The common lilac tree, also known as Syringa vulgaris, is universally popular among flower fans. Its blooms are fragrant and gorgeous, and the lilac’s scent is unmistakable. In fact, it’s commonly used in perfumes and fragrant lotions because it’s known to trigger pleasant memories and happy feelings. It’s this trait that makes them great additions to home gardens and landscaping.
Although lilacs are easy to care for and require little maintenance, many people find their plants thrive with a few tips. This guide will offer everything you need to know to grow a beautiful lilac tree at home, and keep it thriving for years to come.
The Most Important Highlights
To keep your lilac tree growing safe and strong, there are a few very important tips you can follow. Many people find that their bushes thrive when they follow these care techniques, which are suggested by gardeners and horticulturists alike:
- Plant lilacs where they receive at least eight hours of full sunlight each day.
- Use soil that will drain well, preferably with a lower level of nitrogen and a slightly acidic pH level.
- Prune bushes over three years old during the late spring, after the blooms are gone for the season.
4. Different Lilac Tree Varieties
Over 28 different species of lilac trees exist, probably because the plant has a long history that dates clear back to the ancient Greeks. There are so many types and hybrids, telling the difference between them is even difficult for experts.
You may find seven different colors of lilacs in total, and these plants make wonderful additions to your home garden. The blooms will attract lovely hummingbirds and butterflies, and the plants themselves add a dose of beauty to any yard.
The beautiful lilac flowers cluster together as they grow on a bush or tree. They come in a variety of colors including the most commonly found varieties:
- Different shades of purple
The most common type, Syringa vulgaris, is the cultivar we’ll discuss most often in this guide. They offer a strong fragrance and often grow up to 20 feet tall. The most fragrant lilacs from this variety include:
- Charles Joly – Magenta flowers that are early bloomers
- Monge – Deep reddish-purple colored flowers appearing in the mid-season
- Firmament – Blue flowers in the mid season
- Miss Canada – A red/pink blend that appears in late season
- Donald Wyman – Purple flowers during the late season
5. How to Plant Lilacs
Whether you plant your lilac tree from a sapling or find your favorite bush at your local nursery, finding the best plant for your yard is the first step to planting lilacs at home. You can grow them in containers as well, before transporting them to your yard. Here’s how you can get started:
6. Select the Best Variety for Your Climate
Before you plant, think about which type of lilac tree or bush will thrive at your home. You’ll also want to consider the best spot for your new plant to ensure it does well over time.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, lilacs do best in planting zones 3 or 4 through 9. They need cold—even freezing—winters. If you’re in zones 8 or 9, you’ll need to look for a specialty variety that better tolerates warm climates. These “warm climate varieties” include:
- Angel White
- Blue Skies
- Miss Kim
- Lavender Lady
Select a variety best suited for your area, taking the full-grown size into consideration, and choose a spot in your yard that offers full sun all day long. Lilac plants need a lot of bright light, and dry roots.
If you have trouble finding the best variety, your local garden center or garden nursery can recommend the ones they know will do best in your area.
Once you’ve planted your lilac, expect it to grow and spread easily. You’ll need to leave room in your planting area because of how big they’ll grow. Shrubs can exceed 20 feet in height and live long lives, and even small lilac bushes will become full- to medium-sized trees in no time.
Therefore, consider the size of your plant when you choose your spot. Find a place that offers good air circulation and drainage as well as sunshine. If wet soil may be a problem, creating a raised bed to place your lilac in may be beneficial.
7. How to Plant a Lilac Bush
Begin by purchasing your favorite lilac variety.
You can purchase your lilacs in bare-root form, or grown in a container from a nursery near you. Mail order plant supply companies may also be able to ship your lilac directly to your door, saving you some work on transportation.
Another option is to start your own lilac plant from someone else’s saplings. If you choose this route, you’ll need to begin by digging up transplant saplings from another person’s lilac shrub in the spring. Select 12-inch tall saplings, and use a shovel to dig them from the ground. Cut the runners to separate the sapling from the plant.
