Tips for long-lasting lilacs

Lovely lilacs are in full bloom in many parts of the country, and now is a good time to think about how to take care of them and enjoy them as long as possible.

6 Tips for lilac care from horticultural expert Paul Parent

  • Lilacs do best with at least 1” of water per week during hottest months
  • Do not over-fertilize or they won’t bloom. Just feed in the spring with something like Plant-Tone.
  • Lilacs love a sweet soil, so if yours are planted near pine trees or oaks, in the early spring add limestone, wood ash or similar products at a rate of 2-3 handfuls per 3 ft of height or spread of the lilac.
  • Lilacs bloom on old wood, so pruning should be done in the spring as soon as the plants finish flowering. If you wait too long, you’ll remove all of the new buds for the next year.
  • When pruning, remove any dead wood and also the oldest canes. You can cut those right down 5-10 inches from the ground.
  • The rule of thumb is to cut out about ½ – 1/3 of the old wood each year to keep your lilac blooming year after year.  You can also cut the tallest parts back to about 5-6 feet
  • Lilacs are hardy and will grow in Zones 3 – 7 but don’t do well in the warmest climates

For more detailed information, check out Paul Parent’s May 19th e-newsletter.  All of Paul’s newsletters are filled with helpful information and gardening advise! He also has a popular radio show that airs throughout New England, parts of the Southeast and Midwest and is also available via podcast on his website.

Consider planting several varieties of lilacs, selecting them by bloom time and color.  By selecting various bloom times, you can enjoy 3-5 weeks of blooms and that lovely lilac scent!

mixed lilac varieties

Lilacs and crabapples often bloom at the same time, creating a riot of color!

Your local garden center will have varieties that are well suited to your area, and Miller Nurseries in Canandaigua NY also offer a wide variety of lilacs.


Lilacs are available in an assortment of colors. Photos courtesy of Miller Nurseries

Tips for using lilacs in bouquets

As lovely as they are, lilacs generally don’t last  as long as we’d like them too. Here are a few tips for extending the length of your lilac floral displays.

  • Cut when the flowers are no more than ½ open
  • Split the stem a couple of inches with your pruners or a sharp knife to allow the branches to take up water.
  • Remove all the foliage (if you want to add some greens to your floral display, add lilac foliage in separately)
  • Before putting them in a vase, put them in cool water for a few hours – covering the stems right up to the blossoms
  • The bouquets will last longer if kept out of direct sunlight.
    cut flowers

    Lilacs and tulips make great companions in floral arrangements

And finally, a bit of Lilac Trivia . . .

  • Lilacs are the 8th Anniversary Flower
  • They’re the New Hampshire State Flower (symbolizing the hardy character of its people)
  • In the mid to late 1800’s the color lilac was associated with mourning. After a year of wearing black, widows and grown children could switch to lilac for clothing and accessories.
  • In the language of flowers, purple lilacs symbolize the first emotions of love; white lilacs are considered to represent innocence.
  • Lilacs were names after a beautiful nymph in Greek mythology


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6 thoughts on “Tips for long-lasting lilacs

    • They’re referred to as redundant iris, as they flower in the spring and then again in the fall. We’re not aware of iris that bloom all year long.
      You could ask at your local garden center or do a Google search for redundant iris to find mail order sources for the bulbs.
      Hope this helps.

  1. If you cut the entire lilac tree back in the Fall because it’s just gotten too big will it blossom in the Spring? If so, how much can i cut it back ? we have 2- large trees that are 8-10feet h
    Thanks for any advice !


    • Hi Victoria, If you cut them back now, they won’t bloom in the spring because Lilacs bloom on old wood (wood generated over the course of the summer). Your best bet is to let them bloom this spring, then cut about 1/3 of the branches back right to the ground (any that are bigger than your thumb). Each year you can cut out about 1/3 of them back right after flowering. If the plants are really out of control now, you can trim off some of the tops of the branche and doing it this way will assure some blooms from the lower branches but the first method is the best for long-term maintenance of lilacs.

  2. Originally a Rochester, New York native, now living in Tampa. I miss lilacs more than anything else about Rochester. Florists here have no idea what they even are. Any suggestion how I can get a large bouquet here?

    • Barb – If your local florists don’t know we guess we would try one in Rochester. The lilac festival in Rochester will be in full swing pretty soon and somebody there might know. Also, you might try Miller Nurseries in Canadaegua, NY (just recently sold to Stark Bros. in MO) or maybe someone at Harris Seeds in Rochester may have a suggestion for you. Best of luck!

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