Lilacs: Care and Feeding

A favorite among springtime bloomers, the gorgeous and fragrant lilacs are easy to grow and very adaptable. With a minimum of care and maintenance, these lovely shrubs will yield beautiful blooms for decades.


  • Lilacs bloom best when they receive full sun for at least 6 hours each day.
  • Lilacs don’t like to get their feet wet, so choose a site with well-drained soil.
  • Though lilacs can be planted in spring or fall, the fall is preferable.
  • While most lilac varieties are hardy in zones 2 through 7, there are a few hybrids that will thrive in the warmer zones 8 and 9.


  • Though quite durable, lilacs do require ample water. Make sure that you and/or Mother Nature give them an inch of water each week.
  • Lilacs thrive in a slightly acid to alkaline soil. Throwing down a handful of lime twice a year will help keep the plants in good condition.
  • Avoid placing your lilacs in proximity to lawn treated with fertilizers high in nitrogen, since nitrogen can encourage leaf growth at the expense of flowers. Regular application of a natural soil treatment, such as SavATree’s ArborKelp, will help ensure perky blooms and foliage, stimulate new growth and fortify root systems, and help the plants better withstand the stresses of transplantation, drought conditions, and extreme temperatures.
  • Powdery mildew, which causes the lilac leaves to develop a dusty white coating, is a common affliction that often occurs in hot, humid weather. While powdery mildew is not pretty to look at, it’s usually harmless to the plant. (If you live in a humid climate, you may want to consider lilac varieties that are resistant to powdery mildew, such as Miss Kim or James MacFarlane.)


  • Since lilacs bloom on old wood, it’s important to prune in the spring right after they bloom to ensure you’ll get a bounty of blooms the following year. Cut off all the spent blossoms and prune the flowering stem back to the set of leaves.
  • If your lilac is old, leggy, and produces few blooms, it’s time for more aggressive pruning. Year One: remove about one-third of the oldest stems right down to the ground. Year Two: cut off half of the remaining old wood. Year Three: cut back the rest of the old wood. This pruning program will encourage new growth of healthy stems from the base of the plant, and in three growing seasons your plant should again be yielding lots of beautiful blossoms.