How to Grow and Care for Lilac Bushes (2024)

Common lilac bushes (Syringa vulgaris) are deciduous shrubs that bloom in the springtime. They are part of the olive family, along with other such ornamental plants as ash trees, forsythia bushes, and privet hedges. The outstanding quality of many lilac varieties is the sweet fragrances of their flowers. The blooms appear in branching clusters or panicles. Each flower is only about 1/3 inch across.The leaves are gray-green to blue-green in color and reach around 2 to 5 inches long; they do not change color in the fall. And the bark of this shrub is gray to grayish brown.The best time to plant lilac bushes is in the early fall before the ground freezes. They have a moderate growth rate of 1 to 2 feet per year.

How to Grow and Care for Lilac Bushes (1)

Common NameLilac bush, common lilac
Botanical NameSyringa vulgaris
FamilyOleaceae
Plant TypeShrub
Mature Size8–15 ft. tall, 6–12 ft. wide
Sun ExposureFull
Soil TypeLoamy, well-drained
Soil pHNeutral
Bloom TimeSpring
Flower ColorsPurple, white
Hardiness Zones3–7, USA
Native AreaEurope

Lilac Care

Common lilac bushes are attractive enough to be treated as specimen plants, grown as focal points in the landscape. They are also often planted in rows along property borders and pruned into loosehedges. The 'Miss Kim' cultivar is small enough for use in foundation plantings, as is the even more compact 'Bloomerang' lilac, which is a dwarf shrub.

Once they’re established, lilacs don’trequire much maintenance. They will typically only need watering during prolonged periods of drought, and they prefer annual fertilization. Pruning also is generally an annual task.

How to Grow and Care for Lilac Bushes (2)

How to Grow and Care for Lilac Bushes (3)

How to Grow and Care for Lilac Bushes (5)

Light

Grow lilac bushes in full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days. Lilacs will tolerate some shade, but too little light can limit their bloom. They do not do well in full shade.

Soil

Lilac bushes prefer rich, loamy soil with sharp drainage and a neutral soil pH. They can tolerate clay soil, though it might stunt their growth.

Water

Lilacs like a moderate amount of soil moisture. But soggy soil can lead to root rot and poor blooming. Water young lilacs regularly to keep the soil lightly moist. Mature plants typically will only need watering during periods of drought.

Temperature and Humidity

Lilacs bushes prefer climates that have fairly cool summers. They are not recommended for hot, humid areas, such as the Southern United States. High humidity can lead to fungal diseases on the plant. Moreover, lilacs can tolerate temperatures well below freezing, though they prefer protection from bitter cold winds, which can damage their flower buds and break stems.

Fertilizer

Lilac bushes can benefit from a spring feeding, especially if you have poor soil. However, don't use a fertilizer that's high in nitrogen, which can lead to poor blooming. Instead, use a balanced fertilizer, following label instructions.

Types of Lilac

There are several types of lilac bushes that vary somewhat in appearance, including:

  • 'Wedgewood Blue': This compact lilac variety attains a height at maturity of only 6 feet with a spread equal to that. The flowers are contained in thick clusters of lavender blue. It thrives in zones 3 through 8.
  • 'Yankee Doodle': A small lilac bush with deep purple, fragrant blooms, Yankee Doodle is a bit more cold-hardy than the main species, suitable for zones 2 through 8. It grows 6 to 10 feet tall and 5 to 6 feet wide.
  • 'Belle de Nancy': This variety has double pink flowers (multiple layers of petals) and grows 8 to 10 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide. It blooms in late spring to early summer and is suitable for zones 3 through 9.
  • 'Madame Lemoine': Blooming with bright white double flowers, this lilac variety stands tall at up to 15 feet high and 12 feet wide. It is suitable for zones 3 through 8.
  • 'Primrose': Primrose is a standard-size lilac that grows 10 to 15 feet tall and 6 to 10 feet wide. It is notable for its yellow flowers that still deliver the beloved sweet lilac fragrance. It is suitable for zones 3 through 7.

