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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24 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!

  3. I have a lilac bush that was on my property when I bought the house. Neighbors tell me it has been here for about 25 years. It’s not very big (think it’s been cut back to the ground a number of times) and has the middle growth cut out. New growth is coming up from the center of the large base. Last fall I cut out all the dead wood and trimmed what looked like growth that wasn’t doing too well.
    I am afraid to trim on it any more, don’t want to kill it. I am from Texas and now live in Colorado. Don’t know much about lilacs!
    Any suggestions on care so it’ll bloom again! It had two or three blooms last spring, beautiful lavender color.

    • We have a number of lilacs and we tend to them as follows: In fall we cut out any dead wood. Then we cut back a THIRD of any branches that are larger around than our thumb. This allows the new growth to mature and eventually flower. Hope this helps!

  4. I have 5 lilac bushes planted on the south side of my house. I planted them 9 years ago and I have hundreds of small sprouts around them. In 9 years, I have my first bloom. ONE! What can I do to get lots of blooms or will there be more next year now that one bush has one flower this year? Thank you.

    • Hi Diane,
      There could be several reasons for your lack of blooms. One reason could be that you pruned them too late in the season. Lilacs bloom on new wood and if you cut them back in the late summer/early fall, you could end up cutting off the stems that were producing new buds. If you haven’t pruned them at all, that could be the other problem because they need to be cut back regularly to give the plant more energy. Our friend, gardening expert Marie Ianotti at Gardening About.Com has a great piece that provides loads of details. We hope this helps!

    • Hi Vickie, Miss Kim blooms on “new wood”‘ so it should only be pruned shortly after it blooms. Otherwise you take the risk of cutting off stems that would be producing blooms for the following year. The University of Chicago Urbana’s Extension Service has a great post with lots of details about how to prune Miss Kim. Hope this helps.

  5. Do you know if there are any yellow lilacs and if they grow well in central Oregon. I have purple and pink lilacs and would love to fine a yellow one.

    • Hi Sheila, We’re not familiar with yellow lilacs but suggest you check your local garden center. If they don’t carry them, they may be able to order them from one of their suppliers who specialize in plants that will grow in Oregon.

  6. I have a small lilac bush–the kind that blooms throughout the season. When do I prune it? It does bloom repeatedly but not impressively, kind of disappointing.

    • Hi Jo – prune it by mid-July if possible so that you’re not cutting off the new wood where next years blooms would be. If you haven’t already done so, try thinning it out a bit too. That helps to give energy back to the roots to produce more blooms. The old “rule” is to cut 1/3 of any branches that are bigger than your thumb.

  7. I live in coastal NC.Wilmington. I grew up Syracuse..lilacs galore… I have heard that they won’t survive here. Anything closest to this pretty plant is Wisteria….which overgrows and takes over everything.
    Please tell me..if I am able to plant Lilacs here…or, if not, is there a way to keep a potted plant of them indoors? I love the smell.

    • Hi Annie,
      It would be best to check with your local nursery to see if they would recommend any varieties that would do well in your area. I don’t think they’d work as an indoor plant though. I hope you had a chance to attend the Lilac Festival in Rochester NY when you were living in the area!

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