You can Propagate Lilacs from Suckers

Lilac suckers, also known as lilac shoots, are a much faster way to start new lilacs than cuttings. Spring is a great time to do this as the soil is moist, easy to dig and the suckers are rapidly growing.

Today you are going to learn how you can propagate lilacs from suckers. You’re going to love this one because it is so easy and you get a lovely new lilac in short order!

All it takes is a sharp shovel, a bucket of water, and a lilac. Read on and I show you how easy it is.

vintage lilac bush in white pines california

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Why Propagate Lilacs from Suckers or Shoots

This method to propagate lilacs from suckers is easy and you get a new plant that blooms much faster than you would get from cuttings.

My How to Grow and How to Root Lilacs from Cuttings are two of my most popular posts in the Spring. It seems Lilacs are a favorite of many people.

Propagating lilacs from suckers is a great way to create new plants that are genetically identical to the parent plant.

Be sure to watch the video at the end. I was able to convince my neighbor to let me dig up a sucker of the Lilac you see in the top photo!

NOTE: this will not work if the lilac you are taking the suckers from is a grafted variety. Look at the trunk of the lilac between 6 inches and a foot from the ground. Is there a knobby area with a change in the appearance of the bark? If so then the Lilac has been grafted and what you see on top is not what the suckers will grow to look like.

Related: Garden Zones and what you need to know about them!

What are Lilac Suckers

Suckers are shoots that grow from around the Lilac base.  Some feel they can be a menace but most folks just cut them off with a mower or weed wacker to keep them in check. 

How to Propagate Lilacs from Suckers, easy enough if you have a sharp shovel and a bit of muscle.

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This is a white Lilac in a friend’s yard.  She said I could come to dig up all the suckers or shoots I wanted.  

Now it does take a good sharp shovel and a bit of muscle but it is not too hard.

Find some suckers that are far enough away from the parent bush to get in there with a shovel and have some leverage.

This soil was super compacted so I didn’t get as much root as I would prefer yet it still worked.

If the soil is loose around the mother plant you can simply pull out the soil from the base of the sucker or shoot and travel back from its base to the base of the mother plant.

Dig it out enough that you can see roots on the sucker. Use a pair of pruners to cut through the sucker as close to the mother plant as you can. This ensures you will get as many roots as possible.

More roots mean a faster-establishing plant.

How to Dig Lilac Suckers

How to Propagate Lilacs from Suckers, easy enough if you have a sharp shovel and a bit of muscle.

So back to the hard soil that you can’t easily dig with your hand tools…

Place your shovel between the mother plant and the sucker. Get as close to the mother plant as possible to get plenty of sucker length that is underground.

With a good push with your foot shove the shovel straight down and cut through the sucker root.  

You will have to put your weight into it, slicing through can be tough. (having a sharp shovel is helpful)

Slice down all around the sucker and pop it up out of the ground, hoping you have a good portion of the root.

My latest acquisition cuts right through the roots like a hot knife through butter, it is called the Root Slayer! I love this shovel.

Dig up as many lilac suckers as you can.  You may lose a few but so far I have had 100% success rate with this method.  If you dig up plenty you can be assured to have one survive and if all survive you can always give away what you don’t want to keep. 

How to Propagate Lilacs from Suckers, easy enough if you have a sharp shovel and a bit of muscle.

Soak them

How to Propagate Lilacs from Suckers, easy enough if you have a sharp shovel and a bit of muscle.

Keep a bucket of water nearby and put them right in it.  Keeping them moist helps to lessen the shock and will keep it hydrated until you can pot them up.

I had something come up and could not get to them right away but they seemed to do fine in the water for a few days. They were kept in the greenhouse but a shady spot in the yard will work just fine too.

Potting the Lilac Suckers

With some I had to cut the large roots back so it was easier to fit them in the pots, the smaller roots will be fine to get started.

How to Propagate Lilacs from Suckers, easy enough if you have a sharp shovel and a bit of muscle.

Fill some 1-gallon pots or taller 4-inch pots with potting soil halfway then place the lilac sucker or shoot into it before filling the pot the rest of the way with soil.

How to Propagate Lilacs from Suckers, easy enough if you have a sharp shovel and a bit of muscle.

I had to use the larger diameter pot for this mass of roots.

How to Propagate Lilacs from Suckers, easy enough if you have a sharp shovel and a bit of muscle.

