Growing Lilacs & Pruning Lilacs

If you’re growing lilacs in your garden, you’re investing in a plant that may last for centuries. Lilacs benefit from cold winters and alkaline soils. Plant in a sunny spot to make sure you get to enjoy their beautiful, fragrant flowering season.

Growing Lilacs & Pruning Lilacs: Plant Snapshot

Growing Lilacs & Pruning Lilacs
  • Lilac (Syringa)
  • Annual or perennial? Perennial
  • Recommended varieties (by color):
    • Blue: Syringa vulgaris ‘President Lincoln’
    • Lemon: Syringa vulgaris primrose
    • Pink: Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’, syringa pubescens superba, syringa josiflexa ‘Bellicent’
    • Purple: Syringa presoniae ‘Miss Canada’, Syringa vulgaris ‘Sensation’
    • White: Syringa vulgaris vari. ‘Alba’, syringa reticulata ‘Ivory Silk’, syringa pekinensis
  • Recommended USDA Hardiness zones: 02b to 07b
  • Mature Height: 60 to 300 inches (152 to 762 cm) depending on variety
  • Mature Spread: 48 to 300 inches (122 to 762 cm) depending on variety
  • Sun Requirements: partial sun to full sun
  • Blooming season: Late spring, early, late and mid summer depending on variety
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Planting Lilac Seed, Transplanting Lilacs and/or Root Division

Where to Find Planting Supplies...

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We don’t recommend growing lilacs from seed as it takes three to four years before you’ll get even a small amount of blooms. But if you really want to take on the challenge and have the patience, collect seeds before they drop from the seedpod. Keep in the refrigerator over winter and plant out in small pots in early spring. Leave in a sheltered place outside and don’t let pots dry out. Repot as the plant grows and plant into their final garden position in the second or third year.

You can also propagate by layering in spring. This process gets a semi-detached section of branch to root in the soil close to the main plant.

To propagate lilacs by layering...

  1. Add leaf mold to an area of soil near to the main trunk. For best results, do this a couple of weeks before you begin layering.
  2. Select the branch to create your new plant. Make a two-inch slanting cut about 12 inches (30 cm) from the tip of the branch, being sure NOT to cut all the way through the branch.
  3. Bend the branch to the ground and use a peg to fix it in the soil, building a mound of soil where the branch meets the soil.
  4. Add more leaf mold and water the base of the newly planted branch weekly.
  5. By fall the roots should be established on the new plant. Cut the branch from the main plant but leave it in the same ground for a few weeks.
  6. After waiting a few weeks, dig up your new lilac plant and reposition/transplant it in your garden or container.

If you choose a nursery grown plant, dig a hole in fall or spring that is two or three inches (5 or 8 cm) deeper than its pot depth. Work topsoil around the roots. Water it well and continue to water over the first few months if conditions are dry. Use three or four inches (8 to 11 cm) of leaf mulch to help the plant settle in.

Snapshot: Planting Lilacs

  • Germination soil temperature: 41 degrees F (5 C)
  • Distance between plants: about 70 inches (180 cm)
  • Planting depth: 4 inches (10 cm) deeper than plant size
  • Days to germination: 60 to 90 days
  • Preferred soil pH (see soil pH tester for more information): 6.5 to 7
  • Root division information (perennials only):
    • Root system type (clumping, spreading, rhizome or tuber): rhizomes
    • Roots division frequency: Not required but possible to take cuttings for layering each year
    • In which season should dividing occur? Spring
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Growing Lilacs & How to Prune Lilacs

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Standard flower watering guidelines apply.

During lilac pruning, look out for dead or diseased branches and remove these with a good pair of sharp pruners. Don’t over-prune your plant, but reduce branches by up to a third each year to encourage vigorous new growth.

To make sure that you get great blooms year after year, deadhead all the lilac’s flowers and prune the flowering stems back to a single set of leaves.

Using organic farmyard manure or bone meal as fertilizer will help your growing lilac plant.

Snapshot: Lilac Care

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Growing Lilacs & Pruning Lilacs: Harvesting/Cutting Time

Choose and cut lilac stems early in the morning. Keep as long a stem as possible in your first cut, reducing the stems’ lengths when you make your final display. Avoid putting lilac displays in direct sunlight and change the water in the vase every three or four days.

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Growing Lilacs & Pruning Lilacs: Pests & Diseases

Once established, lilacs suffer very little from pests and diseases. Pruning your plant will help keep its branches and foliage healthy.

The following pests and diseases have been known to affect the success of growing Lilacs (see Organic Garden Pest Control for information about how to prevent and address pests and diseases)...

Pests

  • Armored scales
  • Citrus nematodes
  • Clearwing moth borers
  • Foliage miners
  • Fuller rose beetle
  • Mealybugs
  • Soft scales

Diseases

  • Bacterial leaf blight
  • Botrytis blight
  • Leaf spot diseases
  • Oak root fungus
  • Powdery mildew
  • Verticillium wilt
  • Wood decay
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YOUR Experience & Advice About Growing Lilacs & Pruning Lilacs

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