Skip to main content

A guide for planting lilac bushes, perfect for adding a purple pop to any garden

How to grow lovely lilac bushes

If you’re looking for a beautiful tree or bush to fill some space in your yard or garden, then lilac bushes should be at the top of your list. They burst with purple, pink, or white flowers, filling the area with a subtle and lovely scent. You can even eat the flowers! Although they look quite impressive, lilac bushes aren’t difficult to care for at all, and gardeners of any experience level can successfully add them to their homes. If you think lilacs are the bush for you, then stick around! We’ll cover everything you need to know in this handy guide to planting and caring for lilac bushes.

Lilac flowers
Image used with permission by copyright holder

When to plant your lilac bush

Choosing what time of year to plant your lilacs is important, as temperatures that are too high or too low can weaken or kill seedlings. There are two options when it comes to planting lilacs. You can plant them in the fall or early spring. Whichever you choose, you want to make sure the ground is not frozen.

For fall plantings, this means getting your lilac bush into the ground before it freezes. In the spring, you’ll need to wait until the ground thaws before planting your lilacs. Lilacs are planted as bushes rather than as seeds, and these bushes are dormant in late fall through early spring. This cuts down on the stress of transplanting.

Lilacs can be grown from seeds, but, like most bushes and trees, they grow slowly. They can take several months to sprout and typically grow for a couple of years before blooming. If you want to grow your lilacs from seed, it’s best to start them indoors and transplant them once they’re older.

Two clusters of lilac flowers
fotolotos / Shutterstock

How to plant lilac bushes

Start by choosing a planting location that’s in full sun with thick, rich soil. Lilacs prefer neutral or alkaline soils. They don’t typically grow as well in acidic soils, so take note of your soil pH. If you’re planting your lilac near your home or another structure, then be sure to provide enough space for your lilac to grow without touching the building. Variety is important here because lilacs are available as trees, bushes, and vines, all of which take up different amounts of room.

The quickest way to get a beautiful lilac bush is to start from a nursery plant. These are older, so you won’t need to wait as long for flowers. Gently remove the sapling from its container or bag, taking care to remove any string, rope, or tags. Dig your hole a couple inches deeper than the roots are tall, set the sapling in the hole, and gently spread the roots out. Add some soil to the hole, then water it in. Continue filling the hole and make sure the sapling is standing upright.

A lilac bush in bloom
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Caring for your lilac bush

Lilac bushes are quite hardy and need remarkably little care. They need roughly an inch of water each week, which, in some climates, may be taken care of entirely by the rain. Mulch can also be useful since it helps soil retain water. Luckily, lilacs are not prone to serious diseases or pest infestations.

Although you may feel the urge to fertilize your lilacs, limit your fertilizer use. You can mix some compost into your soil, or use a small amount of balanced fertilizer in winter. Lilacs grow slowly, but they grow steadily without fertilizer. Overfertilization poses a greater risk than under-fertilizing them. It leads to more foliage and fewer blooms, especially if the fertilizer is high in nitrogen.

A woman pruning a lilac bush
VH-studio / Shutterstock

When and how to prune lilac bushes

Aside from water, regular pruning is the most important aspect of caring for lilac bushes. Unlike many shrubs, lilacs should be pruned after they bloom, typically in mid to late spring. This is because they bloom on old wood rather than new growth, so pruning too early or too late will result in fewer flowers. Depending on your variety and its age, you may not need to prune your lilac bush every year. Pruning is most important for bushes that are becoming overgrown.

To prune a branch, take a sharp, clean pair of garden shears and make a single cut. The cut should be at a slight angle, just above a leaf node. Begin at the bottom of the bush and work your way up and out.

Start by removing any dead, damaged, or diseased branches, as well as any weak or abnormally thin ones. Next, remove the oldest branches, which should be towards the center of the bush, to make room for new branches to grow. Finally, trim it to the size and shape you desire.

Lilacs are a beautiful, hardy plant that can add a burst of color to any yard or garden. It comes in a range of colors and sizes, so be sure to explore all the varieties your local nursery has to offer. Whether you choose a classic variety like the Common Purple Lilac or go for something a little more exciting like the Ludwig Spaeth or President Lincoln varieties, we hope you enjoy your lovely new lilacs!

Editors' Recommendations

Cayla Leonard
Cayla Leonard is a writer from North Carolina who is passionate about plants.  She enjoys reading and writing fiction and…
Goth style isn’t just a fashion trend – it’s taking over 2024 gardens, too
Let this new trend influence your gardening
Flowers on a dark night

Not everyone is sold by the colorful, airy vibes of cottagecore. Should you be someone who shies away from bright flowers and cutesy garden decor, goth gardening is a 2024 trend that might be more up your alley. Gothic and dark academia aesthetics dominated fashion this past autumn and winter, and they're now finding their way into warm-weather gardens, too. If you're less into whimsy and more into the macabre, here's how to set up a goth garden for those haunting Daphne du Maurier and Guillermo del Toro vibes.
What does a goth garden look like?

Goth gardens take inspiration from the chilling, mysterious gardens of Gothic literature. While you might associate literary estates like Manderley and Thornfield Hall with death and dreariness, we promise that goth gardens are very much filled with life. The idea is to channel that creepy atmosphere while still maintaining a tidy and productive landscape.

Read more
Scaevola: How to grow these uniquely shaped fan flowers for a stunning summer garden
Spruce up your outdoor space with these cool flowers
White fan flowers

There are many factors that can make a plant appealing. Some have bright colors or interesting patterns, others have odd textures, and some have strong scents or flavors. Whether your garden has a specific design theme or aesthetic or you plant anything that catches your eye, we have a unique flower that you’re sure to love. Scaevola, also called fan flowers, are appealing for their unique shape. Curious about this interesting flower and how you can grow it for yourself? We’ll answer all your fan flower questions in this scaevola care guide.
What are fan flowers?

Fan flowers are tropical plants native to the Polynesian islands and Australia. This gorgeous, low-lying shrub is sometimes also called beach cabbage and sea lettuce, along with the Hawaiian names naupaka, aupaka, and huahekili. There are many species of scaevola to choose from, with varying heights and flower colors (although the most common colors are white and purple), but the main draw of these plants is their fan-shaped flowers.

Read more
What is a chaos garden, and why should you start one this spring?
Is this approach to gardening for you?
A mix of colorful wildflowers

One of TikTok's latest gardening trends, chaos gardening is exactly what it sounds like: It's a low-maintenance approach to gardening that requires little planning and upkeep. With chaos gardening, you'll be using leftover seeds, picking out easy-going native plants, and being OK with some plants simply not working out. Think of it as survival of the fittest — whatever sticks will stick. There's no need to excessively plan out your spacing and consistently prune. Still, there's a method to the madness, since you want to keep your garden resilient against pests and diseases. If you're starting your very own chaos garden, here's what you need to know.

What you need to know about chaos gardening

Read more