Lilac bushes and trees are one of our favorite early blooming plants. If you have ever smelled a lilac bush on the wind in spring, you know exactly what we mean. Heaven, right? I use to have a large lilac bush right outside my dining room window, and every year I would fill vases in every room with armfuls of these perfumed, perfect blooms. And thanks to new varieties, you can not only grow lilacs in most parts of the country, you can even plant lilac bushes that re-bloom! Learn all about planting lilac bushes, how to care for them, when to prune them, and our favorite lilac varieties. You will thank us next spring!
Planting Lilac Bushes & Trees
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 can live up to 75 years, so planting one is an investment for the next generation as well. Planting lilac bushes is easy if you know a few tricks on how to care for them. They are seldom bothered by insects, and you can now find so many different varieties for various parts of the country. Oh, and there is this little fun fact. They also have re-bloomers now! So let’s get caught up on how to plant lilacs. At the end of the post, look for our recommendations on where you can order lilac bushes, including harder to find varieties, online!
Lilac Bush Care
Where to Plant a Lilac
Plant lilac bushes in a hole dug approximately twice as large as the root ball. When planting lilac bushes, make sure that the spot you have chosen has good drainage, and at least 6 hours of sun a day. If you have acid soil, throw a handful of lime in to the planting hole.
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.
Watering Lilac Bushes
Water your lilac bush well the first year while it gets established. Keep the soil moist, but not wet. 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. Some older varieties can be prone to powdery mildew, and you don’t want the leaves to stay wet all night.
Fertilize lilacs in the spring after flowering. Any all purpose garden fertilizer will do. If you have alkaline soil, also do a yearly application of lime.
There are two ways you need to prune your lilac bush. The first is to deadhead by cutting off as many of the spent flowers as you can. This helps the plant put more energy into both more flowers for this year and next, and also into plant health. The second applies to older lilac bushes. You will need to prune older lilacs when they start to look straggly, are overgrowing their space, or when flower production decreases. After flowering in the spring, simply cut the oldest 2-3 branches back to the ground. I also like to cut the smaller branches back by one third to encourage the bush into a good shape for next season.
There is not a more gorgeous or fragrant bloom to place in a vase than a lilac. However, if you don’t want your lilac display to turn into an instant wilted mess, you need to learn the rules to cutting lilacs. First, cut them first thing in the morning. This is when the moisture content within the blooms and stems will be highest. Next, cut them with a sharp knife or pruners. Third, and this is MOST important… you must have a container of water to put them into immediately while cutting. You can rearrange them later in a vase, but they cannot be without water. Let them soak up water for at least an hour before trying to arrange them. Last, when arranging your lilacs, recut the stem under water and quickly place into the water in the vase. All this being said, remember that lilacs are not long lasting in the vase. I average 3-5 days, but are they ever worth it!
Our Favorite Lilac Bush Varieties
Now that you’ve decided planting lilac bushes is for you, you will need to know a bit about lilac varieties!
“Sensation” – Sensation Lilac is a well loved bicolor with deep purple blooms with a white edge. Zones 4-7, this lilac bush blooms in early spring. It can grow to 10 feet tall and 6 feet wide. This is a show stopper! Find it at ‘Nature Hills Nursery‘.
“President Grevy” – This is the perfect lilac bush if you are looking for armloads of fragrant, light purple flowers. This giant grows up to 11 feet tall and 8 feet wide. The scent is unmatched! This is the perfect focal point shrub! Zones 3-7. Find this variety at ‘Nature Hills‘.
“Miss Kim” Korean Lilac – Miss Kim is an elegant shrub that is compact enough to be used in formal gardens, with an icy blue (or sometimes pink) color and an amazing scent. Although this is a lilac bush that is classified as being grown in zones 3-7, there are many professional growers that put it on their list for mild climates. 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. Buy it at ‘Dutch Gardens‘.
“Beauty of Moscow” – In our opinion, this may be the most sophisticated lilac you can buy. Beautifully delicate and intensely fragrant, Beauty of Moscow has huge 10 inch double blooms that start out blush pink and turn to pure white. Can you imagine the gorgeous lilac bouquets that would come from this plant? And you would get plenty of them too, as the plant grows 10-12 feet high and 6-8 feet wide! Resistant to deer, for zones 3-7. One not to miss, from ‘Dutch Gardens‘.
“Yankee Doodle” – Yankee Doodle is a dark purple, floriferous late spring bloomer. This lilac variety is the top rated lilac by one of the most famous lilac breeders in the country, Father John Fiala. You can’t go wrong with this beauty, and how could you not love this color? Eight feet high and six feet wide, its the perfect size for the back of the border, or as a focal plant on its own. Find this lilac at ‘Spring Hill Nurseries‘.
Late Blooming Lilacs
“Miss Canada” – Miss Canada is a pink lilac variety that is widely adaptable. It grows in full sun to part shade, and it blooms up to a month later than early blooming varieties. This is a great way to stagger your lilac blooms through the season. Beautiful and very fragrant. Find this pretty one at ‘Nature Hills‘.
Lilacs for Warmer Zones
Most lilacs must have a winter chill in order to bloom the following year. However, there are some “low chill” lilac varieties that do well in warmer zones.
The best and most reliable lilac bushes for warmer climates are the ‘Descanso’ hybrids. Try these!
“Angel White”- Angel White is a large, pure white lilac bush that grows well into zone 8, and possibly into zone 9.
“Josee” – Josee is both a re-blooming variety and a lilac for warm climates! This lavender pink lilac blooms all summer in zones 2-9, and grows 4-6 feet tall and wide. One of the most fragrant rebloomers out there! Find it at ‘Dutch Gardens‘.
Re-Blooming Lilac Bushes
When planting lilacs, one of the only disappointments is when they stop blooming. Luckily, we now have re-bloomers! The “Bloomerang Series” comes in purple, white and pink, and are all fragrant plants that bloom on and off all summer. There are even some dwarf varieties! While there are many varieties, they all carry the same disease resistant, re-blooming attributes. Here is our fav!
“Bloomerang Dark Purple”- This disease resistant plant blooms heavily in the spring, take a short break in June, then blooms on and off the rest of the summer. The blooms get darker purple as the season goes on, too! From ‘Burpee‘. Burpee has other re-blooming varieties too, like the pink “Scent & Sensibility“.
So hopefully now that you know how easy it is planting lilacs and learning how to care for them, you are online ordering your favorites right now! We think you will also want to jump on over to our posts on How to Grow Hydrangeas and How to Grow English Roses!