Propagating Lilacs in pots

Some of the Lilac bushes I had rooted from cuttings were still in their containers and had suckers coming up in the pots.  

So I decided to divide those as well. It was quite simple as the roots were not that big yet.

For potted lilacs, you just pop the Lilac out of the pot.  These in the photo really do need to be potted up, planted in the garden, or divided and I opted for dividing.

How to Propagate Lilacs from Suckers, easy enough if you have a sharp shovel and a bit of muscle.

Grab a garden knife or you can do this with a sharp shovel and slice through the entire root mass between the center-rooted cutting and the side shoots, which are the suckers.

How to Propagate Lilacs from Suckers, easy enough if you have a sharp shovel and a bit of muscle.

Now repot them up in separate pots with fresh potting soil.

How to Propagate Lilacs from Suckers, easy enough if you have a sharp shovel and a bit of muscle.

You can see the mother plant and two daughter plants all in their very own pots.

I did this a few weeks ago and they are growing strong and healthy.  Not even a bit of droop from shock. I ended up getting so many I had plenty of lilacs to share with friends and family.

Transplanting Lilac Shoots

You do not have to put your freshly dug suckers or shoots into pots.  You can plant them directly into the ground. 

To plant your freshly dug lilac sucker in the ground, dig a hole deep enough, and loosen up the soil some by digging around with your shovel.

Place your lilac sucker or shoot into the hole and fill back with the loose soil.  Gently firm it in with your foot.  Water it in well.

Keep your fresh planted lilac watered until it is established. This is best done in Spring before the temperatures get too hot so the roots can start to get growing and be able to bring up water. Keep a close watch on it for a few months. 

And that is how you propagate lilacs from suckers. Lilac propagation is how you get a lilac just like Grandma’s. 

I wish you a sweet-smelling garden!

Watch me dig up some lilac suckers with a chipped shovel

propagate lilacs from suckers video

Just one more note, I credit my chickens and their leavings (doo) with a lot of my success in gardening, a great soil builder. But you don’t have to have chickens to build your soil.

easy organic soil

Build Healthy Soil

Building healthy soil is not only a budget-friendly way of gardening but it is better for the environment than bagged fertilizers. See how easy it is!

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Hi, I’m Pamela

I am a 40-year gardening veteran that loves to share the simple tips, tricks, and inspiration I have learned from personal experience.
I want to make your gardening life more enjoyable!
There is a lot of gardening misinformation out there and I prefer factual over what is trending or passed off on the internet as garden truth to help you make the wisest choices for your garden.
Pamela Groppe
a Garden Friend!

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    1. You are welcome. I am eyeing a neighbors bush that has the most beautiful deep purple flowers on it. I need to work up the courage to ask if I can dig up some of the suckers coming from around it soon before the ground gets drier and harder to dig.

      1. Pamela

        Thanks for this article….I have always loved lilacs, tried several times unsuccessfully to root cuttings off the plants, but managed a few from suckers. Now I am cruising the neighborhood looking for all the people with lilacs in bloom πŸ™‚
        You are awesome

        1. Thanks, Don. I am just addicted to propagation. I have no idea why so I keep trying different things. Then I pass on the hard earned knowledge I reap. πŸ™‚ I am a notorious “neighborhood cruiser” myself. Living in an older established neighborhood has its perks. Lots of vintage plants that have been around and thriving for decades.

          1. Mine won’t bloom, I transplanted 3 different lilacs before I moved, I loved them so much but they won’t flower, I need help!

          2. Thank You so very much for the video. I have around 10-12 suckers coming off of my double bloomer lilac tree.
            Thank You, Carol. C

        2. Debbie Traver says:

          @Pamela, I love this idea but have one question. Years (many of them) ago I managed to root a piece of a lilac bush my father had. It grew but did not bloom for many years. Any ideas or suggestions on that? Thanks.

          1. It does take years for them to establish and begin to bloom. At least 3 to 5 years. They are worth the wait though.

  1. Elizabeth says:

    You are a very smart lady!
    I couldn’t help but notice in your ” propagating lilacs from suckers”
    That in one picture you had a Starbucks cup with a dome lid using as a ” temporary hothouse or green house
    Gotta love it thank you for all you share !!!

