Lilac Bush: Facts, Flowers, How to Grow It and Care Tips (With Pictures)

Lilac Bush care

Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) is a deciduous bush that blooms for two weeks in late spring and early summer. Lilac shrubs are extremely easy to care for and can be pruned so that their dense leaves create a privacy hedge with pink, purple, or white fragrant blooms. All lilacs need to grow well is plenty of sunlight, fertile soil that drains well, and annual light pruning.

In fact, cutting off lilac blooms encourages new growth, and you can use the flowers to brighten your home in early summer.

Lilac Facts

Lilac shrubs range in size from the dwarf varieties that grow up to 4 ft. (1.2 m) tall to larger bushes that may be as tall as 20 ft. (6 m). There are also types of lilac plants that bloom at different times. So, if you place them strategically in your garden, you can enjoy your lilac blooms for 6 weeks or more in the summer.

In this article, you will learn about the common lilac and other varieties of lilac bushes. You will also find top tips on how to care for this large tree-like shrub that brightens gardens in late spring.

Lilac Bush (Syringa vulgaris) Overview

Syringa vulgaris – the common purple lilac plant – looks like a large flowering bush with dense foliage and cone-like blooms. Lilac shrubs are in the Oleaceae family, which means they are related to the olive tree, jasmine, ash tree, and forsythia shrubs.

Gardeners love the common lilac bush for its fragrant blue, pink, purple, or white flowers. Lilac plants are also hardy shrubs that don’t require much maintenance and can grow almost anywhere.

Depending on how you trim lilac bushes, you can create a tall hedgerow, or you can prune the branches to make the lilac plant look like a tree.

Is Lilac a Shrub or a Tree?

Lilac is a densely branched shrub because it has many stems that grow to form a large bush. Even though the common lilac can grow as tall as some trees, it is technically a large bush or shrub.

A common lilac bush has about 10 canes that branch out from a central stem, usually below the ground. A fully-grown lilac bush will have a covering of dense leaves and will erupt in various shades of purple and pink when the flowers appear at the end of May.

Lilac Trees – Japanese Lilac Tree and Pekin Lilac Tree

There are a few varieties of lilac that look like trees that can create stunning blooms at the end of spring. For example, the Pekin lilac tree (Syringa pekinensis) produces beautiful white or yellow flowers in early summer. The Japanese lilac tree (Syringa reticulata) can grow to 25 ft. (7.5 m) tall and it has white fragrant flowers.

Lilac Flowers

Lilac flowers look like conical or pyramid-like clusters of smaller flowers. The blooms from lilacs can be anywhere between 6” to 8” (15 cm to 20 cm) in length.

The most common shades of lilac flowers are light purple or a vibrant lavender color. However, other colors of lilac flowers can be white, yellow, burgundy, or varying shades of pink.

Lilac flowers only bloom for a short time and they are usually a sign that summer has arrived. Flowers on the common lilac bush are usually at eye level making it easy to enjoy their beauty and sweet fragrance. This also makes it easy to cut the flowers to put in a vase at home.

Looking at images of flowering lilac bushes, you will notice that some blossoms are made up of single flowers and others have double flowers. The double or French variety of lilac blossoms give the appearance of tiny flowers all jammed together.

Picture of lilac flowers

Various colors of lilac flowers

When do Lilac Shrubs Bloom?

The common lilac blossoms appear at the end of May and will generally last for about 2 weeks.

You can enjoy lilac bush blossoms for a longer time if you plant different varieties. You can buy lilac shrubs that bloom at early, mid, or late season. If these types of lilac bushes grow together, you can enjoy lilac blossoms for around 6 weeks in the summer.

What do Lilac Flowers Smell Like?

There is nothing quite like the scent of blooming lilac on warm sunny days. The light purple or pink blooms have strong, sweet aromas that seem to intensify when the sun is shining.

Lilac blooms are also great to give any room in your home a pleasant sweet fragrance. You just need to put the stems of cut lilac flowers in a vase of water to keep your blooms lasting as long as possible.

Common Varieties of Lilac Shrubs (With Pictures)

Let’s look briefly at some of the most popular varieties of lilac shrubs.

