet feet,” potentially leading to root rot, stunted growth, and/or failure to flower. Test soil drainage by digging a hole 8 inches in diameter and 12 inches deep. Fill it with water; if it does not drain within an hour, choose anotherspot.

For the best blooms, lilacs should be planted in full sun, which is defined as being at least 6 hours of sunlight each day. Given less, they will not flower aswell.

When to PlantLilacs

  • Like most shrubs, lilacs can be planted in either spring or fall, although the latter ispreferred.

How to PlantLilacs

  • If you’re lucky, a friend will give you a sucker, or offshoot, of the root system of one of their plants. The sucker will look pathetic at first, but dig a hole, backfill it with soil, and stick the sucker in. Then, water and wait. In 4 or 5 years, you’ll be rewarded with huge, fragrantblossoms.
  • Transplanting nursery-bought lilacs is also easy. If it’s container-grown, spread out the roots as you settle the plant into the ground; if it’s balled or burlapped, gentlyremove the covering and any rope before planting.Set the plant 2 or 3 inches deeper than it grew in thenursery, and work topsoil in around the roots—water in. Then, fill in the hole with moretopsoil.
  • Space multiple lilac bushes5 to 15 feet apart, depending on thevariety.

Growing

  • Each spring, apply a layer of compost under the plant, followed by mulch to retain moisture and controlweeds.
  • Water during the summer if rainfall is less than 1 inch perweek.
  • Lilacs won’t bloom if they’re overfertilized. They can handle a handful of 10-10-10 in late winter, but nomore.
  • After your lilac bush has finished blooming, spread some lime and well-rotted manure around the base. Trim the bush to shape it and remove suckers at the sametime.

How to Prune Lilacs: PruningLilacs

  • Lilacs bloom on old wood, so it’s critical to prune in the spring right after they bloom. If you prune later in the summer, you may be removing the wood. Note: If your lilac flower clusters are getting smaller over a few years, it’s time toprune!
  • Every year after bloom, remove any dead wood. Prune out the oldest canes (down to the ground). Remove the small suckers. Cut back weak branches to a strong shoot. Cut back tall canes to eyeheight.
  • The ideal lilac shrub has about 10 canes. If your lilac is old and in really bad shape, remove one-third of the oldest canes (down to the ground) in year one, half of the remaining old wood in year two, and the rest of the old wood in year three.Another option for old lilacs is to chop the whole thing back to about 6 or 8 inches high. It sounds drastic, but lilacs are very hardy. The downside to this option is that it takes a few years to grow back. The upside is less work and more reward, as the lilac will grow back, bursting withblooms.
  • It must be recognized that severe pruning results in the loss of blooms for one to three years. For these reasons, a wise pruning program aims to avoid severe and drastic cuts by giving the bushes annualattention.
  • Good Sucker Sense: Gertrude Jekyll, the 19th-century no-nonsense English horticulturist (1843– 1932), advocated a strenuous exercise: “When taking away suckers … it is better to tear them out than to cut them off. A cut, however close, leaves a base from which they may always spring again, but if pulled or wrenched out, they bring away with them the swollenbase.”

Recommended Varieties

For early flowers, try Syringa x hyacinthiflora hybrids; they bloom 7 to 10 days before S. vulgaris. It’s fragrant blooms attract butterflies andhummingbirds.

The most common and fragrant lilacs are of the Syringa vulgaris variety:

  • Try ‘Charles Joly’, a double magenta flower, an earlybloomer.
  • Mid-season lilacs include ‘Monge’, a dark reddish purple, and ‘Firmament’, a fineblue.
  • Late-season beauties include ‘Miss Canada’, a reddishpink, and ‘Donald Wyman’, a pink-purpleflower.

Uncommon types/varieties include…

  • S. x ‘Penda’ Bloomerang Purple: flowers in spring, pauses, then flowers again from midsummer throughfall
  • Although common lilacs love cold weather, a few thrive as far south as Zone 8, including cutleaf hybrid S. x laciniata, with fragrant, pale lavender flowers, and S. pubescens ssp. patula ‘Miss Kim,’ with pale, lilac-blue blooms that fade towhite.

