Sweet-smelling lilacs are one of the prettiest, most ethereal plants you can plant in your garden. Chances are if you’re reading this post, you already know that. What you may not know, however, is that they’re one of the easiest shrubs to care for. Once you learn how to properly grow lilac bushes, you’ll look forward to their incomparable beauty for years and even decades to come.
Whether they’re white, pink, blue, purple, or that heavenly shade of lavender, lilacs have become synonymous with Springtime for many people across the globe.
They’re known for their lovely fragrance and generous clusters of tiny flower petals, and they can add visual appeal to even the plainest of yards. You can grow them as hedges for added privacy, as single shrubs mixed into your garden design, or in pretty containers.
Plant this shrub in your yard, and you’ll reap its beauty every Spring year after year, just as long as you provide it with the right environment. Lilac bushes are actually known to live up to 100 years in the same spot! With a few tips, growing your own lilacs is absolutely within your reach; you don’t need to be an expert gardener to grow them.
All they ask of you is full sun, fertile soil, water, and a little TLC in the way of pruning every year. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of lilac bush care so you can grow this beauty in your own yard!
Lilac Bush Varieties
First thing’s first, make sure to choose a lilac variety that grows well in your zone. Since lilacs require several months of very cold Winter temperatures each year to produce blooms, not every variety can be grown successfully in warmer zones like Zones 8 and 9; it’s why this shrub does so well in colder regions.
The most popular hybrid is the Common Lilac, also known as the Syringa Vulgaris. It’s available in countless varieties that all look slightly different from each other, whether it’s smaller flower petals, fuller clusters, or different shades of purple and pink.
Luckily for those of us who live down South, “low chill” varieties of the Common Lilac have been developed to thrive in warmer zones! Lavender Lady, for example, is a low-chill variety that can be grown in plant hardiness zones that don’t have an especially cold Winter.
Keep in mind that there are many different lilac varieties to choose from, so purchasing the right variety for your zone will make all the difference. So how can you find out whether the lilac variety you want grows well in your zone? You can simply ask your local nursery for recommendations, do a good-old Google search, or head over to the Nature Hills Nursery website – they list the appropriate plant hardiness zones for every lilac variety they sell.
TIP: Lilacs bloom in the Springtime, usually in the month of May, for around two weeks. (Low chill varieties can have an even earlier bloom time). If you want to see lilacs blooming in your garden for more than two weeks, try planting different varieties that have different bloom times (Early Spring, Late Spring, Early Summer). This way, you can enjoy lilacs for up to 6 weeks!
Learning how to plant lilac bushes is the second most important step in growing them successfully. The appropriate time to plant your lilac container or bare root is in early Spring or in the Fall before your zone’s first frost date.
When choosing an area to plant your shrub, keep in mind that some lilac varieties grow several feet wide, so give your plant’s root system enough room to spread. Try to plant your lilac in a space that is about six feet wide and a few feet away from a wall or fence.
Lilac bushes famously need at least six hours of full sun each day to produce blooms, which is why choosing your planting spot wisely is so important; planting lilacs in the part or full shade can be disastrous. You’ll also need a spot that is well-drained and does not collect a pool of water during rainfall.
Thankfully, this shrub transfers well, which means you can purchase a lilac container from your local nursery to plant in your yard, and it’ll adapt to its new home. If you purchase your lilac bush in a container that has already been growing for a few years, you can expect your lilacs to bloom in the Spring after you transplant it. (Double check with your garden nursery about whether you can expect it to bloom this year).
See the forming buds in the photo below? This picture was taken at my local garden center – they’ll be ready to bloom later in the Spring!
If you’re growing lilacs from bare roots, however, your lilac bush will need a few years to mature before it starts producing flower clusters and takes the shape of a large shrub. If you don’t feel like waiting that long (who can blame you!?!, then opt for lilac containers like the ones shown above).
Once you choose a planting spot that gets full sun in the morning and afternoon, dig a hole that is deep enough to accommodate the pot of lilac, plus 2-3 inches deeper, and several inches wider.
Next, remove the plant from the pot and place it in the hole you’ve dug. Work some soil into the hole so that all of the roots are covered and the hole is entirely filled in. Then, water the area to moisten the soil.
Tip: Do not ever over-water the area because lilac bushes hate sitting in soggy soil. If you’re planting more than 1 lilac bush, plant each potted lilac or bare root at least 6 feet apart from each other so that they all have room to spread their roots and grow their stems and foliage without becoming intermingled.
Ideal Soil pH For Lilacs
Lilacs have a reputation for adjusting to different soils. They do, however, do best in alkaline aka “sweet” soil over soil that’s overly acidic.
The ideal soil pH for planting lilac bushes is anywhere between 6.5 to 7. If you don’t know your soil’s pH, test your soil with a soil pH meter , which you can find on Amazon or at your local garden center. If your soil tests too acidic, simply add enough garden lime to the soil to improve the alkaline levels.
Remember, after your lilac bush has been planted, water it regularly to keep the root system moist but never to the point of flooding – well-drained soil is key, or the roots may rot.
How to Fertilize Lilacs
As Spring approaches, you can provide your lilac bush with extra nutrients by using organic fertilizer that is high in phosphorous and low in nitrogen. However, some gardeners choose to skip this step altogether and are still able to grow lilacs successfully in their zone without fertilizing.
Using the right fertilizer can indeed help strengthen this year’s wood, which ultimately determines the quality of next Spring’s blooms. Be careful not to use a fertilizer that contains too much nitrogen, because nitrogen is notorious for obstructing bloom production!
If you’re concerned about weeds overtaking the area, place mulch, burlap, or stone over the topsoil to prevent further growth of weeds, grass, or other seeds that have been blown into the area.
We can’t talk about lilac bush care without talking about pruning. If left untamed, some lilac bushes can grow past 20 feet tall and several feet wide, making them unmanageable for even the most seasoned gardener. This is why pruning lilac bushes every year after the fourth year of planting is an important step in your lilac care routine.
Why is it necessary to prune every year? The simple answer is that pruning lilacs properly will help your shrub produce large clusters of blooms each Spring for years and even decades to come. If you skip pruning, you risk less-desirable blooms in the future. (Yikes!)
But how exactly can you tell when it’s time to prune your lilacs? Firstly, only lilac bushes that reach about 6 feet tall should be pruned. Shrubs shorter (and younger than a few years old) rarely need pruning.
When your blooms are spent, you’ll know it’s time to prune. For most zones, this usually occurs in late May to mid-June. You know when they’re spent because the flower petals will begin to brown.
Every year after bloom, grab your pruning shearsand remove the spent blooms and their individual stems aka “dead wood” so that you’re only left with strong, healthy wood. Be careful not to over-prune, however, because you don’t want to get rid of new wood and shoots, because this is where new buds are produced for next Spring’s blooms.
If you’re taming a lilac bush that has grown too large, you’ll likely need a garden lopper, for cutting thicker shoots of old wood. For a deeper understanding of how to prune lilacs, head to my Pruning Lilacs post.
You now know the most important aspects of how to grow lilac bushes in your own garden! Always remember these three things: full sun, moist soil, and pruning at the end of each Spring will keep this shrub healthy and happy.
If you’re interested in learning more about lilac bush care, check out the posts below!
If you’re looking for more flowers for your yard that are also low-maintenance, check out this list, you’re bound to fall in love with a few varieties that pair beautifully with your lilacs! If you have more space in your yard that gets at least 6 hours of sun each day, then this list of full sun perennials will give you plenty to work with. Before you know it, your garden will be the envy of your entire neighborhood!