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Syringa vulgaris 'Katherine Havemeyer'. Getty Images

How to grow lilac

Find out all you need to know about growing lilac (Syringa), in this detailed Grow Guide.

A table displaying which months are best to sow, plant and harvest.
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Plant
Plant

Do Plant in January

Do Plant in February

Do not Plant in March

Do not Plant in April

Do not Plant in May

Do not Plant in June

Do not Plant in July

Do not Plant in August

Do not Plant in September

Do not Plant in October

Do Plant in November

Do Plant in December

Flowers
Flowers

Plant does not flower in January

Plant does not flower in February

Plant does not flower in March

Plant does not flower in April

Plant does flower in May

Plant does flower in June

Plant does flower in July

Plant does not flower in August

Plant does not flower in September

Plant does not flower in October

Plant does not flower in November

Plant does not flower in December

Prune
Prune

Do not Prune in January

Do Prune in February

Do not Prune in March

Do not Prune in April

Do not Prune in May

Do not Prune in June

Do Prune in July

Do Prune in August

Do not Prune in September

Do not Prune in October

Do not Prune in November

Do not Prune in December

Lilacs, Syringa, are classic garden shrubs and small trees that bear panicles of fragrant, tubular, single or double flowers in shades of purple, pink and white from late spring to early summer. The flowers are excellent for cutting and are edible, too.

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The most common lilac is Syringa vulgaris, or tree lilac. It is part of the Oleaceae or olive family and is native to east Asia and south east Europe. It was much loved by the Edwardians and was widely grown in suburban gardens before going out of fashion. However there is now renewed interest in lilac as it is hard to beat for flowers and scent.

There are are many cultivars to choose from – some are compact and are suitable for smaller gardens or pots, while larger types can be grown as a standalone specimen in a lawn or at the back of a mixed border. Discover more trees for small gardens.

You can expect lilacs to put on around 30-60cm of growth a year. To extend the season of interest, you could try growing a late-flowering clematis through the larger cultivars.

How to grow lilac

Lilacs are easy to grow. Grow in moist but well-drained, neutral to alkaline soil in full sun. Prune after flowering to prevent them getting leggy. Mulch annually in spring.

Lilac: jump links


Where to grow lilac

Syringa vulgaris ‘Lois Amee Utley’

Lilacs thrive in a sunny location, in well-drained, fertile, humus-rich soil that is alkaline to neutral. Lilacs are good plants for chalky or alkaline soils.


How to plant lilac

Planting lilac

Dig a generous hole and plant your lilac to the level of the soil line. Back-fill and firm down the soil gently around the plant. Water in well. Mulch after planting to help retain moisture in the soil. If you’re growing lilac in a pot, choose one that is at least 60cm in diameter. Plant into John Innes No.3 compost with some sand or grit added for drainage.


Where to buy lilac online

How to care for lilac

Deadheading spent lilac blooms in summer

Mulch lilac annually in spring. As the flowers fade towards midsummer, you can deadhead spent blooms on smaller shrubs. Prune shrubs for the desired height and shape after flowering, also removing any dead, diseased or dying wood.

If you need to renovate an overgrown or leggy old tree, prune when the plant is dormant, in winter. Lilacs respond well to hard pruning and you can cut the whole plant back to around 1m above ground. Because they flower on the previous year’s wood, you will lose the flowers for a at least one year. Alternatively you could remove some of the stems over a period of two or three years, cutting them back to the ground – this will ensure that you still enjoy some spring flowers.


How to take lilac cuttings

Propagate lilacs by softwood cuttings. Follow our step-by-step guide to taking softwood cuttings.

You can propagate lilac from the suckers that often sprout from the base of the plant. Simply dig them up with some roots attached and replant. 


Lilac problems

Lilacs are generally problem free but may be attacked by lilac leaf mining moths or thrips. These do not usually harm the vigour of the plant.

Poor flowering in spring could be due to poorly drained soil or not enough sunshine – lilacs need a sunny spot. Late frosts can also spoil the flowers.

Suckers may spring from the base of the plant. If you don’t want to propagate from them, tear or wrench (rather than cut) the shoots away. This can be done from midsummer onwards and will help to prevent them regrowing.

Lilac blight causes die back, distorted and blemished leaves and ultimately, leaf drop. Blossoms can also be affected, turning brown and limp. Pruning out the affected branches, well beyond signs of infection, in dry sunny weather may help. This also will improve air circulation, helping to control the spread.

Lilacs can also be affected by honey fungus.


Advice on buying lilac

  • You can find lilacs at garden centres but for the best selection, look online
  • Check the ultimate height and spread, as these can vary considerably

Where to buy lilac online


Lilac varieties to grow

Syringa ‘Red Pixie’

Lilac ‘Red Pixie’

Syringa ‘Red Pixie’ is a compact lilac, baring masses of fragrant pink flowers, which open from red buds. It often then flowers again in late summer or early autumn. Perfect for a small garden, it will also grow in a large pot. Height x Spread: 1.8m x 1.8m

Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’

Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’

Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’ is a Korean lilac that bears masses of panicles of fragrant, purple-pink flowers from late spring to early summer, contrasting with oval, dark green leaves. It’s ideal for growing in a sunny ornamental border. Compact and slow growing, it’s suitable for smaller gardens or growing in pots. H x S: 1.5m x 1.5m

Syringa vulgaris ‘Primrose’

Syringa vulgaris ‘Primrose’

Syringa vulgaris ‘Primrose’ has white flowers that mature to cream-yellow and have an exceptional lilac scent. H x S: 3m x 3m

Syringa vulgaris Sensation’

Syringa vulgaris ‘Sensation’

Syringa vulgaris ‘Sensation’ is a striking lilac with unusual, purple-red flowers that are edged with white. H x S: 4m x 4m

Syringa vulgaris ‘Katherine Havemeyer’

Syringa vulgaris ‘Katherine Havemeyer’. Getty Images

A spreading shrub with double, lavender blue flowers, set against heart shaped leaves. H x S: 4m x 4m

Syringa vulgaris ‘Madame Lemoine’

Syringa vulgaris ‘Madame Lemoine’. Getty Images

A beautiful large double white-flowered variety bred by the French breeder Victor Lemoine in 1890, and still going strong today. H x S: 7m x 7m

Syringa vulgaris ‘Charles Joly’

Syringa vulgaris ‘Charles Joly’. Getty Images

Stunning, double purple-red flowers. H x S: 4m x 4m

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