How To Plant and Care For Lilacs

Nothing says “spring” like clumps of lilac bushes dripping with morning rain. Whether you’re looking for the perfect Mother’s Day bouquet or you need some props for your next Instagram photo shoot, one thing’s for sure: the world can never have too many lilacs. Let’s get gardening!

Before we get into lilac color and size, let’s take a moment to discuss one of the most important factors in the success of your lilac garden: your climate.

What is a Plant Hardiness Zone?

No matter what kind of garden you’re planting, it’s important to what kind of plants thrive in your environment. There’s a reason why you never see palms trees popping up in Scandinavia, littering the roads with chunks of frozen coconut (which is a shame, if you ask me, because that sounds delicious and dangerous).

Different plants like different climates, temperatures, soil, sun intensity and precipitation, so all of these factors and more influence what varieties of flora can make themselves at home in your garden.

Don’t worry. There’s an easy way to figure out what plants will grow best in your area.

The good folks over at the USDA were kind enough to create a map of “Planting Zones for the U.S. and Canada,” which will give you a hassle-free way of determining what sort of plant life your backyard garden patch is capable of sustaining. Simply click the link, type in your zip code, make a note of your zone, and choose a lilac variety that loves your corner of the map.

What zones do lilacs grow in?

Well, you don’t see them in the tundra, do you? So that rules out the bottom end of the hardiness scale.

And I’d be hard pressed to find a picture of lilacs in the jungle, given that these fuckers loathe sopping wet soil with a fiery hatred.

Instead, Lilacs originated in the cool, mountainous regions of Eastern Europe and Asia, therefore they tend to flourish in zones 3 – 7.

However, these popular blooms have been bred to survive warmer temperatures as well, so even if you live in a hot region like zone 9, you can still find a variety of lilac that will work for your garden. Check out a few zone 9 friendly Lilac varieties here, and for god’s sake, move.

Lilac Varieties: What are the different types of lilac?

Did you know that there are over one thousand different varieties of lilac? This plant belongs to the olive family (Oleaceae), and is one of 20 – 25 cultivated flowers of this distinction.

Rather than give you a rundown of every possible type of variety of lilac the world has ever cultivated, here’s a quick list of a few lilac species that will grow in your particular climate zone, starting with the coldest.


Types of Lilac

  • Common Lilac (syringa vulgaris): As the name may suggest, this is the type of lilac that most of us know and love. These guys love zones 3 – 7 and they will notify the authorities if you plant them in zone 9. Sorry, Floridians.
  • Broadleaf Lilac, Early Lilac (syringa oblata): This lilac is best for zone 3b. It has a beautiful, copper hue which darkens through the fall.
  • Juliana ‘Hers’ Lilac (syringa chinesis): This beautiful, weeping tree blooms in the late Spring, and is characterized by its small purple flowers. Perfect for anyone who lives in zone 4a.
  • Cutleaf Lilac, Cutleaf Persian Lilac (syringa x laciniata): This type of lilac forms a sprawling bush of delicate, four-inch long flower clusters. It’s leaves have a lovely, finely textured surface, and is ideal for people who garden in hardiness zone 4b.
  • Hungarian Lilac (syringa josikaea): This late-flowering lilac enjoys well-drained soil and a bright patch of sunlight. If you’re looking to plant lilacs in the 5a zone, this might be the selection for you.
  • Daphne Lilac, Littleleaf Lilac (Daphne geknwa) : Blue-tinged blooms in a small bush characterize this flower. It’s a welcome addition to any Mother’s Day boquet. If you’re gardening in 5b, consider adding this beauty to your yard.
  • Chinese Lilac (syringa x. chinensis): Looking for something fragrant, pink, and of average size? Look no farther than this elegant bush! It’s midseason blooms and deep-green foliage make this plant a sight to behold. Great for zones 3 – 7.
  • Blue skies (syringa vulgaris ‘Monore’): 9 If you live in a place with mild winters and a whole lot of sun, here’s a light blue lilac that may really fit well with your garden. Zone 9 shouldn’t be a problem with this aromatic plant.
  • White angel (syringa vulgaris ‘Angel White’ (Descanso Hybrid)): If you’re looking for a white lilac that thrives in hotter climates, the white angel is a great choice for your collection. Hardiness zones of 8 or 9 are just what this lilac needs.
  • Lavender Lady (syringa vulgaris ‘Lavender Lady’): If your climate is prone to the occasional drought or two, try planting a lavender lady or two. This plant was specifically bred to thrive in the mild winters of California, and does just fine in zones 8 or 9.

When choosing which type of lilac you would like to plant, consider what your favorite elements of this flower are. Do you want a strong aroma? A vibrant color? A close friend? A tight-lipped and trustworthy wheel-guy? No matter what your preferences are, there’s bound to be a selection that is right for your garden.

Colors of Lilac

Lilac comes in seven different colors:

  • Blue
  • White
  • Pink
  • Lavender
  • Violet
  • Purple
  • Magenta

In addition to coming in a variety of shades, lilacs also come in a variety of sizes. One of the tallest variety of lilac, the lilac tree, can grow to a maximum of 25 feet tall, while contrastingly, the dwarf lilac measures about 4 to 6 ft tall.

