Everything You Need to Know About Lilac Bushes

There are many types of bush that could look great in any garden, but an interesting one to choose is the lilac bush. Not only does this bush have beautiful flowers that will add an attractive focal point in your garden, but they also have an amazing aroma. Furthermore, these plants are easy to care for and will suit most gardens. If you are considering having one or more of these bushes in your garden, here is everything you need to know about the lilac bush.

An Overview of the Lilac Bush

The taxonomical name of the lilac bush is Syringa vulgaris. These are a deciduous shrub that grows secondary shoots and they have a main stem that can measure up to eight inches in diameter. If a lilac bush has been growing for several decades, they can produce a clonal thicket. The leaves of the lilac bush are light to mid-green, while the bark of the bush is either gray or gray-brown. The flowers have a tubular base and the blooms are various colors lilac to mauve or occasionally white. The flowers are arranged in terminal panicles and the plant produces a brown capsule fruit that splits in two to release winged seeds.

The History of Lilac Bushes in Gardens

Lilac bushes originally grew in Ottoman gardens and were introduced to European gardens in the 16th century. It is widely believed that Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, the Holy Roman Emperor’s ambassador, supplied lilac slips to Carolus Clusius. However, there are many other stories about how the lilac bush spread to other parts of the world. It wasn’t until the 18th century that lilac bushes were introduced to the American colonies.

Varieties of Lilac Bushes

There are many varieties of lilac bushes available. Gardening Know How highlights the following as some of the most common varieties:

  • Common lilac-This is the lilac bush that most people recognize as it is the one that is most commonly grown. They grow to around 20 feet and have lilac-colored flowers with a strong fragrance.
  • Chinese lilac-If you want to grow lilac bushes as a hedge or summer screen, then this is probably the best variety to choose. They grow to a height of approximately eight feet. An alternative name for this variety of lilac bush is Rouen lilac.
  • Dwarf Korean lilac- This dwarf variety only grows to around four feet tall. The flowers are a smaller version of those found on the common lilac bush.
  • Himalayan lilac- The Himalayan lilac is also known as the late lilac. It can grow up to ten feet and has rose-like blossoms.
  • Hungarian lilac- This is similar to the Himalayan lilac, but it is smaller and has darker flowers.
  • Persian lilac- The flowers of the Persian lilac are smaller than those of the common lilac and have a pale lilac color. The Persian lilac bush can grow up to ten feet tall.
  • Wedgewood blue lilac-The Wedgewood blue lilac is a compact variety of the lilac bush. It has equal height and spread of around six feet and it has lavender-blue flowers that grow in thick clusters.

Are Lilac Bushes the Same as Tree Lilacs?

People often mistake lilac bushes for tree lilacs and refer to them as lilac trees, but they are two different things, says The Spruce. There are two main categories of tree lilacs; Japanese tree lilacs and the Chinese tree lilacs. Tree lilacs bloom later than lilac bushes. While lilac bushes have colorful and aromatic blooms, the blooms of tree lilacs are usually white and have less scent. A notable feature of tree lilacs is their attractive bark. The Chinese tree lilac has a shedding bark like the paper birch.

Why Choose a Lilac Bush for Your Garden?

If you are undecided about whether to choose a lilac bush, the following are just some of the reasons why they make a great addition to any garden:

  • The blooms are very pretty, so having a lilac bush will add to the overall aesthetics of your garden.
  • Aromas can have a significant impact on your enjoyment of spending time in your garden. Lilac bushes have one of the most pleasant aromas of all plants, so the fragrance alone is enough reason to choose these plants.
  • As they are so easy to care for, they are the perfect choice for both novices and experienced gardeners.
  • You can create a hedge or divider using lilac buses if you plant several of them in a line or cluster. This means that you can uses lilac bushes for practical purposes.
  • Lilac bushes have a good spread, so you can fill a large space in your garden with just one bush.
  • They are tolerant of different soil types and climates, so you can grow them almost anywhere.
  • Lilac bushes will live for decades. Once you have planted them, you will have a nice feature in your garden that could potentially last your lifetime and you will not need to constantly replace plants in that part of your garden.

