Lilac, syringa, is a garden classic, flowering in late spring. Its pale purple, pink or white flowers are excellent for cutting and work well in bouquets. Lilacs can be grown as a shrub or small tree, so work well in many garden situations, both in pots and in the ground.
Where to grow lilac
Lilacs thrive in a sunny location, in well-drained, fertile, humus-rich soil that is alkaline to neutral. They do well on chalky ground.
How to plant 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.
How to care for lilac
Mulch annually in spring. As the flowers fade towards midsummer, you can deadhead spent blooms and prune shrubs for height and shape. Bigger pruning jobs, such as renovating an old tree, should take place when the plant is dormant, in winter. Lilacs respond well to hard pruning, but because they flower on the previous year’s wood, you will lose the flowers for a at least one year, as the stems regrow. To maintain flowering, remove alternate stems, cutting them back to the ground. Take out any dead, diseased or dying wood. Alternatively, prune lightly – hard pruning isn’t always necessary.
How to take lilac cuttings
Propagate lilacs by softwood cuttings.
Follow our step-by-step guide to taking softwood cuttings.
Lilacs can be prone to leaf mining moths, thrips and lilac blight. Lilac blight causes die back, distorted and blemished leaves and ultimately, leaf drop. Blossoms can also be affected, turning brown and limp. Copper fungicide will kill the Psuedomonas syringae bacteria that causes it. Alternatively, pruning the affected branches and improving air circulation will help to control the spread. Good air circulation can also help to keep powdery mildew and leaf spot diseases at bay.
Five lilac varieties to try
- Syringa emodi ‘Aureovariegata’ – this Himalayan lilac is a large deciduous shrub 5m tall, with fragrant, tubular white flowers appearing from June onwards. Himalayan lilac has variegated leaves in fresh green with a darker green central splash
- Syringa vulgaris ‘Lois Amee Utley’ – a large lilac with fragrant pink, double flowers. It looks good in a mixed herbaceous border or on its own as a focal point
- Syringa ‘Red Pixie’ – a compact lilac, baring masses of fragrant pink flowers, which open from red buds. Perfect for a small garden it will also grow successfully in a large pot
- Syringa vulgaris ‘Primrose’ – the white flowers that mature to cream-yellow have an exceptional lilac scent. A large lilac, it’s most suitable for growing at the back of a mixed herbaceous border
- Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’ – this Korean lilac 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