Pruning

Pruning is critical for lilacs, both to promote flowering and to ensure air circulation to prevent powdery mildew and other problems. The right time to prune is just after flowering is over, as lilacs bloom on old wood. Prune branches to thin out the growth (for better air circulation) and to keep the height of the shrub in check. Cut the oldest branches to the ground, as they won't be strong flower producers anymore, but don't take off more than a third of the total branches. Also, prune any weak or damaged branches.

Propagating Lilacs

Anyone who has grown lilacs knows how readily they expand. Most lilacs are clump-forming plants that spread via shoots extending from the trunk. And these shoots can be used for propagation. Not only is this an inexpensive way to gain a new lilac bush, but it also prevents the existing lilac from becoming overcrowded. The best time to propagate is in the late spring to early summer to give the shoot enough time to become established before cold weather sets in.

To propagate, simply dig down around one of the shoots and cut it from the main plant, keeping the roots intact. Then, replant the shoot in rich soil wherever you wish, and keep its soil lightly moist (but not soggy) at all times until it's established.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Lilacs are fairly hardy shrubs and can survive most pest and disease problems. However, they are susceptible to several. The fungal disease powdery mildew is commonly seen on lilacs, especially during humid summers. It creates whitish powdery patches on the foliage. There are both chemical fungicides and natural methods for combatting powdery mildew. The disease usually won’t be fatal, but you should still treat your lilac as soon as possible to limit fungal spread. Common pests that can affect lilacs and damage their foliage include scales and borers. If you spot these tiny insects on the stems and undersides of leaves, treat your plant with neem oil or another insecticide.

How to Get Lilacs to Bloom

Lilacs generally bloom in the mid-to-late spring, though the exact timing can differ based on the variety. The conical clusters of tiny four-lobed flowers have an exceptionally sweet fragrance. The blooms only last for a couple of weeks, but they should readily rebloom each year on a healthy plant. Deadheading, or removing the spent blooms, isn't necessary.To enjoy a longer blooming period, consider planting multiple lilac varieties that flower at different times.

A lack of sunlight is often the reason for poor flowering on a lilac. Watch your lilac for a full day to make sure it isn’t in the shade for any prolonged stretch.Lightly moist soil also encourages a stronger bloom. Mulch around the shrub can help to retain soil moisture and suppress weeds that might compete with the lilac.

Common Problems With Lilacs

Lilac shrubs are typically not problem plants in the garden. But they can encounter a few common issues.

Poor Flowering

A lilac that isn't flowering as much as it used to might need a rejuvenation pruning. To do so, remove a third of the oldest branches right after the bloom period is over. In the next growing season, remove half of the remaining old branches after flowering. And in the next year, remove the rest of the remaining old branches. New branches that flower more vigorously will replace them in a few years.

Leaves Turning Brown

Lilac leaves turning brown might be due to several factors. Insufficient water, especially for young plants, can result in browning leaves. Too much fertilizer also can damage the foliage, as can prolonged exposure to very strong sunlight. Most often, though, brown spots on the leaves are due to bacterial blight. This infection typically occurs when growing conditions for the lilac are subpar. So correcting its conditions is one of the best remedies for the disease. Also, promptly remove infected foliage to prevent the disease from spreading.

FAQ

  • Are lilacs easy to care for?

    Established lilacs are generally easy to maintain. They typically require annual pruning and fertilization, along with watering during periods of drought.

  • How fast do lilacs grow?

    Lilacs have a moderate growth rate, gaining on average 1 to 2 feet each year.

  • What's the difference between a lilac bush and a lilac tree?

    A lilac bush and tree are the same thing. The plant also goes by lilac shrub.