Small Lilacs
For gardeners, especially those in urban spaces, who just don’t have the room for the traditional larger lilac, there are compact varieties! They’ll even grow in a container on your patio orbalcony.

  • ‘Baby Kim’ grows only 2 to 3 feet high (and 3 feet wide) in a nicely rounded shape with purple flowers that attract butterflies. Extended hardiness from Zones 3 to8.
  • ‘Little Lady’ (Syringa x) is a compact lilac that matures to 4 to 5 feet tall and wide with dark pink buds that open to lilac-pink flowers. Hardy in Zones 2 to7.
  • ‘New Age Lavender’ and ‘New Age White’ (Syringa vulgaris) are super-compact, growing from 4 to 5 feet tall and wide, and bred for mildew resistance. Their fragrant flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Hardy to Zone4.

See more lilac varieties!

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Wit and Wisdom

  • To improve the flowering of lilacs, keep the grass from growing around them. A 16- to 24-inch circle of landscape cloth placed around the bushes and covered with bark or stone will keep the grassdown.
  • Force a winter bouquet from cut branches of lilac. Bruise the cut ends and set them in water. Spray the branches frequently. Keep them in a cool place until they bloom, then move to a warmer area fordisplay.
  • Poet Walt Whitman thought of lilacs whenAbraham Lincoln died:
    When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d … Imourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.”
  • Lilacs supposedly symbolize the joy of youth. Learn about more flower symbolism here.
  • The lilac belongs to the olive family,Oleaceae.

Pests/Diseases

  • Prone to attack by slugs andsnails.
  • Powdery white mildew may appear after a summer of hot, humid weather. It may be unsightly, but it does no harm. Ignoreit.

Cooking Notes

Lilac flowers are edible, but flavor varies among cultivars, from no flavor to “green” and lemony flavors. Gather insect- and disease-free blooms early in the day. Avoid any that are unopened or past their peak. Wash the flowers gently in cool water. Pat them dry and refrigerate until ready touse.

Consider making candied lilac flowerets for a special cake decoration: Separate the individual flowers. Using tweezers, dip each one into a beaten egg white, reconstituted egg white powder, or packaged egg whites. Then, dip the flower in finely granulated sugar. Set it aside to dry before placing it on acake.

Shrubs and Trees

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

How to Grow a Lilac Shrub (4)

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Lilacs are my favorite flower~

  • Reply

I’m in zone 8B and always thought lilacs would not survive here. A friend gave me one a couple of years ago. I knew it couldn’t take the hot Texas sun, so I planted it where it only gets morning sun. It bloomed last year and has even more buds about to bloom today. It makes me happy.

  • Reply

I have a lilac bush with only 5-6 thick canes then maybe 20-30 branches. . The bush is a little over 4ft tall, only produced 1 Bloom so far. It is planted near landscaping stones at the end of a garden bed. It was hard-pruned this past winter (i know blooms will take another year or more). With it being planted near stones (on 1 side only), how can I encourage my bush to send out more shoots to grow wider/bushier?
I’m in Zone 6B. No clue what variety i have, it bloomed a very light purple almost white bloom 1 year ago or so. It gets full sun

  • Reply

Hi,Megan,

After hard pruning, where everything is cut down to about 6 to 8 inches (on grafted plants, be sure to make the cut above the graft union), it will take a few years for the bush to re-establish and fill out, but you should see some nice growth coming up over the years. We’re guessing the 4-foot-growth appeared this year after the hard pruning last winter? For the next few years, perhaps refrain from pruning drastically any further, to allow the plant to re-establish itself. Do, however, continue to remove any dead, diseased, or crossingbranches.

In general, if a lilac bush needs just a tiny bit of pruning to keep it in shape, and to encourage bushy growth, you can cut the tips of branches that are too tall back to a side shoot or bud. This will encourage that side shoot to grow outward instead of the tip continuing to grow upward. Deadheading spent flowers can also help the plant focus its energy on growing shoots and new flowers. Remove any suckers that pop up near the base of theplant.

