Lilacs are one of the most gorgeous blooming plants on the planet. Their scented blooms alone can fill a room with nostalgia, romance and sentimentality. Lilacs are hardy, easy to grow and low maintenance. They can grow from 5 to 15 feet tall, depending on the variety. The fragrant flowers are good for cutting and attractive to butterflies. 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 you.
How To Grow Lilacs
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. Once you learn how to properly grow a lilac bush, you’ll look forward to it’s incomparable beauty every year. You can grow them as hedges for added privacy, as single shrubs mixed into your current garden design, or in pretty containers.
Lilacs are often confused with the butterfly bush, which is easy to do. While the butterfly bush is a shrub only, lilac varieties are both in shrub and tree form. The butterfly bush grows faster, adapts more easily to different soil types and the flowers bloom from mid-summer to fall. Lilacs, on the other hand, are more cold hardy and they flower mostly during the middle of spring.
The most common and fragrant lilacs are of the Syringa Vulgaris variety:
- For early bloom, try Charles Joly, a double magenta.
- Mid-season lilacs include Monge, a dark reddish purple, and Firmament, a fine blue.
- Yankee Doodle is a dark purple, late spring bloomer. You can’t go wrong with this beauty. Eight feet high and six feet wide, it’s the perfect size for the back of the border, or as a focal plant on its own.
- Late-season beauties include Miss Canada, a reddish pink and Donald Wyman, a single purple.
- Miss Kim is an elegant shrub that is compact enough to be used in formal gardens. It is also sometimes considered a dwarf, at just five feet tall and wide. Highly recommended and one of the most popular dwarf varieties in America.
When you are trying to figure out where to plant your lilacs, make sure to keep in mind lilac sun requirements as well as their soil requirements. Plant in either spring or fall, although the latter is preferred. Space multiple lilac bushes 5 to 15 feet apart, depending on the variety.
Where To Plant
Choose a sunny spot (6 hours of sun) if you are in a very hot summer area they may like some afternoon shade. If lilacs don’t get enough sun, they will not bloom well. They can grow in the shade or in partial sun, but they won’t flower or will only flower a little. Grow lilacs in fertile, humus-rich, well-drained, neutral to alkaline soil. The ideal soil pH for planting lilac bushes is anywhere between 6.5 to 7. Make sure the site drains well. Lilacs don’t like wet feet and will not bloom with too much water. If you have acid soil, throw a handful of lime in to the planting hole.
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. Make sure you give your lilac plenty of room. Traditional varieties can easily grow 10×10 feet. There are many dwarf lilac bushes available too, and those can even be grown in containers.
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.
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. After the first year, water only during dry spells as lilac bushes are pretty drought resistant, especially as they get older with more extensive root systems. Do not water your plants in the evening unless you are using a drip system.
Most lilacs are not continuous blooming lilacs but instead are considered to be one-time blooming. All this means is that it booms in the spring and then doesn’t bloom until the following spring. Exactly when your lilac blooms will depend on your gardening zone as well as the variety of lilac you have. Syringa vulgaris is the most common variety of lilac. This variety blooms at the end of May.
You will find most varieties of lilac bloom anytime between early spring through early summer. If you have several different varieties of lilacs you can time the bloom times so you have several weeks, even months, of beautiful blooms. While the lilac is first going into bloom and has small buds you may notice they don’t have much smell, but once they bloom the rich aroma will be released.
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. 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.
The most important part of lilac care is pruning. You want to deadhead as many of the spent blooms as you can. Go ahead and cut a big bouquet to bring in the house or give to neighbors. Your plant will thank you with more blooms next year. Buds are set on old wood, so the best time to prune is right after lilacs bloom in early summer. In addition, you will want to remove branches that are dead, distorted or diseased. Lilacs benefit from fairly serious pruning, but never remove more than one-third of the bush.
Renewal pruning, when you remove one-third of the branches down to the ground, to encourage the bush into a good shape for next season, may be necessary on older lilacs. After the blooms fade and die off, selectively prune the branches to control the height and to re-form it’s shape. Remember that they flower on the older stems, making it important to remove only those limbs and branches that are necessary to maintain a nicely shaped and well proportioned shrub.