  2. Pamela since you wrote about Lilacs I thought you might be able to answer this question for me. For Mother’s Day 2015 I received a beautiful Lilac Tree. I planted it in the front yard and it is doing very well but . . . . I don’t have any blooms on it this year. Does it take awhile to get blooms or am I doing something wrong?

    1. No you are not doing anything wrong. It can take up to 3 years to get blooms on a new lilac. If after that time you still do not get blooms, try beating it with a rubber hose around the trunk, it will shock it and then it will bloom. No, I am not joking. πŸ™‚

      1. Thank you for your help. I will remember the hint about the rubber hose on the trunk. Does that also work on children? Thanks again.

        1. It probably does work, my great granny used to make us cut a switch from the willow tree. She could make your legs sting. πŸ™‚ It did no damage, but we got the message clear enough. She was only 4 feet tall but we were in awe of her, even my boy cousins when they got 6 feet tall minded Granny. πŸ™‚

      2. I guess it’s too late to beat the trunk this year, it’s April 19th and there should already be a little bud forming, so when should you do this? My seedling has been in a pot for 2 years now so I’ll beat it… When? I would love for it to bloom. I have red, blue (French) and one that’s lavender with red outline.

        1. Just give it a whirl, it won’t hurt it. If you have had a late freeze it can affect them too. Last year most of the buds were zapped by a freeze here so no amount of beating would help.

  3. I pinned all three post about lilacs (for future reference). One of my favorite childhood memories is visiting a friend of my mother’s and sitting under her enormous lilac bush and reading.

      1. Hi Pamela, I just propagated a lilac sucker from the main lilac bush the way you showed in your video…..the problem I’m having now is the leaves are wilting on it. What did I do wrong?
        Thank you,

        1. Nothing, it is in shock and will recover if you keep it moist and if it has turned hot in your area give it some shade to let it recover. Give the leaves a mist of water twice a day to help.

    1. I am sorry you are having a hard time with it, I am not sure what is wrong. I just went to the page and tested it and the Pin it button showed up on the upper left corner, on my laptop, and on my desk top it was more to the right but it was there. I clicked through as well to be sure it worked and it did. I hope is was a momentary glitch and now has been fixed. Please try again and let me know if there is still a problem, so I can make sure and get it resolved.

  4. Sydney Jean Andrews says:

    I have enjoyed reading your blog and the wonderful pictures that you display. I would like to know how you put together the potting area, tables etc. I have an old school table, the legs are adjustable pipe-like fixtures and the top has cubbies under it and it is made from thick plywood with formica on the top. The top is needing replaced because of our rainy weather, and the water that seeps through the edges. I have some trays Like I see in some of your pictures, but wonder what other materials you use for your work tables. Can you do a blog on your potting shed and its fixtures, please. If you have already done this, how might I find it.
    Thank you, love your site.

    1. Great minds think alike. I was just thinking I should do a post on my shabby little greenhouse that has been through a lot of abuse and yet is still such a grand place to play.

  5. Fantastic tips Pam. The only way I get new lilacs is from digging my friends suckers. I have a mound of soil behind the barn that I stick them while they take root, and then move them from there. I’m hoping the one I transplanted a years ago is white, it’s the only color I don’t’ have.

    1. I call those little spots like yours behind the barn as my “nursery beds”, it is where baby plant starts get tucked until they are growing healthy and strong ready to be moved. I am revamping mine. Have you tried the Boomerang variety that are supposed to keep on blooming? I am curious if they really do perform well.

      1. Pam no I have not but now you have me curious and I want one. I will look at the nursery when I go this week. Thanks for info πŸ™‚

        1. If you get one Dawn, please let me know how it does. If it really reblooms enough to make it worth the investment. πŸ™‚

  6. I just discovered your blog. Thank you for your advice. What a blessing! Can I propagate them now? Beginning of June? Smiles

    1. If they are done blooming then it is the perfect time. πŸ™‚

  7. I did this once. The plant grew nice in the pot. Gifted it to a friend who planted it in her yard. Grew very well in her yard but never blossomed. Any idea why?

    1. There are so many variables that it is hard to say but check out my post on How to Grow Lilacs for some suggestions. The ones that bloom the best in our neighborhood seem to thrive on neglect.

  8. Hi Pamela,
    Thank you for sharing this info! I have a couple questions. How big should the sucker grow before planting it in the ground? Would it be best to wait until fall? Summers here can be in the 90s for a month straight.

