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How to Grow Lilacs, its easier than you think!

How to Grow Lilacs, it is easier than you think. Lilacs are an easy shrub that rewards you with sweet scented blooms every Spring. 

Let’s find out how to grow lilacs or lilac bushes, as some prefer to call them. It really is easy.

Every Spring our neighborhood is perfumed by the numerous lilac shrubs. They were planted by the lumber mill workers and their wives back in the 1940’s.

This neighborhood is the land that the mill owners provided for the mill workers to build their homes on.  It is one of the oldest neighborhoods on this mountain and it has the vintage plants to prove it. 

Today I am sharing about lilac bushes and what you need to know so you can grow Lilacs successfully too.

In other posts I have shared how to Propagate Lilacs from Suckers and  Rooting Lilacs from cuttings. Which might come in handy if you want to start your own that way. 

Also I have an entire post dedicated to Why Your Lilacs Won’t Bloom!

Lilacs, how to grow lilacs, easy tips and tricks you can use for beautiful blooms

Why Grow Lilacs

Spring just would not be Spring in our neck of the woods without the sweet scent of Lilacs wafting around the neighborhood. Scent is an added element to our gardens that bring us such sweet delight.  Lilacs thrive on neglect and provide such a great way to welcome the coming of Summer.

Lilac Bush, How to Grow Lilacs

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Most of the Lilacs in the photos I share were planted back in the 40’s when this neighborhood was established and they have thrived.  The variety of colors is wonderful along with their being both single and double (also named French Lilacs) type.

Examples of Single & double Lilac bushes

This photo below is an example of a Single Lilac flower (you can see the individual flowers clearly).

Lavender lilac close up, How to Grow Lilacs

Next is an example of a Double or French (it is harder to tell the individual blossoms apart, they are so jammed together). It reminds me of the fur of a French Poodle.

French lilac, double lilac, how to grow lilacs

Neglect is Good when growing Lilacs

All of the Lilacs in my photos are planted in areas that get little or no watering in summer .  They live off of what they get through the winter and Spring.  We rarely get summer rains. Many of the lilacs are quite neglected as they are on properties that are not lived in.

I live in Zone 8, on the colder end.  In winter we can get down into the teens with plenty of rain and snow but on average winter lows are in the low 30’s.  In the summer time our temps range in the upper 80’s with a few 90’s tossed in here and there. 

Keep in mind those are the averages, we do get weird years where we have some hotter days for longer periods of time.

White lilac, heirloom lilac, How to grow lilacs

How to extend Lilac Bloom time

The Lilacs in my neighborhood bloom within a week of each other and though the blooms on each bush only last a few weeks the succession lasts for about 5 weeks.  So if you wish to get a longer bloom time be sure to plant varieties that bloom at early, mid and late season.

lavender and purple lilacs growing together, How to grow Lilacs,

Types of Lilacs and Varieties

For healthy lilacs plant a variety suited to your Zone…these heirlooms (Syringa Vulgaris) grow best in Zones 3 – 8 (I have seen some old lilacs flourishing lower down the mountain so this is a bench mark and not a hard and fast rule)

If you live in a warmer zone that does not get the winter chill needed for the heirloom lilacs to bloom there are some newer Hybrids just for warmer zones.. here is a link to some.
Lavender lady
Blue Skies
Excel Lilac
Angel White

I have read these are good in Zone 9 but I have not tested them, I do believe they grow these in Descanso Gardens in Southern California but I have yet to verify by visiting.

Dwarf Lilacs for a Small Garden

There are hybrids bred for compactness for the smaller garden called Dwarf Lilacs. Some claim they are superior to the heirlooms as they don’t take as long to bloom and maintain a more tidy appearance in the garden, they even have cute names like Miss Kim, Tiny Dancer and Tinkerbell Lilac.

  I have yet to try either so I cannot say whether they really are superior or not. I have a small garden and I just keep my lilacs in a half whiskey barrel to contain them.  

Patience

If you start your lilac from cuttings be aware that you won’t get blooms for about 3 years and they can take up to 5 years.  So buying a potted Lilac may be the ticket for you if you are impatient.

Dwarf lilacs bloom by nature.

Where to plant lilacs

1. Choose a sunny spot (6 hours of sun) if you are in a very hot summer area they may like some afternoon shade

2. Well drained soil (lilacs do not like wet feet)

3. Neutral PH to slightly alkaline soil

4. Spread out the roots when planting your container grown lilac in the ground so dig your hole a lot larger than the diameter of the container it is in, some say to plant it deeper than it was in the container by 2 inches and some say level to the ground around it.  You decide on that one.

Lilac Bush Care

1. Do not over fertilize.   Spread some compost around the base in late Winter/early Spring and you can add some after they have bloomed or later in summer. If you over feed them you will get lots of green growth but no sweet smelling flowers!  (we have snow on the ground in late winter/early spring so nothing is added to them at that time in our neighborhood)

2. The first year keep it watered through the summer, no more than an inch a week, to get your Lilac established then after that be light handed on the water.

