Growing Lilacs

October 1, 2018

I planted a common purple lilac this spring to replace the one that had to be removed last year due to a sewer line problem. It was about 2ft. tall to start out and I followed planting directions, mulched around it and kept it watered during the very hot summer that we've had this year.


It looks healthy at this point, but it hasn't grown at all! I'm wondering if I ended up with a dwarf variety rather than the common purple, as it looks healthy yet no growth. Has anyone else experienced zero growth the first year?


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October 1, 20181 found this helpful

You might have too much nitrogen in the soil.

October 2, 20181 found this helpful

I've always loved lilacs--even carried a basket of lilacs in my first wedding, so I planted a bush at our last house. It was right outside the front door, and I checked it constantly. If I recall correctly, I don't think it bloomed the first year, but then it began to the next year.


Every year I would get more clumps of blooms. Then one day I came home to find my son, who was about 12, had cut it almost down to the roots. When I started screeching, he told me "I thought it was a weed." It did come back and start blooming again, so give your lilac bush time.

October 3, 20180 found this helpful

I planted it right where the old one was planted, & that one had been doing great (until they had to dig it up to get to the sewer break). Only thing that I've given the new one was the the pack of some type of plant food that the nursery gave me with it when I originally planted it in the spring & I followed the directions/planting instructions to the letter.


It actually looked healthier for about the first month or two after I planted it, but it was a really hot & humid summer so maybe that's what's affecting it?? Hope that I haven't ended up with a Miss Kim or something small--need the old fashioned big lilac like what had been there to screen the back of the neighbors garage.

October 3, 20180 found this helpful

Yeah, my husband has been known to chop at the lilacs (we have them all across the back fence-line in the yard) pretty badly & we have never lost one yet! (Until the sewer issue.) Seems like they kind of like the old dead wood removed every few yrs.


This new one is just puzzling me with the low (actually NO) growth. Will probably give it to spring & then move it if it's still living and still isn't growing and try again with another one.


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October 5, 20181 found this helpful

Is it possible that the sewage issue leaked yuck into the soil? If so, this may be the issue. I would hope that the yuck would dissipate and then once it does the plant should go back to its normal responses and grow.

You could always call the place you got the plant and ask them for guidance. Mixing up plant types seems to be common....Lord knows why...maybe new and experienced spring staff.


It is so frustrating.

I have only had established plants, but I know they are quite sensitive to changes and don't do well if they get too much fertilizer, which surprised me, as I grew up thinking you always had to feed every plant.

Your solution to give it to next spring is best and go from there! These are usually hardy souls so hopefully things will improve for it!

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17 More Questions

Here are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community.

May 1, 2011

I planted two lilacs at least two years ago. They are in full sun with forsythia, buddelia, etc. While everything else is thriving, growing, and blooming the poor lilacs grow (they are about 3 ft. tall), but haven't even produced one bud.

I don't want to dig them up (even if they never flower), but I really want lilacs. I just love the scent. Should I just wait or feed them something special or give up on them?


I know someone will have the answer - so. "Thanks" in advance.

Hardiness Zone: 6a

By Ann macC from Pawtucket, RI


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May 1, 20110 found this helpful

If they are all from the same plant (or same parents)they most likely are not self pollinators. If this is the case, add another lilac from another source and within a couple years they should all bloom.

May 10, 20110 found this helpful

Ann, it's quite possible that your lilacs simply aren't old enough/large enough to bloom yet. Here's a ThriftyFun article with some other possibilities:

Mom-from missouri, a plant's pollination needs do not affect whether if blooms, only whether it is able to set fruits and make seeds. Plant bloom regardless of what is nearby.

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November 9, 2006


I have searched the Q&A for answers on lilacs. I have done all that is suggested, no cutting after July, right amount of nutrients. All day light and still no blooms. It suckers like crazy, new sprouts all around the parent bush, but no blooms. What to do?

Hardiness Zone: 6b

Jenny from Nashville, TN


Jenny,Don't despair; you're not the only one out there with cranky lilacs. Here are a couple of suggestions. Try driving a spade into the soil around the base of the plants to cut off some of the roots (but not all). This may be enough to shock your lilacs into flowering next season. Is that your lilacs are planted too deep? Pull back some of the soil so the tops of the roots are slightly exposed. Lilacs really don't need any additional fertilizer other than nutrients taken from the soil. If you fertilize the lawn near your bush, your lilacs could be getting too much nitrogen, which will cause them to throw energy into producing leaves rather than flowers. I would also suggest going at least one full season without doing any pruning at all just in case you are inadvertently cutting off the flower buds. (June or July may already be too late to prune for you).



August 28, 20060 found this helpful

I am no expert but I think the problem may be all those suckers. You need to dig them up and transplant them or give them away. They are probably taking all the food from the mother plant.
Good luck !

August 28, 20060 found this helpful

I'm not sure either but I think lilacs need a cold winter. Are there other lilacs growing around you? Ask their owners what they do (people love to give advice). Or find out if you need a particular type of lilac for your climate. I know that lilacs grow easily in NH, but not in RI. And that's just 2 zones diffference.