Common Lilac Shrub (Syringa vulgaris)

There are a number of Syringa vulgaris cultivars that produce shades of blossoms ranging from classic lavender colors to deep reds or bright yellows.

“Wedgewood Blue” is one of the most common types of common lilac. This lilac shrub has single flower clusters of lavender-blue flowers. This lilac plant is very hardy and resistant to mildew.

“Charles Joly” is a type of Syringa vulgaris that blossoms up to 4 weeks. This lilac plant produces stunning blooms in late spring that are a deep magenta color.

picture of lilac bush

Dwarf Korean Lilac Bush (Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’)

The size of the dwarf Korean lilac bush is smaller than other lilac cultivars and will grow to about 4 or 5 ft. (1.5 m) tall. This type of “mini” lilac bush is good for small gardens.

Like with most lilacs, the dwarf lilac blooms in late spring or early summer for about 2 weeks. The blossoms are light-pink clusters of small flowers that give off a sweet aroma. In the fall, the leaves turn a rusty-brown color which can add some “fall colors” to your garden.

Persian lilac (S. persica)

The Persian lilac thrives in warm climates and grows up to 8 ft. (2.4 m) tall and up to 10 ft. (3 m) wide. This large bush produces fragrant blossoms that are pale lilac and are between 2” and 3” (5 to 7 cm) long. This type of lilac grows best in gardens that get plenty of sunlight.

Littleleaf Lilac (S. microphylla)

The Littleleaf lilac (sometimes called “Superba”) produces reddish-pink flowers that have tiny petals. This variety of lilac blossoms late in the season and can help extend the blooming time of your lilac shrubs. This lilac plant thrives in hot sunshine and needs plenty of watering.

Early Flowering Lilac (Syringa hyacinthiflora)

This variety of early flowering lilac shrub is an extremely hardy shrub that produces an abundance of light red to pink flowers. This easy to grow lilac starts to flower a week to 10 days earlier than other types of common lilac, thus helping you to extend the blossoming time of your lilacs.

Tinkerbelle (S. bailbelle)

Tinkerbelle is a delightful type of “dwarf” lilac shrub that blooms late in the season and is perfect for smaller gardens. Combining lilac bushes such as Tinkerbelles with common lilac shrubs will help you get plenty of lilac blossoms from late spring to early summer.

How to Grow Lilacs

Growing lilac shrubs or small trees is very easy, even for the novice gardener. In general, lilacs don’t need much maintenance, and only require yearly pruning in late summer or early fall to trim branches and stems back.

Some gardeners like to grow miniature varieties of lilacs such as the “Bloomerang” lilac or “Miss Kim” for use as foundation plantings. Other gardeners plant lilac in rows to create dense foliage hedgerow for privacy in the summer.

With the proper pruning, lilac makes great specimen plants that can look like small blossoming trees.

When to Plant Lilac Bush

The best time to plant lilacs is in the fall. This gives the new lilac plants a chance for their root systems to develop, ready to start growing in the spring.

You can also plant bare lilac roots in the spring that you buy online or from garden centers after the ground has thawed out.

If you plant lilacs you have purchased in pots, then it is very straightforward to transplant the plants to your garden. You will need to make sure that the lilac roots are well covered with topsoil.

Where to Plant Lilacs

You should plant lilacs in areas of your garden that get plenty of direct sunlight. So, avoid growing lilacs in shaded areas or in north-facing parts of your garden (Northern Hemisphere) or south-facing parts if you live in the Southern Hemisphere.

You should also check that the area where you want to plant your lilac bushes has soil that drains well. One reason why lilac bushes don’t bloom is if their roots are in too much water.

If you want to grow lilac bushes so their leaves form a protective hedge, you should plant them 5 to 15 (1.5 to 4.5 m) apart, depending on the size of lilac bushes you have.

How to Care for Lilac Bush

Even though lilacs will grow with little care or attention, there are still a few things you can do to care for your lilac to help it thrive.

Pruning at the proper time and using the right fertilizer will help maximize the number and size of blossoms you can expect around late May or early June.

Light requirements for growing lilac plants

The best place for lilacs to grow is in a south-facing part of your garden as they enjoy full sun. Your garden will be filled with a fragrant lilac aroma when the sun shines at its fullest.