3. After your lilac has finished blooming trim or prune to shape it.  Don’t wait, if you prune off the new growth that comes soon after the bloom you will sacrifice next years flowers.   It is not necessary but to me a good idea to prune back to eye level.  What is the point of blooms way over your head and these heirloom lilacs can easily get to 20 feet tall.

Pruning Lilacs

For a more detailed lesson on pruning lilacs you can find out here.

When pruning cut out any dead or weak canes, cut out 2/3rds of the suckers coming up at the base, leave 1/3 for future blooming stems.   You can actually dig them up and pot them to make more lilacs if you wish, they actually mature faster than taking cuttings and rooting them.  Some say to have only about 10 canes per bush for best health but not sure how correct that is.

Purple lilac flower, How to plant, grow lilacs

What if your Lilac refuses to bloom?

I have an entire post on 10 reasons why your lilac may not be blooming, go here to read about that.

This may sound strange and has no scientific backing but it has worked for so many on different flowering shrubs and fruit trees.  

Visiting a local nursery I spotted one of the workers whacking the potted lilacs with a rubber hose.  I had to ask what in the wide world he was doing and he explained he was promoting blooms.

As he was telling me this, I thought he was pulling my leg. But then he explained that by beating the plant (not enough to break through the bark) it makes it think it is dying, goes into survival mode and in turn flowers.

On larger trees and shrubs you can use a wood stick or 2 x 4 lumber. So remember don’t hit hard enough to do damage to the trunk but enough to wake it up.  As he was explaining it to me I remembered my uncle had told me to do that to some tomato vines I have that were not producing though they had all the right conditions.  

Obviously a tomato plant has a much more tender base. On the tomato I used a bamboo cane to give it a good beating and it worked. From then on it bloomed, set fruit and was productive.

If your Lilac is not blooming try and give it a good beating about the base and see what happens!  You might be pleasantly surprised.

purple lilac against blue sky, How to grow lilacs

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Here is to a sweet smelling garden!

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Would you like to be more nature friendly in our garden promoting natural wildlife and the food chain so important to our pollinators?  You need to read this book…My favorite garden book of the moment: Natures Best Hope

Happy Planting!


Other Garden Posts You May Enjoy

How to Grow Hollyhocks
How to Grow Morning Glories
Grow Delphiniums from Seed
How to Divide Iris

More Lilac articles
All About Lilacs

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Tamie

Sunday 26th of April 2020

Hi, I am starting Lilacs (common, per label) from seed. They all came up and are very healthy looking. My issue is that they have gotten between 1/2 and 1" h. but seem to be remaining those sizes for quite some time (month- give or take). I have transplanted some and have left others in a grow tent under 18 hrs. of light. Those in the tent seem to grow a bit faster than the transplanted plants. Do they ever 'take off' with a huge growth spurt? I know I am in for the long haul but I move a lot and don't want to buy a plant, only to leave it for someone else to enjoy. Do you have any suggestions? I am in Zone 9 with very hot, arid summers. Thanks so much!

Pamela

Sunday 26th of April 2020

I have never grown them from seed so your guess is as good as mine. I have noted in general seed growing that you need to start feeding them a diluted balanced fertilizer not long after they have germinated. So I don't know if you have tried that yet or not.

Tom Doyen

Wednesday 5th of June 2019

If you dig them up from former plants and pot them how long should you wait to plant them and how far apart should they be when you put them in the ground.

Wiera

Wednesday 5th of September 2018

I live in zone 10a. My lilac never bloomed. I tried different things- but not waking, I'll do that next season- or when it's the best time- spring? is there any chance it will bloom or my zone will never support it? or maybe there is a special kind for me? I love lilac, grew up with it.

Pamela

Thursday 6th of September 2018

Here is a great article from Sunset on warmer climate Lilacs. Maybe something here would help. https://www.sunset.com/garden/flowers-plants/mild-climate-lilacs

Marcy Taylor

Friday 13th of July 2018

I bought 2 potted lilacs 3 years ago. I still do not have any blooms. I have tried the the lightly tapping the base of the plant so as not to damage it. But still nothing. I grew up with lilacs completely filling our backyard as a kid. Its my favorite flower. I am 64 now and have a large yard I would love to have a large lilac bush again. Any other ideas. My nephew waters it every couple of days should we cut back and let it go and just water it weekly. Its been really dry here lately.

Pamela

Friday 13th of July 2018

Here the Lilacs thrive on neglect but these are the heirloom varieties that have been in the neighborhood for decades. You will not get blooms if you prune them this late in the season so I would not do that. Let the potted plants dry out between watering, not to where it wilts but do let it dry some. How often depends on the weather and temperatures. I could not tell from your comment if you have planted them in the ground yet, when you do put them where they will be in full sun and not get too much water. No one around here fertilizes the lilacs. Mine did not bloom this year because of a late heavy frost so the annual climate also can have an effect. So many factors can play a part that it is hard to pinpoint one defining reason. sorry I could not be more help.

Shar

Saturday 31st of March 2018

Such good advice and memories of dad rolling up a newspaper and beating the trees and bushes in early Spring. Thank you for a walk in your beautiful garden filled with good advice also

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