Make sure that the plant has good growing conditions; full sun, as you have, is great for it. Also check if it has well-draining soil. Clay soil can slow its growth. Lilacs do best in neutral soilpH.

Hope thishelps!

  • Reply

I have a lilac, approximately 15 feet tall, full sun, soil etc.is in good condition. Unfortunately there is no evidence of growth. There was an ice storm in our area in April, however I have a second lilac that bloomed just fine.

The one in question we lost approximately one third due to ice storm damage. I trimmed back the damaged portion. Please note that I am approximately 40 kilometres north of Montreal Quebec and the lilac in question was planted in 1999.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

PS as mentioned I have another lilac which is fine and I have two Japanese Lilac Trees that are growing without any issues.

  • Reply

Hello. I have a Lilac Tree which is taking over by sprouting all around the tree and taking space from the other plants. I put the fabric around the tree and covered with stones but still coming right and left . any advise? Thanks

  • Reply

Hi, Kami, You’re dealing with runners or suckers. Most lilac plants spread this way (one variety, Miss Canada lilac (Syringa x prestoniae, does not send out as many as most others; other “safe,” suckerless options include Meyer lilac, Peking, and Manchurian lilac).

What to do? There are not a lot of options. As you’ve learned, covering the runners will not stop them. One solution may be to install barriers, or edging, that you bury about 6 inches or more below ground level. Use a steel or metal edged type. First cut (at ground level or as low/deep as you can) and pull the existing runners, then put in the barrier. It should reduce or stop the runners for a fewseasons.

  • Reply

I have an older lilac bush in front of my house. It has been my pride and joy. But this winter I had some huge branches break off. Now I don't know what to do with it to help it. I am not sure if I should just leave it be or if I should give it an extreme trimming. Can you offer some suggestions?

  • Reply

I'd leave it be with light trimming to get the Lilac to reestablish itself~

  • Reply

I HAVE A LILAC BUSH THAT STARTED LIFE AS PURPLE. IT BLOSSOMED WITH TINY WHITE FLOWERS DURING LATE FALL AT THE VERY TIP OF THE BRANCHES. THIS LAST SUMMER IT BLOOMED WHITE AND THE BLOSSOMS WERE LITTLE. IT IS NOW LOADED WITH DEEP BLUE PURPLE BARRIES THAT REMIND ME OF MAINE'S WILD BLUE BARRIES. THIS IS THE FIIRST TIME THE BLOSSOMS TURNED INTO BARRIES. IS THIS NORMAL?

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How to Grow a Lilac Shrub (2024)

FAQs

How to Grow a Lilac Shrub? ›

Plant lilacs in full sun in moist, well-drained soil. Feed lilacs in spring with Miracle-Gro® Shake 'n Feed® Flowering Trees & Shrubs Plant Food. Deadhead spent flowers to encourage shrubs to set more blooms for the following season. Prune to encourage blooming.

How to grow a lilac bush? ›

Plant your lilac in rich, moist, well-drained soil. A new plant prefers soil with a neutral pH of 6 to 7, while more established plants can handle a slightly alkaline soil. "In general, they're pretty amenable to soil types," says Marrocco. "However, they don't like wet feet, so good drainage is important."

How long does it take for a lilac bush to be fully grown? ›

There are many types of lilacs. Most should reach full maturity at about 2-3 years old.

Where do lilacs grow best? ›

Lilacs grow best in full sun and well-drained soil. Lilacs grown in partial sun or shade will not flower well. The shrubs may take three to four years to establish themselves in a new site, but once established they can live for centuries. Soil pH (alkalinity or acidity of the soil) may affect the plant's growth.