    1. I would wait for Fall when the weather is cooler so the lilac can get growing and established before winter hits but not be baked by the sun. It is too easy for the plant to dry out in very hot weather.

  9. Darn. I wish I’d read this a couple weeks ago. I dug two shoots from my Donald Wyman and put directly in the ground. Was this a big mistake? It’s May 27.

    1. It may work just fine, be sure and protect them from direct sun if the weather is particularly warm and keep well watered until you know they have rooted well.

  10. Trina Coffey says:

    It is Sept. 1 is it too late to dig up a sucker,pot it and then plant it before winter? Or would it be better to do it in the spring? If spring when is a good time? How long do you leave them in the pots? Thank you

    1. Go ahead and dig them up. If it is cool enough you could put it directly into the ground, keep it moist and protect from hot sun. I keep mine in pots until I know exactly where I want to plant them or gift them to someone. I have one that has been in its pot for 3 years.

      1. Trina Coffey says:

        Thank you for your info. Very helpful. Do you know anything about chokecherry trees?

        1. So sorry Trina, I do no know a thing about choke cherry trees.

          1. Linda Thomas says:

            I don’t know very much about chokecherries except they will sucker and the suckers can be potted or can be directly planted. Keep watered and you should have a nice tree. They do grow into a large fruit tree.

            I love chokecherries other than the last time I picked the wild berries I discovered had asthma problems and my skin itched for two days. I absolutely love chokecherry jam/jelly.

      2. Lois Hatfield says:

        I have a lilac sucker that has been growing in a clay pot since last Spring. I had knee surgery in late summer and it did not get it planted into the ground and it is now the end of October. Can it stay outside in the pot or does it need some protection to get through the winter? in an unheated garage maybe?

  11. Loved this article as I want to build privacy from buses using lilacs! If I snip tops off once fully established will it bush out? I have one about fot tall and wide and I will be checking for suckers. I’d like it to get to about five footh high and if possible very full from the stem if possible

    1. Yes, if you trim it as you say it should bush out from branching but search online for the variety you have to double check. I wish you success, a privacy hedge of lilacs sounds lovely.

  12. Debora J King says:

    And then what… when do I transplant into the ground? There’s a lilac bush on a vacant lot in my area that needs some attention it is in a “too shady” spot and I’ve always wanted to dig up some of it! I suppose I could just dig up some of the bush, but the sucker route seems somewhat easier.

  13. Shelley Western says:

    I owned an open lot that had 3 lovely, but very large lilac bushes on it. At one time a carriage house had sat on the property with the lilac bushes being the only remaining reminder. We were building a garage on that site so the bushes had to go. They were far to big to dig up by hand and my deadline to move them was VERY short. I ended up taking the extreme step of wrapping a tow chain around each one then pulling the bush out with our ATV. The ground was soft and they actually came out quite easily. Attached roots came with each bush so I decided to transplant them around my home, not really expecting them to survive. But believe it or not, all 3 bushes survived and are as big as ever! They bloomed beautifully the very next year and have ever since! I don’t recommend this method (I was desperate) but it does support the idea that lilacs are very hardy and worth trying to propagate and transplant.

  14. How soon should you plant the newly propagated lilacs? It is late May and they are toward the end of their bloom time. We live in the Pacific NW less than a 100 miles from the Canadian border, so our summers are short.

    1. You can plant the newly dug up suckers immediately just keep them well hydrated.

  15. Theresa Woodford says:

    Good morning! I just came along your blog. I’m wondering if you have ever tried the Bloomerang bushes, and if you’ve tried splitting/propagating them? I have three large established bushes that are wonderful. They bloom 3-4 times every year, and are really thriving. I would love to be able to split them up and gift to some friends, but I can’t find any info on how/when/if it works. Thank you!

    1. Hi Theresa, I have one but it has not thrived for me and what blooms I do get just don’t have that wonderful scent of the heirlooms. Also it is still under a patent and I won’t intentionally infringe on patent rights, so I have not tried to propagate it.

  16. Thank you for this great article! Do you think it is too late in the season to try it this in the ground? We live in central WI.

  17. Hello, great article!
    I’m new to gardening and have a friend with a well established lilac bush and many suckers she’s giving me. I have rooting powder which I know is used for propagating cuttings but can I also use it to help to ensure success for lilac suckers prior to planting?

