Sweet-smelling lilacs are one of the prettiest, most ethereal plants in existence. Chances are if you’re reading this post, you already know that. What you may not know, however, is that they’re also one of the easiest shrubs to care for. Once you learn how to grow lilac bushes the right way, you’ll be rewarded with their incomparable beauty for years and even decades to come.
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Whether they’re white, pink, blue, purple, or that heavenly shade of lavender, lilacs epitomize Springtime.
Known for their lovely fragrance and generous clusters of tiny flower petals, they can add visual appeal to even the plainest of yards. They can be grown as hedges, single shrubs, or in containers. Luckily for us, they’re as low-maintenance as they are beautiful.
Plant this shrub in your yard, and you’ll reap its beauty every Spring year after year, 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 easy 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 for is full sun, fertile soil, water, and a little TLC in the way of pruning every year. As I stated above, they’re low-maintenance! Below you’ll find the most important details of lilac bush care so you can begin to enjoy their beauty in your very own yard.
Lilac Bush Varieties
Choosing a lilac variety that is suitable for your hardiness zone is an important step in growing lilac bushes that produce beautiful blooms. There are hundreds of lilac varieties to choose from, so purchasing the right variety for your zone and preference will make all the difference. If your local nursery doesn’t carry lilacs, you can find lilac bare roots or lilac containers from online nurseries such Nature Hills Nursery, the largest online plant nursery in the United States.
Lilacs bloom in the Springtime, usually in the month of May, for around two weeks, so planting a few varieties with different blooming times will help ensure that lilacs bloom in your yard for around 6 consecutive weeks.
There are hundreds of varieties of the common lilac aka Syringa Vulgaris, so you’re bound to find one you love. Lavender Lady is a low-chill variety that can be grown in plant hardiness zones that don’t have an especially cold Winter, such as Zone 8 and 9. For more varieties and bloom times, browse the selection at Nature Hills Nursery.
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 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 the 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.
Every year after bloom, grab your pruning shears and remove the spent blooms and their stem aka “dead wood” so that you’re only left with strong, healthy wood. Be careful not to over-prune because you don’t want to get rid of new wood and shoots that will be producing buds for next Spring’s blooms. To learn more about pruning, head over to my Pruning Lilacs post.
You’ve made it through this post which means you now know the most important aspects to how to grow lilac bushes in your garden! Remember these three things: full sun, moist soil, and pruning at the end of each Spring will keep this shrub 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!