A simple guide to growing common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) to spruce up your backyard


The common lilac, also known as French lilac or simply lilac, belongs to the olive family and is related to ash trees, jasmine shrubs and vines, forsythia bushes, and privets. This ornamental landscaping plant is low-maintenance and has a fragrant scent that has been revered since ancient times. Originally from the Balkan Peninsula, the lilac found its way to northern Europe in the 1500s and was brought to North America in the 1700s. New Hampshire even made it the state flower.

To care for common lilacs, annual pruning and fertilization are necessary. These plants are great for landscaping, including border plants and hedges, and come in multiple colors. Common lilacs require at least six hours of full sun per day and prefer loamy, somewhat moist, neutral to slightly alkaline soil with good drainage. Lilacs can tolerate occasional drought but will benefit from supplemental watering during excessively hot, dry stretches. They prefer moderate to cool temperatures in the summers and can handle freezing temperatures during the winter. However, they do not tolerate high humidity or hot temperatures found in the southern United States.

When propagating lilacs, they readily spread through suckers. To propagate, dig around a new shoot and cut it from the main plant, being careful not to damage the roots. Replant it in a new location and keep it well-watered until its roots take hold. If you don’t want your lilac to spread, trim off any suckers to keep it under control. Before adding any fertilizer to your common lilacs, test the soil, and only add it if there’s a need for a certain nutrient. An excess of nitrogen can harm the plant.

closeup of lilac

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closeup of lilacs

Pruning is essential for maintaining the health, size, and shape of common lilacs. It also promotes good air circulation, which can help prevent certain diseases. Common lilacs have varying sizes and shapes, with heights ranging from 12 to 16 feet and widths from 8 to 12 feet. They often bloom for three to four weeks in late spring, but the blooming period may differ depending on the variety. Pruning should be done after the blooming period to allow the plant enough time to grow and set buds. It is recommended to prune a third of the shrub each growing season, removing dead or diseased wood, spent flowers, and stems thicker than two inches in diameter. Lilacs can be vulnerable to pests and diseases such as aphids, mealybugs, oystershell scales, powdery mildew, bacterial blight, and verticillium wilt. To prevent these problems, providing optimal growing conditions and regularly checking the plant for issues are crucial. With hundreds of available varieties, common lilacs can be a great addition to any landscape, with colors ranging from pale pink to deep violet.

Lilac wonderblue

The image credit goes to cultivar413 on Flickr under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.

Lilac Krasavitsa Moskvy

Lilac Andenken an Ludwig Spaeth

Lilacs are a popular choice for both specimen plants and privacy screens. They are versatile enough to be used as hedges, and dwarf lilacs are especially suitable for small gardens or container planting. Lilacs are also known to draw in various pollinators such as bees, birds, and butterflies into your garden.

For a longer blooming period, it is recommended to plant different lilac varieties that bloom at different times of the year. This ensures that you can enjoy the beautiful blooms for up to six weeks throughout the spring season. Many gardeners prefer planting lilacs near areas where they can fully appreciate their sweet fragrance, such as windows, patios, or pathways.

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