Finding plants that’ll thrive in your garden can be hard if you live in a cooler climate. However, one beautiful flower can handle the cold: lilacs. These sweet-smelling flowers are incredibly easy to care for and can add a touch of elegance to any garden!
Common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) come in shrub and tree form and produce large clusters of purple, pink, or white flowers in the springtime. They’re also perennial plants and can last up to 100 years! These stunning flowers are known for their fresh fragrance and can attract beneficial pollinators such as bees and butterflies to your garden.
As part of the olive family, lilacs are hardy and can survive cooler temperatures. Let’s take a look at the basic requirements for growing lilacs.
Different Types of Lilacs
Before you start growing lilacs, it’s important to know there are many different cultivars available. Each can have different characteristics, such as size, color, and bloom time. Some popular lilac varieties include:
- Miss Kim: This lilac can grow up to 7 feet tall and produces lilac-blue flowers. The flowers fade in color throughout the blooming period, creating a beautiful ombre effect.
- Yankee Doodle: This lilac is a great option for areas that get very cold. It’s known for its ability to withstand harsh winters and produces purple, fragrant flowers.
- Wedgewood Blue: With showy purple-blue flowers, this lilac is a standout in any garden. It can grow up to 6 feet tall and has an upright shape
- Korean Dwarf Lilac: For a smaller option, this species of lilacs is perfect for container growing. Korean lilac only reaches about 4-5 feet tall and has a much more compact growth habit.
When Is the Best Time of Year to Plant Lilacs?
You have two options for planting lilacs: in the spring or fall. Fall is typically the best time to plant lilacs as it allows the roots to be established before winter. You’ll want to do this before the ground hardens and the first frost occurs.
However, if you live somewhere with extremely harsh winters, it may be best to wait until the following spring. Only established lilacs can survive through very cold temperatures. So, if you’re planting a new lilac in a cold climate, spring is the safer option.
When Do Lilacs Bloom?
Lilacs are known for their beautiful, fragrant purple flowers that signal the arrival of spring. But only established plants will produce lilac blooms. It usually takes about 2-3 years minimum for a newly planted lilac to bloom.
Then, they only bloom for a short period of about 2-3 weeks. The exact time will depend on the specific variety.
While the blooms may not last long, lilacs are certainly worth the wait!
What Are the Best Conditions for Growing Lilacs?
Lilacs are pretty easy to care for but still require certain conditions to thrive and flower. Here are some key factors to consider:
Full sun is key to growing healthy lilacs. They need at least 6 hours of sun daily to produce their beautiful blooms.
Temperature and Humidity
Lilacs prefer cooler climates and do poorly in high heat or humidity. It’s not recommended to plant lilacs in areas with consistently high temperatures. In fact, for them to bloom, lilacs require a period of cold weather in the winter months. A temperature range of 41-75°F (5-24°C) is ideal, but most varieties can handle as low as -40°F (-40 °C).
Lilacs prefer well-draining, loamy soil with a neutral pH of 6.5-7. A slightly alkaline soil can also work.
Waterlogged soil can lead to root rot and other issues, so well-drained soil is best. Consider adding organic matter to improve drainage if you have heavy clay soil.
If you’re planting your lilac directly in the ground, choose a spot that gets plenty of sunlight and isn’t too crowded. There should be at least 6 feet between your lilac and any other plants or structures. Depending on the variety, you may need even more space between each plant.
Additionally, avoid planting near trees or large shrubs that may block sunlight or compete for nutrients.
While it’s best to plant lilacs directly in the ground, they can also be grown in containers. Lilacs like to spread their roots, so choose a container at least 24 inches wide and deep. It should also have good drainage holes.
How to Grow Lilacs
Starting a plant from seed might be the most cost-effective way to grow lilacs, but it’s also the most time-consuming. It can take up to 5 years for a seedling to mature and produce blooms. The easier option is to purchase an established plant from a local nursery or local garden center.
Choose a plant that’s at least 3-4 years old. Older lilacs will be more likely to produce blooms once planted in your garden.
Here are steps to follow when growing lilacs:
- Prepare the soil by loosening it and removing any weeds or debris. Add organic matter if necessary.
- Dig a hole twice the width and depth of the root ball of your lilac plant.
- Remove the plant from its container, carefully loosen the roots, and place it in the hole. The rootball should be level with the ground.
- Cover with soil and water thoroughly.
- Add a layer of mulch around the base of the plant to retain moisture and suppress weeds.
How to Propagate Lilacs
You can also propagate lilacs from an established plant through propagating. This is by far the cheapest option, especially if you have a friend or neighbor with a mature lilac shrub!
There are a few options for propagating lilacs from a mature shrub: softwood cuttings, chip budding, layering, and grafting. The most common and easily done propagation method is through softwood cuttings.
Softwood cuttings are taken from the current season’s growth, meaning they’re still green and flexible. The best time to take softwood cuttings is in the summer during the active growing period.
Here are steps to follow when propagating lilacs through softwood cuttings:
- Choose a healthy, disease-free stem with no flowers or buds.
- Cut a 4-6 inch piece of the stem just below a set of leaves.
- Remove the leaves from the bottom half of the cutting, leaving only 2/3 sets at the top.
- Help the new growth by dipping the cutting in rooting hormone (optional).
- Plant the cutting in a pot filled with damp soil and cover it with a plastic bag to create a mini-greenhouse.
- Place the pot in a warm spot with indirect light and keep the soil moist. Once new growth appears, you can remove the plastic bag and continue caring for the cutting like any other lilac plant.
How Often Should You Water Lilacs?
Young lilac bushes or newly propagated cuttings will need more frequent watering than established plants. Water them once or twice a week for the first few years, depending on the weather and soil moisture. As the plant grows and becomes more established, it’ll require less frequent watering.
Once established, lilacs are considered to be drought-tolerant plants. They can go for longer periods without water and are generally low maintenance.
During periods of heavy drought, however, it’s recommended to water your lilacs to ensure they stay healthy and continue to bloom.
Lilac Plant Care Tips
To ensure your lilac plant thrives and continues growing each year, there are a few important care tips to keep in mind:
An annual fertilizer application in early spring will provide your lilac plant with the nutrients it needs throughout the growing season. Use a slow-release, balanced fertilizer and follow the instructions on the label.
Regular pruning is essential for promoting healthy growth and maintaining the shape of your lilac bush. Prune after blooming is done in late spring or early summer. Remove dead wood or damaged branches, and trim back any overly long or straggly growth. Avoid cutting off new growth or more than a third of the plant at a time.
You can add a layer of mulch around the base of your lilac tree to stop weeds from growing. This will also help the soil to retain moisture. Use organic materials such as wood chips or shredded bark.
Lilac shrubs are relatively pest-free but can be affected by common garden pests such as aphids, oyster-shell scale, and spider mites. Keep an eye out for any signs of infestation and treat accordingly. Don’t forget to look under the leaves, as this is where many pests hide!
Lilac plants can also be susceptible to certain diseases, such as powdery mildew, especially in humid conditions. Proper air circulation (not overcrowding) and avoiding overhead watering can help prevent this. Fungicide sprays can also control and prevent the spread of fungal disease.
Yes, lilacs are generally low-maintenance and easy to grow. Just remember they don’t do well in warmer climates and require a period of winter chill to flower properly.
Once they’re established, lilacs will come back the next year and continue to bloom for years to come!
Yes, lilac flowers are completely edible! Their most common use is in baking, where the flowers can be used to make syrups, jams, and even lilac-infused honey. Just don’t use any flowers that have been treated with pesticides.