The best soil for growing lilac plants

For your lilac bush or tree to thrive, it needs soil that is neutral pH to slightly alkaline. You can improve the soil quality for your lilac by digging in organic compost around the roots. However, lilacs are fairly hardy shrubs and will also grow in clay soil.

How to water lilac plants to encourage healthy growth

Established lilac plants only need minimal watering during the summertime. You usually only have to water them once a week during June and July when there is little rainfall. Putting mulch around the roots can help to keep the soil conditions moist and perfect for growing large blooms.

You should ease off watering the shrubs in the fall and winter time.

The best temperature conditions for lilac plants

Even though lilac plants need plenty of sunshine, they don’t fare well in extremely hot or humid climates. They are recommended for growing in USDA hardiness zones from 3 to 7.

Lilac fertilizer for healthy shrubs

You can enhance lilac blooms and encourage healthy growth if you put fertilizer around the roots in the spring. This will feed the lilac leaves for the coming year and help achieve a good bloom the following year.

Don’t fertilize your lilac shrub too much as that could hinder blossom growth.

Can You Grow Lilacs Indoors?

Most lilac plants should be grown outdoors as they grow into large bushes that are taller than humans.

One reason why lilacs don’t grow well indoors is that they need at least 6 hours of sun daily.

You may have some success growing miniature varieties of lilac near your home if you plant them in containers. This can brighten up your front door, porch, or decking.

Choose some of the mini lilac varieties such as Josee, Tinkerbelle, or Bloomerang. However, after a year or two, you will have to transplant the small lilac bush in your garden as its roots will outgrow the container.

When and How to Prune Lilac Bush

You don’t have to prune lilac bushes, but you can do so to keep them from becoming too tall.

The best time to prune lilac bushes is straight after they ended flowering to allow new shoots enough time to develop for the next season. If you prune lilac shrub too late in the season, it may kill young developing buds that will grow next year.

To prune your lilac bush, remove any small suckers near the base of the stems. To control the height your lilac grows to, trim canes back to eye height. You should also trim off about 1/3 of the inner branches or canes. This will help to prevent lilac plant leaves becoming too dense and will allow air to circulate.

Propagating Lilac Shrubs

Lilacs are fast-growing plants and they are easy to propagate from suckers or new shoots growing at the base.

All you need to do if you want to grow new lilac bushes is to dig out the suckers along with their roots. Choose a sunny area of your garden to plant the new shoot, dig a hole, put in the sucker, fill with topsoil and water well.

You can also propagate the lilac shoots in containers. You will need a 1-gallon container with soil that is neutral or slightly alkaline. Keep the containers in sunny areas so that they start to grow well.

If you want to grow lilac bushes from seed, it’s good to remember that it may take many years for a lilac to grow and blossom.

How to Transplant Lilacs

The best time to transplant lilac shrubs is just after they have bloomed. You should carefully dig around the roots with a garden fork to prevent damaging them. Lift out the lilac bush and its roots. Place in a new hole that you have dug, press down topsoil, water well, and cover with mulch.

When transplanting your lilac from a container, it is very straightforward. You should lift out the plant with its roots and plant in the new location.

Diseases that Can Affect Lilac Shrubs

Lilac plants are hardy deciduous types of shrubs that require very little care and they are rarely affected by pests or disease.

However, some varieties of Syringa vulgaris are more prone to disease than others.

Powdery mildew is the most common disease to affect lilac plants. Although this isn’t a serious plant disease, it can make lilac bush leaves unsightly. Signs of lilac powdery mildew are white spots on the leaves that gradually turn the whole leaf white.

The best way to prevent powdery mildew is to prune your lilac plants well in the summertime. This helps to increase air circulation and prevents lilac roots from sitting in damp conditions.

Lilac borers are a type of moth that can infest branches of the shrub. If you notice eggs on freshly pruned lilac branches, trim the branches in the fall.

You can also try a natural neem insecticide spray to get rid of the pesky bugs.

Where to Buy Lilac Plants

Lilac shrubs are widely available in many garden centers or online stores. Most lilac plants for planting in your garden that are sold online are bare root types of planters. You just have to dig a hole in the ground to plant your shrub.

Garden and landscaping centers often sell various types of lilac shrubs in large containers that you can easily transplant to your garden.

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