Here are the steps you’ll need to take:
- Prepare the Plant – If your lilac tree or sapling is dormant, prepare the plant by soaking the roots in tepid water for 10 to 15 minutes before planting.
- Dig – Once your lilac is ready for planting (in the spring or fall), dig a hole in the soil just deep enough to cover the roots.
- Check the Soil – If your location doesn’t offer rich soil, add compost or fertilizer to the hole before adding the lilac to the hole. You can use a testing kit to check the pH balance of your soil, and remember: lilacs prefer a slightly acidic pH level of 5 to 7. To combat soil that’s too acidic, try sprinkling lime on the lilac’s roots before planting.
- Set the Plant – Place the plant in the hole, fill it halfway with soil and water. Let this settle before continuing to fill the remainder of the hole with soil.
- Leave Room for More Plants – Space each hole you dig at least 5 to 15 feet apart, depending on the variety you choose, to allow for growing room.
- Add Mulch – A small layer of loose mulch will keep out weeds and help retain some moisture, but don’t add too much.
8. How to Care for Lilac Trees
Providing the best care for your lilacs will help them grow stronger and healthier. They’re easy to grow with little help from you, but you may need to perform some basic maintenance.
Lilacs don’t enjoy wet roots, but they need to be well watered. During the summer, you will need to water your lilac tree several times each week unless you’ve recently received heavy rains.
Water the plant from the base and allow the soil to fully dry before you add water again. If there is less than one inch of rainfall in a week, give your lilac a drink.
It’s very important to keep your soil chemistry right, as lilacs do best with slightly acidic soil with lower levels of nitrogen. Shoot for a pH balance near 7 and enrich your soil if it isn’t in the right condition for lilacs. Bone meal, for example, can help make your soil more alkaline.
A homemade compost of store-bought, all-purpose fertilizer will work well at keeping your plants balanced. Avoid nitrogen-rich fertilizers and don’t add a lot of nitrogen to your compost pile if you plan to use it for lilacs. Although, the bushes don’t need much fertilizing.
Depending on the soil’s condition, you probably only need to fertilize lilacs once per year in the spring. You can apply a layer of compost or fertilizer under the plant, adding mulch on top to help control weeds and retain moisture (unless your soil is moist enough already). However, you may need to fertilize again using 10-10-10 when the first blossoms open or in the winter. If you fertilize too much, your plant won’t bloom.
Cut the oldest, largest branches of your plant any time from the beginning of winter to after late spring’s final flowering. Make sure to snip the branches as close to the ground as you can, and remove branches from both the center and the outside to open up the bush.
The less you prune your lilacs, the bigger the individual trunks will become, and they will grow quite large. Some people allow the plants to take care of themselves and opt not to prune often. As such, the biggest issue to arise is that the growing branches may compete for space.
Smaller branches may become strangled and die back, meaning you’ll need to remove the dead trunks. Trimming 1/3 of the growth back periodically will help you maintain a healthy plant full of blooms. You’ll also need to avoid planting too close to another tree, fence, or wall to allow the plant to spread out.
Remove any branches that appear diseased or damaged and cut off all the dead flowers if you want to avoid forming seeds. You can also prune the bush once more during the Autumn to shape the plant or remove branches with fewer flowers.
Keep the nearby area free of weeds and grass to improve the quality of your flowers. You can put down a 16- to 24-inch diameter landscape cloth covered in stones or mulch the area to keep it clear.,
9. Common Pests and Disease Problems
Lilac bushes and trees are typically sturdy, but pest problems can happen.
Slugs and snails are the most common culprits to attack lilacs. If you notice insects taking out your plant, spray your trees with soapy water to keep them away. A heavy infestation, however, may require you to prune the plant to cut away the damage.
Regular pruning will also take care of another major issue people face when growing lilacs: mildew. Too much water, or a particularly hot and humid summer, can cause lilacs to develop powdery white mildew. Although the mildew isn’t going to kill your plant, pruning the bushes is the easiest way to treat and prevent the spread of disease.