    1. I am not sure if it will help insure success, I have never tried it. My guess is really since the suckers should already have roots that you would be better off adding a big of this mycorrhizal inoculant

  18. I live in northwest Montana, I think we r zone 3 or 4.. it is almost March 1 and had very mild winter, I just took over this property and have lilac shoots every where… When can I move them to where I would like them… Do I need to wait till last frost, or would they be ok to start?

    1. Very good question. If your ground is not frozen go ahead and move some. I don’t wait for after my last frost date but I don’t get the cold like you do. If you want to be on the safe side, move half now and then half just before your usual last front date. We are more than a month ahead of schedule this year as we have had such warm weather. (2020)

  19. Tabba Crae says:

    Hello Pamela!
    So happy to find your site!
    A nearby home is going to be demolished to build yet another building! πŸ™
    There are lovely plants and trees in the garden that are going to be saved, so I would like to take the opportunity to salvage what I can and propagate for growing in pots on my balcony/terrace. There’s a light lavender lilac and a variety I’ve never seen with the tiniest light pink flowers, seems almost vine-like.
    And there are quite a few rose bushes.

    My questions are mostly about the lilacs and how long I can grow them in pots. If yes, will they flower? Can I put more than one “suckling” to a pot.

    Many thanks for your advice! Like you, I can’t help myself from asking from pieces and bits of plants that I find attractive wherever I may be: a restaurant, hotel lobby, etc…

    Take care and be safe!!!

    1. Lilacs can be kept in containers but they will not get that big and yes they will bloom. You can put more than one sucker in a pot but one alone in a container will sucker itself so I am not sure why you would want to put more than one in a pot. The light pink one sounds interesting and I wish you well in salvaging what you can.

  20. Thank you so much for that post! The way you explain things makes it easy to read and remember. I will definitely try transplanting lilac shoots this week!

  21. Hello Pamela! My neighbor actually cut the lilacs w/branches and leaves on…no roots though πŸ™ Is there a way i can propagate them? Thanks in advanced.

  22. Kelly Hylton says:

    This was a great article, thank you so much. I have a lilac shoot I’ve been babying in a pot for a couple of months. (I think it was in shock at first but is better now.) It’s October and I’m afraid to plant it because I live in Rochester, NY and the winters can be brutal. Where should I keep it over the winter? In the garage? The house? How much light does it need in the winter? Thank you so much for any advise you can offer!

    1. The garage may be your best bet. Just be sure it does not dry out completely but you don’t want it wet either. If you have any windows in your garage have it as close to it as possible. As soon as temps start to warm up you will need to put it outside in a sheltered location as it wakes up for Spring. I wish you success with your baby lilac.

  23. Oh wow, I noticed I have a lot of lilac suckers(not grafted) out front I can propogate. Knowing now that its easy to do I am excited! Excellent article and thank you for the tips! πŸ™‚

  24. DA Denmon says:

    Thank you so much for this information, I’ll begin propagating the 1940s lilac bush immediately, it’s 50 years long overdue! You have been very helpful. Thank you again!

    Garden Hugs,
    Dean D., Scranton, PA/ NYC

  25. We just visited family in New Hampshire and brought back a sucker to NW Arkansas. We sure would like to see this one survive and grow others. Thanks so much for the help.

  26. It seems like my lilac is grafted. I removed some suckers and potted them. You mentioned it will not work with a grafted lilac. Do you just mean that the lilac will be different? Or should I not propagate from the suckers of this lilac?

  27. Do you have to remove the lilac suckers? If not what will they do to the mother plant?

    1. The suckers are how the plant rejuvenates itself. Many remove them as they start to get wider and wider. Here is an article on pruning that may help explain it. Pruning Lilacs

  28. Excellent advice. I followed your instructions and propagated half a dozen suckers by planting them directly into the ground, with 100% success. I also shared this article onto my Facebook page. Keep up the good work!

  29. I have 15 suckers that came out last year someone gifted me.

    Was hoping to make a hedge out of it, and was wondering how far apart I should plant them? (:

    1. that is a great question and I supposed it depends upon the type of Lilac and its final size. Many recommend, in general, to plant the 4 feet apart as most Lilacs grow quite tall and wide. But you can easily experiment by planting them closer and getting a thicker hedge sooner.

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