How to Grow and Care for Lilac Bushes (2024)

FAQs

How to Grow and Care for Lilac Bushes? ›

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 properly care for a lilac bush? ›

Lilacs grow best in full sun and slightly acidic to alkaline, well-drained soil. They may take three to four years to establish, but once they do, they can live for many years. You do not need to fertilize them often. Doing so may result in all foliage and no flowers.

Where should you not plant lilac bushes? ›

For best results, most lilacs, including common, dwarf, or tree lilacs, do best in full sun. Common lilacs can adapt to part shade, but it comes at the price of fewer flowers. Shady conditions also encourage powdery mildew, a frequent disease in lilacs.

Are lilac bushes high maintenance? ›

Lilacs require a minimum of care, once established. If weeds grow close to the base, they should be removed and the area mulched. Don't plan to cultivate close to the stem because the feeding roots are near the surface.

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 do lilac bushes need to thrive? ›

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.

Do you need to deadhead lilac bushes? ›

New lilac plants should begin blooming within two to five years. Deadheading the spent flowers encourages new bud development for the next spring. Once the plant has matured, you don't need to take the time to deadhead.

Do lilacs like coffee grounds? ›

Like other plants that prefer neutral or slightly alkaline soil, lilac cannot benefit from coffee grounds added to the soil. Instead of helping them thrive, coffee grounds will disrupt the optimal growth of cloves.

What is the best month to plant lilacs? ›

Fall planting (August 15 – October 15) can be considered in areas with mild winters. Lilac roots will grow until the ground is frozen so fall planting will give added root establishment to support growth in the top of the plant. The amount of work required to plant a lilac will depend on the soil condition.

How far should a lilac be from 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.)

What is the lifespan of a lilac bush? ›

Lilacs are known for their hardy nature and long lives—many lilac shrubs live to be more than 100 years old. Because of their life span, they often survive longer than the home of the gardener that planted them.

Is lilac poisonous to dogs? ›

Lilacs do not contain any chemicals that will poison animals or humans, nor do they irritate the skin. Even though lilac stems, leaves, and flowers pose no health threat to dogs, it is a good idea to keep your dog from chewing on the plant.

How to encourage lilac growth? ›

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.

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.

Is there a difference between a lilac tree and a lilac bush? ›

Difference Between Lilac Bush and Tree

The difference comes down to the amount and placement of stems. Lilac bushes (AKA shrubs) are defined in the typical manner, with multiple woody stems coming up from the base of the plant. In contrast, most lilac trees have one single woody stem: the trunk.

Do lilac bushes spread? ›

Lilacs readily spread through suckers.

How do you keep lilac bushes blooming? ›

The most common cause is lack of adequate sunlight. Lilacs (Syringa) need to be planted in a location that receives at least six hours of strong, direct sun per day. They are very tolerant of different moisture conditions as long as they are planted in well-drained soil.

How do you prune a lilac bush without killing it? ›

Trimming lilacs is best accomplished using clean clippers. Remove spent blooms all the way to the stems to prevent seeding and encourage more blooms later on. Cut back about a third of the branches. Cut away shoots growing near the ground that may be sprouting from the main trunk.

When should I trim lilac bushes? ›

As a general rule for all lilacs, they should be pruned immediately after they're done flowering in the spring. Since lilacs set next year's flower buds right after the current year's flowers have faded, pruning later in the summer or fall will result in cutting off many or all of next year's flowers.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Foster Heidenreich CPA

Last Updated:

Views: 6397

Rating: 4.6 / 5 (56 voted)

Reviews: 87% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Foster Heidenreich CPA

Birthday: 1995-01-14

Address: 55021 Usha Garden, North Larisa, DE 19209

Phone: +6812240846623

Job: Corporate Healthcare Strategist

Hobby: Singing, Listening to music, Rafting, LARPing, Gardening, Quilting, Rappelling

Introduction: My name is Foster Heidenreich CPA, I am a delightful, quaint, glorious, quaint, faithful, enchanting, fine person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.