The Conditions That Lilac Bushes Prefer

Gardener’s Supply provides some tips for the conditions in which you should grow a lilac bush. Some of these include:

  • Lilac bushes prefer full sun. Therefore, you should plant them somewhere that has no more than half a day of shade for them to thrive.
  • Space is important as a lilac bush will spread. Choose a spot in your garden that will allow the bush to grow properly. How much space is needed depends on the variety of lilac bush, so read the information on the plant label properly as this will tell you the height and spread of a mature plant.
  • Drainage is important for a lilac bush to thrive. You should check that your chosen spot has good drainage before planting your lilac bush. To do this, dig a small hole that is approximately eight-inches deep and then fill it with water. Return an hour later and if the water has not drained away, find another spot for your bush.
  • A lilac bush will grow well in most types of soil, providing there is good drainage. However, the best type of soil is a loamy soil with a neutral pH.
  • Lilac bushes can thrive in many climates. However, they are best suited to cool summer climates and not hot, humid areas.

How to Grow a Lilac Bush

A lilac bush is an easy plant to grow, says Gardening Know How. Use the following simple steps to successfully grow a thriving lilac bush in your garden.

  • Plant the lilac bush in either spring or fall.
  • Choose a spot in your garden that is not shaded to give the lilac bush access to full sunlight. The spot should also have plenty of space for growth and good drainage.
  • Dig a hole in the soil that is deep enough to completely cover the roots.
  • Place the bush into the ground with the roots spread vertically so that the top of the ball of roots is lined up with the top of the soil.
  • Pat the soil around the roots to hold the lilac bush in place.
  • Space lilac bushes at least five feet apart if you are planting more than one at once.
  • Add a layer of mulch to the base of the lilac bush and water the roots.
  • If you have grown a lilac bush from a sucker in a container in a nursery, transplanting into your garden is easy. Just remove from the container and spread out the roots before planting outside using the aforementioned tips.

Caring for Your Lilac Bush

According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, lilac bushes are easy to care for, so they are a great option for both experienced gardeners and gardening novices alike. They offer the following tips for caring for your lilac bush:

  • Every spring, add a layer of compost followed by a layer of mulch under the lilac bush. This will help to control weeds and will retain moisture.
  • In the summer months, water the lilac bush whenever there is less than one inch of rainfall per week.
  • At the end of the blooming period, put rotted manure and some lime at the base of the tree. At the same time, remove the suckers and trim the bush.
  • In late winter, add a little fertilizer. Lilac bushes do not like being overfertilized and it will prevent them from blooming.
  • Deadheading of most lilac bush varieties is done for cosmetic purposes only. However, repeat-blooming varieties need deadheading to stimulate the production of new leaf buds and flowers.


Pruning is probably the most important element of caring for an established lilac bush. Pruning is a vital part of care because it ensures air circulation to prevent problems such as powdery mildew. Pruning also promotes flowering on your bush. Use these tips to make sure you are pruning your lilac bush properly:

  • The best time to prune a lilac bush is immediately after blooming is over. Avoid pruning later in the summer as you may be removing the wood on which the lilacs bloom.
  • If your lilac clusters are getting smaller, then it is time to prune.
  • Remove any dead wood each year. Prune out the oldest canes right down to the ground and the tall canes to eye height.
  • Cut back any weak branches to where there is a strong shoot and remove the small suckers.
  • You should prune the branches to keep the height of the plant in check and to thin out the growth for better air circulation.
  • Once the flowers have died, cut them off so that seeds do not form. This will promote profuse flowering the following spring.
  • Annual pruning is important to avoid extreme pruning that can result in the loss of blooms for up to three years.
  • For extremely old lilac bushes that have become very overgrown, you may need to take drastic measures. The first year of pruning, you should remove approximately half the old wood. In the second year of pruning, remove half of the remaining old wood. In year three, remove the rest of the old wood.
  • An alternative is to completely cut back the lilac bush to a height of around eight inches. This can take a few years to grow back, but when it does grow back it will bloom profusely.


Lilac bushes are known to readily expand and spread as they are clump-forming plants. They spread via the shoots that extend from the trunk of the bush. Therefore, propagating a new plant is a relatively simple task. You just need to dig down around one fo the lilac bush’s shoots and cut the shoot from the main plant., making sure you also get the shoot’s roots. Replant the shoot in the same way that you would a lilac bush you had bought from a nursery by choosing a spot where the plant can thrive. A propagated lilac bush shoot may need a little extra watering in the early stages for it to establish itself. Once it has grown into a lilac bush, they will need very little care.

Pest and Diseases

There are some diseases to which a lilac bush is prone and there are pests that are particularly attracted to lilac bushes. In summer months when the weather is hot and humid, your lilac bush may develop powdery white mildew. However, this will do the plant no harm, so it is safe to simply ignore the issue. Lilac bushes are also prone to attacks from slugs and snails. Therefore, you may wish to use a slug and snail repellent around your lilac bush. Other than these two issues, lilac bushes are generally a very healthy plant and you will experience very few issues with them.

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