By Linda from hayward, WI (Guest Post)
August 29, 20060 found this helpful

I have stubborn lilacs too. I live in a very cold climate gets down to -30 or colder zone 3. My lilacs flowered when I first planted them and never again, cut them, fertilze, and put them in the sun. Still no luck, I have many varieties. Same way with my apple and plum trees, they are dwarfs about 4 years old and I get plenty of flowers covered with bees, but no apples or plums. Anyone have any ideas? please help

By Mbowcut (Guest Post)
August 30, 20060 found this helpful

I also have a very subborn lilac bush. I am so jealous when I see huge gorgeous lilacs in bloom. I read somewhere that if you prune them, you are cutting off the next years blooms. I don't know how true this is but I am willing to try it this year. I kept the pruning shears far away!!


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November 10, 20060 found this helpful

My lilacs are 50 years old and they thrive on neglect. No chemicals, some modest trimming after they bloom, nothing special. Remove suckers for cosmetic appearances only.

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October 19, 2006


We have a cabin up in the mountains at this location. It is about 9000' above sea level. The ground totally freezes in the winter and is usually covered with snow until mid May. Will lilac bushes grow here?

Hardiness Zone: 6a

Thank you.
Kathryn from Brian Head, UT



Colorado State University recommends two types of lilacs for mountain altitudes. Common lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) should grow to 9,000 ft. The same is true for the Preston or Canadian lilac (syringa x prestoniae). Both require full sun exposure, have light to moderate moisture requirements and grow up to 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide. The common lilac is slightly more upright and vase-shaped, whereas the Canadian lilac has more of an oval shape with upright branches. Both shrubs come in a variety of colors. Before purchasing young shrubs, I would recommend contacting your local county extension agency. They may be able to provide you with more information on how these lilacs perform in your specific growing area.

There are a number of important aspects to consider when growing plants at higher altitudes. Exposure to wind can also determine whether a tree or shrub will survive higher elevations. Lilac flowers are sensitive to frost, so a sheltered site at your elevation would probably be best. The length of your frost-free period matters, too. Some shrubs may survive at a given elevation, but they may not produce flowers if the frost-free period is too short. Roots can be mulched to help delay freezing of the soil in the fall and also to retain moisture.



By Tracy (Guest Post)
September 10, 20060 found this helpful

I live in central vermont and we also get snow in October and it lasts until April - we have no problems growing lilacs here as I have many many of them. You may want to give them a heavy coat of mulch in the fall right after the first hard frost.

September 12, 20060 found this helpful

Lilacs prefer cold climates. Look around for some growing in your area and find out just what kind they are. I know they grow good in the mountains of NH (like the other post said in VT).

By Carol in PA (Guest Post)
September 13, 20060 found this helpful

We have lilacs growing here in zone 5 in northern PA. I've read that lilacs like sun and slightly alkaline soil.

September 13, 20060 found this helpful

I live in Ottawa, Canada, and believe me we have a lot of snow and very cold temperatures. We also have lilacs so there must be some types that would work for you.

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April 26, 2010

I have a lilac bush that is half OK and the other half has buds, but no leaves. On the half with leaves, the leaves are funny looking, kind of cup shaped. I am sending a few pictures. Any thoughts or ideas on what the problem could be would be appreciated.

Hardiness Zone: 5a

By Dan from Justice, IL


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April 27, 20100 found this helpful

I have noticed a few trees here in SD that are like that too. The ones that I noticed are smaller type trees that are planted in the boulevard along the street by WalMart. The trees have been there for several years. The cab driver that took me to WalMart one day and I were talking about it and wondering if it could have had something to do with the hard winter we had this past winter. A lot of snow and cold. I don't know if weather could have had anything to do with it, but just wondered. The trees look really strange. The sides of the trees that don't have leaves are on the south side.


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May 8, 20100 found this helpful

I have one lilac, it is doing the same kind of thing here in southern CA. I had a few blooms in February, that looked mutated, very small, and almost no leaves. In April it bloomed better, but few blooms and the leaves are looking normal now. I have one small stubby flower today. And the fragrance isn't very strong. Oh, and this bush was developed for our area. GG Vi

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October 3, 2007

I have three brand new Lilac bushes and it is starting to get very cold here at night. 38 degrees this morning. I am wondering if it will hurt these young saplings to keep them inside for the winter, or if it is wiser to go ahead and plant them outside before the first snow really hits; which of course could be any time.

Hardiness Zone: 5a


October 5, 20070 found this helpful

My understanding is that fall is the best time to plant the saplings. I would not take them inside -they need the cold/warm cycle of the seasons to grow well (that is why they don't grow down south) - if you are concerned about cold damage, mulch them well and put a burlap or other protective wrap around them.

October 7, 20070 found this helpful

Your lilacs can take the cold. I lived in Ct. for years and mine always survived the New England weather..You could put some Burlap around the bushes to prevent WIND BURN, this is what really damges the plants, Soak the roots well before you put them to bed for the winter. Many plants suffer because they get dehydrated and wind burned. good luck, jjs

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May 21, 2019

My Sensation lilac growing next to another did not leaf out. It has distorted blooms on it, but no leaves.