What does a lilac bush need to bloom? ›

Here are some tips to make sure yours bloom:
  • Usually, insufficient sunlight is the problem. A minimum of six hours of sun is needed each day.
  • Too much nitrogen can be a problem. Often lilacs are planted in the lawn and fertilizers used to green up lawns are high in nitrogen. ...
  • Make sure you prune at the right time.
Jul 26, 2023

What does a lilac bush need to grow? ›

The ideal spot to plant lilacs is in an area with full sun (at least 6 to 8 hours per day)—give them too much shade and they may not bloom. Lilacs also like slightly alkaline, moist, well-drained soil. The best time to plant lilacs is in late fall before the ground freezes.

What to feed lilacs? ›

Lilacs respond vigorously to regular, liberal amounts of fertilizer. One to two large handfuls (depending on the size of the bush) of a 5-10-5 granular fertilizer per year will enhance growth and flowering. Chemical fertilizers should be applied in early spring before growth has begun.

Do lilacs like coffee grounds? ›

Which plants do not like coffee grounds? Some plants do not benefit from adding coffee grounds to their soil. Plants like lilacs and lavender prefer alkaline soil, so the slight acidity may harm them. The caffeine in coffee grounds can also harm some herbs and geraniums.

Are lilacs difficult to grow? ›

Lilacs are among the most carefree of all shrubs, and grow well in zones 3-7. Their needs are simple: plenty of sunlight, good drainage, and fertile soil. In return, you'll be rewarded with beautifully scented lavender, pink, or white blooms.

What does a full grown lilac bush look like? ›

They are tall, upright shrubs laden with broad pointed clusters of highly perfumed, lavender flowers and green, heart-shaped leaves. There are white-flowered types, too. Plants can grow to be 12 feet wide and 15 feet high.

What animals do lilacs attract? ›

Wildlife are also attracted to the scent, shape and color of these blooms. Lilacs attract bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators, turning the garden into a buzzing, fluttering nectar buffet.

Do lilacs need a lot of water? ›

Watering your lilac plant is recommended once every 10 to 14 days from from spring until blooming ends. Lilacs respond best to deep, infrequent watering. Make sure that your planting area or container drains well. These plants do not like wet feet and will not bloom if over watered.

Can you plant lilac near a house? ›

Lilac roots aren't considered invasive and as long as you leave enough space between the tree, or shrub, and the structure, there is little risk from planting lilacs near foundations. Lilac roots generally spread one and one-half times the width of the shrub. A distance of 12 feet (4 m.)

How to encourage lilacs to bloom? ›

Plants should receive at least six hours of direct sun each day. Lilacs planted in partial shade will not bloom well. Good care during the first two or three years is also important. Apply a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch around each shrub to conserve soil moisture and control weeds.

How to force lilacs to bloom? ›

Make sure your plant receives at least six hours of sunlight. If not, consider moving it to a sunnier location. Avoid high nitrogen fertilizer because it can prevent flowering. Only prune lilacs right after their normal bloom period in early summer if you want flowers the following spring.

How many lilac bushes should I plant? ›

Space medium-sized lilacs that are 6 to 8 feet tall at maturity 2 to 4 feet apart. For larger lilacs, which will be taller than 8 feet at maturity, plant about 4 to 6 feet apart. Once the plants mature, larger lilac plants can spread to 10-12 feet wide.

Are lilac bushes easy to grow? ›

Lilacs are among the most carefree of all shrubs, and grow well in zones 3-7. Their needs are simple: plenty of sunlight, good drainage, and fertile soil. In return, you'll be rewarded with beautifully scented lavender, pink, or white blooms.

Can I grow a lilac bush from a cutting? ›

Propagation by cuttings is one of the most popular ways to propagate lilacs. Cuttings should be taken when new green terminal shoots are produced. They should be four to six inches long, but should not be left out too long, because they will wilt easily and die.

How many years does it take for a lilac bush to bloom? ›

If you planted a lilac bare-root, then you'll need to be patient! Lilac bushes take about 4 to 5 years to start blooming because that's how long it takes for this shrub to mature and gain the strength it needs to produce blossoms.

Do lilac bushes come back every year? ›

Another reason why your lilac may not bloom is because it is being pruned at the wrong time of the year. Lilacs bloom on the previous season's growth and develop next year's buds shortly after blooming in the spring.

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