Everyone seems to love lilacs, especially come Springtime.
I know I do. What’s not to love? They’re wonderfully fragrant, very low-maintenance, and their blooms are large and beautiful.
They’re simply a garden classic. And you can create all kinds of DIY crafts with them, too. Fill your indoor vases with cut lilac blooms and see if you can resist growing your own lilac bushes, I dare you!
Lilacs only flower for about two weeks in the Springtime, but if you ask me, that only adds to their appeal.
The fact that they don’t bloom for an entire season makes you appreciate them more when they’re here!
Luckily for us, there’s a way to get your yard to produce lilacs over a span of several weeks, and I’ll tell you how in just a minute.
If you crave these blooms in your garden, let me tell you that learning how to properly plant a lilac bush should be high on your priority list.
When to Plant Lilacs
You have two options when it comes to planting Spring-blooming lilacs. You can plant a lilac bush in the Fall before your zone’s first frost date, or you can plant it in early Spring.
You also have two main options in regards to what you plant and these options will give you the fastest results.
You can either plant a container lilac (a lilac that is growing in a container) which you can purchase at your local garden center or through an online retailer like Nature Hills Nursery, OR you can plant a bare root lilac. Bare root means the lilac roots are stripped of soil and are not sold in a pot.
Which is best? I like planting lilac containers that are rooted and have been growing for at least 3 years. I get mine from two places: online at Nature Hills Nursery or my local garden center when they have them in stock.
If you’re going to grow lilacs, you should understand that lilacs don’t bloom on a lilac bush until the bush is a few years old. And yes, if you didn’t already know, lilacs grow on shrubs aka bushes that spread out several feet wide and several feet tall.
The shrub needs at least three years to get established, develop a strong root system, and develop buds that bloom in the Spring.
If you prefer not to wait a few years to see lilac blooms in your garden, then I recommend opting for a container lilac that’s already a few years old because it will likely bloom the same year you purchase it or the following year.
(Always ask your garden nursery about it, first. They should be able to tell you how old the plant is by its container size.)
Bareroots are less expensive than lilac containers, especially if you’re having them shipped, so that’s a plus.
They’re shipped without any soil around the roots, and they’re only shipped while they’re dormant.
I find that lilac containers are easier to find than bare roots, especially at local retailers.
Lilacs: Lilac Varieties and Why it Matters
Believe it or not, there are hundreds of different lilac varieties to choose from, but you’ll only come across the more popular ones at garden centers.
Some of the most beloved lilacs come from the Syringa Vulgaris “Common Lilac” hybrid, which is also the most fragrant.
In fact, if you’re a fan of lilacs, you might already recognize them by name: Miss Kim, Common Purple Lilac…the list goes on and on.
But looks aren’t the only thing that differentiates lilac varieties. Some varieties have been developed to grow in warmer climates, which is a lucky thing for those of us who live in the Southern region of the United States.
You see, lilacs love cold weather. They actually need a very long period of low Winter temperatures to produce the blooms they’re famous for.
While many plants aren’t able to survive such harsh conditions, lilacs actually thrive in it. It’s why the plant is so popular in colder zones.
As with any other plant, you should be mindful of the hardiness zone you live in, so you can make the best purchasing decision for your garden.
If you live in Zone 8, for example, you’ll want to opt for a low-chill lilac variety. Low-chill lilac varieties are lilacs that have been raised to live in regions that experience warmer Winters.
Below are a few more low-chill lilac varieties:
–Descanso hybrids: Angel White Lilac, Lavender Lady, California Rose Lilac
– Syringa hyacinthiflora hybrids: Blue Skies Lilac, Esther Staley Lilac , Excel (Syringa hyacinthiflora)
Now that we have the time of year and lilac varieties covered, it’s time to talk about soil. Lilac bushes aren’t picky about soil and they’re pretty adaptable, but they do prefer alkaline soil with a pH level between 6.5-7.
Before planting, you can test your soil by using a soil test kit, which you can get on Amazon or pick up at your local garden center. Testing will only take a few moments of your time.
If your soil happens to test too acidic, you can work garden lime into the soil to make it more alkaline.
(Always remember that working dry soil with a garden fork or any kind of garden tool can harm your soil. It’s best to moisten the soil first).
Aside from alkaline levels, people with different kinds of soils have had success with growing lilacs, even those with clay soil.
If you struggle with clay soil, you can help your lilac bush by working some organic matter, such as dead leaves, into the soil to help with drainage and air circulation.
Lilacs can grow well in sandy soils because they love to be well-drained. Since sandy soil doesn’t retain excess water, it provides a more ideal environment.
To plant a container lilac, dig a hole that’s as deep as the rootball, and as wide as the width of the container, plus a few added inches in width. Gently take the lilac out of its container and place into the planting hole.
Optional* Sprinkle some root booster into the planting hole. (I get mine from Nature Hills Nursery. They recommended it to me when I purchased their lilacs). Root booster is a solution that helps the lilac bush establish faster and it also provides proper nutrition.
After placing the pot in the hole, cover it with soil and gently press down to ensure that the lilac bush is firmly in place. Water thoroughly.
Planting Lilacs in Containers
If you want to grow lilacs in containers, you can! While it’s not ideal because lilacs like to spread out several feet wide, there are some varieties that have been developed for containers.
This is a good option if you’re not planning to stay in your current home for an extended period of time. Lilacs, after all, can live up to 100 years in the same planting spot!
To plant your lilac in a pot, look for a lilac variety that’s better suited to containers, such as the Dwarf Korean Lilac, Minuet Lilac, or California Lilacs.
I’m actually currently growing a Boomerang Reblooming Purple Lilac in a container because we plan to move next year and I want to contain its growth so I can take it with us.
Thankfully, the guidelines are the same for growing lilacs in containers. Try to find the largest container that’s feasible for the area you want to grow the lilac in. This way, your lilac won’t feel suffocated as it enters the growing season.
General Planting Tips for Lilacs
For optimal results, there are a few things you should consider when choosing a spot to plant your lilac bush. Here they are:
-Plant your lilac containers or lilac bare roots at least 5 feet apart from each other so their root systems have room to spread and to provide each plant with proper air circulation.
–Try to place lilac bushes a few feet away from a wall or fence for the same reason as above – this shrub spreads out wide as it grows. They can spread out several feet, just as other shrubs do, so plan accordingly.
-Plant your lilac bush in a spot that gets access to at least 6 hours of FULL SUN each day. This means direct sunlight that isn’t obstructed by shade or other trees during the day. If you live in the South, you may have to shield your lilac from the sun during the Summer months, but it should still receive several hours of direct light each day.
-Try to choose a spot that is slightly elevated in comparison to the rest of your yard. This will help ensure good drainage – something lilacs need to grow well.
Watering Lilacs After Planting
After you’ve planted your lilac, water deeply, then water again once the soil starts to appear or feel dry. Regular watering is important to help the shrub get established. It won’t need water every day, but once or twice a week should be enough.
This is why well-draining soil is so important. You don’t want to over-water lilacs because the wood can rot from too much moisture.
When watering, make sure to water the soil, not the leaves or blooms, as the root system is what needs water. Wetting the leaves just makes your shrub susceptible to powdery mildew.
Well, that covers everything you need to know about planting your lilac bush! If you’d like to learn more about properly caring for lilacs, you can head to my posts on How to Prune Lilac Bushes and Why Your Lilac Bush Isn’t Blooming and What You Can Do About It.
Good luck to you, and I hope you enjoy growing lilacs in your garden!