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How to Grow a Lilac Bush

The common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) Madame Lemoineis a bush or tree related to both Jasmin and the Ash tree. Lilac bushes are popular in gardens and are native to the Balkan Peninsula.

How to Grow a Lilac Bush

The Lilac was introduced to North America in the 1700s and is the official state flower for New Hampshire. 

Types of Lilacs

There are thousands of different Lilac varieties in an array of colors. Lilacs can have either single or double blooms. Here are a few popular varieties to consider adding to your landscape.

Leon Gambetta:

This is a double bloom variety with purple flowers. This is a leggy type of Lilac bush that is naturally resistant to mildew. Blooms appear from late spring to early summer.


Large, white blooms provide contrast for the heart-shaped greenery. This Lilac bush grows between 7 and 9 feet tall (2 to 2.7 meters). This pretty Lilac type is naturally resistant to insects, disease, and deer. What your Lilac blooms will attract are butterflies and hummingbirds. 

Belle de Nancy:

This Lilac variety features mauve double blooms with a strong fragrance. The bush flowers from late spring to early summer and makes a good border shrub.

Blue Skies:

This Lilac type produces single blooms in a lavender-blue color. The blooms arrive in late  spring and are recommended for climates with warm winters. 

Madame Lemoine:

This type is considered one of the best white Lilac varieties. The bush produces double blooms in late spring that last between three to four weeks, which is longer than most Lilac varieties.

When to Plant Lilacs

Plant your Lilac bush in either the spring or fall. For climates with an early or cold winter, spring planting is recommended. When planting in the spring, plant your Lilac bush before the flower buds begin to open. For a fall planting, the best time is after the leaves have fallen but before the ground freezes. 

Choosing Your Planting Site and Preparing It

Choose a planting site for your Lilac bush that receives at least six hours of sunlight per day. While Lilac bushes will grow in partial shade, it will not produce nearly as many blooms. The soil for your planting area should be loamy and well draining. To prepare the soil for planting, use a shovel or garden fork to loosen the soil to a depth of between 10 to 12 inches deep. 

For heavy, clay soils, spread a 2-to-3-inch thick layer of peat moss over the area and work the peat into the loosened soil. For poor soil, spread the same amount of compost instead and work that in thoroughly.

Planting Your Lilacs

For planting a cutting from someone else’s mature Lilac bush, dig a hole twice as wide as your cuttings roots and just as deep. If planting a nursery-bought Lilac in a container, remove the bush from the container and squeeze the root ball to break up the roots and soil. Dig a hole twice as wide and just as deep as the root ball. Place either your cutting or your purchased Lilac in the middle of your hole and spread the roots out as best you can. Backfill around the roots until the top of the root ball is even with the soil’s surface. Water the Lilac bush well to settle it into its new place.

Companion Plants for Lilac Bushes

When choosing companion plants for your Lilac bush, decide if you want to add interest to certain areas of the bush or simply add a complementary plant to break up the visual. Choose to plant flowering bulbs at the base of your Lilac bush to camouflage any bare branches at the bottom or another flowering bush for variety.

Flowering Bulbs

Grape Hyacinth: A spring bloomer, the Grape Hyacinth grows between 6 and 9 inches tall. The flowers are available in blue, pink, purple, white, and yellow. As with Lilac bushes, Hyacinths prefer full sun to partial shade and also grow well in containers.

Daffodils: A perennial spring bulb, Daffodils emerge early in the season, sometimes when snow is still on the ground. The trumpet-shaped blooms in yellow and white add interest to the base of your lilac bush.

Flowering Bushes and Vines

Weigela: The Weigela bush produces showy, star-shaped flowers that bloom abundantly in spring, then sporadically in summer. The Weigela bush grows to a size of 10 feet (3 meters) tall and wide and prefers full sun for optimal blooming.

Flowering Dogwood: The Flowering Dogwood produces blooms in either white, pink or red. Blooming occurs for approximately two to four weeks in early spring. Once blooming is over, the foliage remains attractive throughout the remaining growing season. The green leaves morph into a reddish-purple in the fall. 

Clematis: Clematis is a climbing vine that produces showy blooms throughout summer. Plant the vine at the base of your Lilac bush and it will use your Lilac bush as a trellis without harming the bush. Once the Lilac bush is finished blooming, the Clematis will bloom and add visual appeal to the bush. 

Caring for Lilac Bushes

Caring for Lilac Bushes

Lilac bushes are relatively drought tolerant but will need supplemental watering during long, dry spells during the summer. Water at the base of the bush until the ground is saturated but not soggy. 

As long as your soil quality is good your Lilac bush will not need additional fertilizer. If your Lilac appears to be struggling, perform a soil nutrient test to determine if any nutrients need to be added. Add as needed based on the test results, but be cautious when adding Nitrogen as too much can negatively affect the Lilac bush’s health. 

It’s recommended to prune back your Lilac bush by one third each season. Remove dead and diseased branches, as well as expired blooms, after flowering has finished. 

Overwintering Your Lilac Bush

Often, no additional care is needed to ready your Lilac bush for winter. In climates where winters remain somewhat warm, an occasional watering will help the bush maintain its health until spring. For climates that may experience a late freeze in spring, after the buds have set, cover the bush with burlap to protect those tender flower buds until the frost has passed. 

The Lilac produces beautiful and fragrant blooms that can be equally enjoyed outdoors or in a flower arrangement. Lilacs are relatively low maintenance plants that last for years if properly cared for. 

Growing Lilacs FAQ

In Flower Language, What is the Meaning of Lilacs?

In Victorian times the Lilac was a symbol of old love. In Russia the Lilac is associated with wisdom and the Celtics thought Lilacs had magical powers. 

Are Lilacs Considered Toxic?

No, Lilacs are not considered toxic to animals.

What Do Different Colored Lilacs Mean?

White Lilacs symbolize purity, while purple Lilacs mean spirituality. The Magenta Lilac means love and passion, much like the red Rose.

How Long Will a Lilac Bush Live?

Lilac bushes can easily live over 100 years if well cared for.

Which Variety of Lilac Has the Strongest Fragrance?

Syringa pubescens, or Chinese lilac, is considered to produce the strongest scent of all the Lilac varieties.