The Farmer’s Almanac advises us to Grow lilacs in fertile, humus-rich, well-drained, neutral to alkaline soil (at a pH near 7.0).”

How To Plant Lilacs: A Basic Guide for Beginners

  • Find a nice, sunny patch. Lilacs love sun, and require at least six hours of full sunlight every day to thrive.
  • Test your soil’s ph. Whether growing lilacs, it’s important to test your soil to determine its ph. Don’t worry, this is actually rather simple. You can either buy a kit online or from your local gardening store, or save money and DIY it in your kitchen. Sound cool? Check out this fantastic guide by Preparedness Mama to learn more about now to test your soil’s ph with a few ingredients you have lying around! Remember: Lilacs thrive in soil that has a ph of 7, the same as distilled water.
  • Fix your soil’s ph, if needed. Once you’ve tested your soil’s pH, it’s time to figure out if you need to adjust the acidity into which you will be placing your lilacs. This is called “amending the soil,” and it’s a straight-forward process. If your soil is too acidic, add a base such as powdered lime or limestone. Here’s a handy guide to adjusting your soil ph.
  • Choose a place with adequate drainage. If there’s one thing lilacs can’t stand, it’s soggy, waterlogged soil. Make sure you select a place that allows excess water to be drained away.
  • Plant your lilacs in autumn or spring. And if you have to pick one, choose in fall before the ground freezes.
  • Give each plant about half a dozen feet or more of space. How much space your lilac needs depends on what kind of lilac you have chosen to plant. Larger varieties require more space, while smaller, more compact specimens do not require nearly as much room. Consider also what look you are going for: are you trying to construct a hedge, or are you only planting one or two bushes? If the former, you may find this instructional guide on how to space your lilac hedge helpful.

How To Water Lilacs

So you’ve successfully planted your lilac bush or tree. Well done! Now you just need to know how often to water your newest plant addition.

Good news: As long as your region is receiving about an inch of rainfall a week, there’s no need to water your lilacs. Remember, these plants are not fond of super wet soil, so don’t go overboard with the garden hose. And when you do, make sure you water each plant at the base, rather than showering their canopies with water.

How to Care for a Lilac Bush

  • Lilacs enjoy a fresh layer of compost every spring, stuffed right beneath their roots, along with a little bit of mulch.
  • Don’t over-fertilize these plants. If you apply too much fertilizer, they will not thrive.
  • Apply some lime and rotted manure at the base of your plant after it is finished blooming. Feel free to trim the bush to your liking, as well as remove any suckers which may have arisen.
  • Beware of slugs and snails. These guys love lilacs as much as we do, and they can be a real nuisance to your plants. For more information on how to protect your garden from slugs, check out this cool guide.
  • In addition to these slimy critters, lilacs are also prone to developing a white, powdery mold on their branches. This mold will not harm your plant, however, so it may be best to just leave it alone.
  • You can improve the flowering of your lilacs by letting the grass flourish around their base, rather than ripping it all out.

How to Prune Lilacs

Do not use fire.

The best way to prune your lilacs is to teach them to do it themselves. Hand them a pair of gardening shears and show them exactly which branches they should trim, and where. Teach them to be careful, but thorough. There’s no half-assing anything in life and if you want to get that job as some fancy-shmancy CPA, you’re going to have to keep yourself groomed to at least a first world standards. I DON’T CARE HOW UNFAIR IT IS.

If this fails:

  • Spring time is the best time of the year to prune your lilacs, right after they bloom. If you notice that your lilac flowers are shrinking, bust out your shears and get down to business.
  • After your lilac bushes have bloomed, make a yearly habit of removing any dead wood. Target the oldest canes first.
  • Avoid doing drastic pruning if you can. This will ensure that your lilac is full of fragrant blossoms every year.

How fast do lilac bushes grow?

I… hope you’re not in a fucking rush.

Don’t get me wrong. Lilacs grow at a rate of approximately 12 – 18 inches a year, but this depending upon what type of lilac you have chosen.

But that’s not the part you care about, is it?

No, no, no.

You want those flowers. Those big, smelly, bundle-of-grape flowers that you can just sssssssssssssnnnnnnnnn… ahhhhhhhhhh.

I have bad news for you.

Most lilac plants don’t begin to flower until 3 or 4 years after their mature.

Yeah, I know.

This plant requires patience.

But least you’re not trying to figure out how to grow an avocado tree. This shiny-leafed son of a bitch will just sit there for ten years because bearing any fruit. It doesn’t not care if Mexico closes down trade with the U.S., thereby cutting off our supply of this succulent, nutrient dense berry. It takes ten years, end of discussion. But I digress.

Take heart: planting lilacs are an easy and cost-efficient way to improve your property value once you finally put the ol’ starter home up on the market. I mean, I don’t know that, but I mean come on. It beats fixing the roof. Right?

5 replies to “How To Plant and Care For Lilacs

  1. Lilacs are beautiful, and very fragrant. And because of that, they also attract bees! A lot of times the packaging for the plant or seeds will contain info on planting times and where the plants will grow best. Thanks for posting, Liv.

    Liked by 1 person

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