The bush right next to it has healthy leaves and is beginning to blossom. What should I do?

Sensation Lilac Has No Leaves and the Blooms Are Distorted - dead looking scrub
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May 12, 2016

How can I kill a weed that has grown in the middle of a lilac bush? The stems are woody and as thick as the lilac.


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July 26, 20170 found this helpful

The best way to get rid of a weed that is growing too close to another plant (a keeper) is to cut the weed close to the ground and take either an eye dropper or similar dropper or even a q-tip and dip it in weed killer (or vinegar if you have no weed killer) and carefully drop a drop or two on the cut stem of the weed, being careful to not get it on your plant.
Wait a few days and do the same again. You should soon see the weed die without harming you plant.

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September 24, 2013

Lilac bush in a pot.I have a lilac bush in a pot. I live in southern Illinois. Can I leave it out over the winter in the pot or should I bring it in? I rent so I don't want to put it directly into the ground. I need to re-pot it into a larger pot. Should I do it before or after the leaves drop for the winter or should I wait until next spring?

By brianlund


December 5, 20140 found this helpful

Hi I live in Washington state on the eastern side of the state where it is a hardy zone 5a. I have had a liliac bush in a container during the winter it did just fine and it was nice and green the next spring and summer. And the liliac bush in a container will do mostly the same thing as if it was in the ground. Covering the container in the winter will be a good to help it be protected in the winter. The lilac bush has done will without being protected in the winter too. The soil has frozen solid before, but it will not hurt the lilac bush it should do just fine!

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May 12, 2012

We moved into our new home last October. We noticed that the bark on the lilac tree is coming off. A lot of the branches have died. I am not sure if the previous owner chopped it. I tried my best to cut all the dry branches and it seems like it's OK. It does have some flowers on it. My question to you is why is the bark falling off the tree. And I notice where the lilac tree is there is a bit of moss on the ground and a bit on the tree. Could this be the cause of it? Is there something I could put to help it?

By Lisa


May 15, 20120 found this helpful

Try moving it in a different location away from where the moss is growing, the moss is taking all the nutrients away from tree. After you dig up the tree get as much of the dirt out of the roots that you can and then use some garden soil, and water for 7 days straight till it takes root. After about 7 months add some fertilizer like bone meal or blood meal. Good luck! Lilacs are my favorite flower and I wish they bloomed all summer long but they don't.

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June 11, 2011

A friend was trimming her lilacs and gave me the trimmings. She told me that I might be able to grow a plant from the clippings. The clippings are fairly large. Can I grow a plant? Is so, how? Thanks!

By mindy from Terrebonne, OR


September 24, 20130 found this helpful

I've had real good luck in growing many variety of plant cuttings using a growth hormone. I place the plant in a plastic bag after watering and use a twist tie. I leave it this way for several weeks. Good luck, Bri

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May 31, 2011

Is it best to plant lilacs after the blossoms fall off, or doesn't it matter?

By Barbara


May 31, 20110 found this helpful

Usually you should plant lilacs in the spring time but since that is passed you can still plant them as long as you make sure to water them and make sure they have plenty of sun.

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May 15, 2011

How do I root a piece of lilac tree from another branch? I was told not to take any cuttings while the trees are in bloom! Does it matter? I am getting impatient.

By Celeste from Bridgeport, Ct


June 1, 20110 found this helpful

Try it anyway, taking off one little cutting won't hurt the plant. Place cutting with bark in water to see if it roots. Wait till its strong enough before replanting it. Good Luck.

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May 9, 2012

Are lilacs, such as the big beautiful French lilacs grafted? I ask because mine died. It left suckers some 3, 4, or 5 years ago. Will these suckers come back true to form or were they below a graft and I am waiting for something that will never come?

The lack of bloom could be due to not enough light or too much water. I would move one or two and try to improve both drainage and sun location, but if it is a rat, I am better off buying a new plant. I so want a thriving lilac. My little Kim does just fine, but is not the real deal in my thinking. Can you help?
Thank you. Smiles.

By NWRose

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August 15, 2017

The beauty of purple or white lilac blooms, in conjunction with their luscious fragrance, make them a perfect choice for many gardens. They are also an excellent subject for a photo. This page contains lilac photos.

Lilac blooms.

April 18, 2017

Careful pruning can, not only keep your lilac well shaped and of a size that fits your space, but it can also encourage new growth and blooming. This is a page about pruning and rejuvenating overgrown lilacs.

Lilac blossoms on an overgrown bush.

April 19, 2018

This is a page about lilac bush with very little (few) leaves. If your lilac is not producing sufficient leaves the plant will not flourish and may die. Check all the usual suspects, including sun exposure, soil nutrients, and pest infestations.

Lilac leaves on white background

June 11, 2016

This is a page about rooting a cutting from a lilac bush. Propagation from cuttings is a common way of cloning your plants and shrubs, making for more plantings for your garden.

Lilac cuttings in a lime green pot next to a matching watering can

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