Lilac Tree: How to Grow and Care for it the Right Way

With its delicate clusters of fragrant blooms, the magnificent lilac tree (Syringa reticulata) have captivated garden enthusiasts for centuries. In this comprehensive guide, we will take you on a journey through the art of growing, caring for, and ultimately enjoying the breathtaking blossoms of lilac trees. From selecting the perfect variety to understanding the ideal growing conditions, we will equip you with the tools to create a thriving lilac garden.

Lilac tree vs. Lilac bush: What’s the difference?

So, are lilacs trees or bushes? Lilacs have the flexibility to grow either as bushes or trees. Although most lilacs available for purchase nowadays are in bush form, encountering a lilac tree might understandably cause some confusion.

Among the diverse array of lilac bushes with hundreds of varieties, there exists only one lilac tree known as Syringa reticulata. In earlier times, these trees were not frequently observed, but the situation has changed. Nowadays, an increasing number of landscapers and homeowners are actively seeking out lilac trees, partly because they remain relatively compact compared to other tree species.

The difference between a lilac bush and a lilac tree comes down to the amount and placement of stems. Lilac bushes (shrubs) are characterized by their typical growth pattern, featuring multiple woody stems arising from the plant’s base. In contrast, most lilac trees are recognized by a single woody stem, commonly referred to as the trunk. However, you might find lilac shrubs grafted onto a single stem, known as a standard, at your local garden center, giving them the appearance of small trees.

The decision between a lilac tree and a lilac bush often hinges on the available space. Lilac bushes come in various sizes and can easily fit into smaller areas within a garden. On the other hand, lilac trees require ample room to grow, reaching heights of up to 20 ft. and spreading out about 15 ft. in width. Both types of lilacs thrive when provided with sufficient sunlight, ensuring abundant and vibrant flowering.

Lilac Tree

Choosing the right location for your lilac tree

When it comes to growing lilac trees, location is key. These beautiful trees thrive in full sun, so choose a spot in your garden that receives at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day. Lilac trees also prefer well-drained soil, so make sure the area you choose has good drainage. Avoid planting lilac trees in low-lying areas or near downspouts where water tends to collect. Additionally, lilac trees prefer slightly alkaline soil with a pH level between 6.5 and 7.5. If your soil is too acidic, add lime to raise the pH level and create the ideal growing conditions for your lilac tree.

Once you’ve found the perfect location, it’s time to prepare the soil. Start by removing any weeds or grass from the area. Dig a hole that is twice the width and depth of the root ball of your lilac tree. Gently loosen the roots before placing the tree in the hole. Backfill the hole with soil, firming it gently around the roots. Water the tree thoroughly to settle the soil and remove any air pockets. Mulch around the base of the tree to help retain moisture and suppress weed growth. With the right location and proper soil preparation, your lilac tree will have a strong foundation for growth.

Planting and caring for lilac trees

Now that you’ve chosen the perfect location for your lilac tree and prepared the soil, it’s time to plant and care for your new addition. The best time to plant lilac trees is in the early spring or fall when the weather is cool. Start by digging a hole that is twice the width and depth of the root ball. Place the tree in the hole, making sure the top of the root ball is level with the surrounding soil. Backfill the hole with soil, firming it gently around the roots. Water the tree thoroughly after planting to help settle the soil.

To ensure the health and vitality of your lilac tree, it’s important to provide it with proper care. Water your tree regularly, especially during dry periods. Aim to provide about 1 inch of water per week, either through rainfall or supplemental irrigation. Mulch around the base of the tree to help retain moisture and suppress weed growth. Lilac trees are generally low-maintenance, but it’s a good idea to fertilize them once a year in early spring. Use a balanced fertilizer specifically formulated for woody plants, following the instructions on the package. Pruning is also an important part of caring for lilac trees, which we will discuss in the next section.

Lilac Tree

Pruning and shaping your lilac tree

Pruning is essential for maintaining the health and shape of your lilac tree. The best time to prune lilac trees is right after they finish blooming, typically in late spring or early summer. Start by removing any dead or damaged branches. Next, thin out the branches to improve air circulation and promote healthy growth. Remove any crossing or rubbing branches to prevent damage and disease. When shaping your lilac tree, aim for an open, vase-like structure with a few main branches. This will allow sunlight to reach the inner parts of the tree and encourage better blooming.

When pruning lilac trees, it’s important to remember that they bloom on old wood. This means that if you prune your tree too late in the season or in the winter, you may be removing next year’s flower buds. To avoid this, always prune lilac trees immediately after they finish blooming. If you need to remove a large branch or reshape your tree, do it gradually over a period of several years to minimize the impact on flowering. With proper pruning and shaping, your lilac tree will not only look beautiful but also produce more abundant blooms.

Dealing with common lilac tree pests and diseases

While lilac trees are generally hardy and disease-resistant, they can still be susceptible to certain pests and diseases. One of the most common pests that affect lilac trees is the lilac borer. These insects lay their eggs on the trunk of the tree, and the larvae bore into the wood, causing damage and weakening the tree. To prevent infestations, keep your tree healthy and stress-free by providing proper care, including regular watering and fertilizing. If you notice any signs of borer activity, such as sawdust-like frass or small holes in the trunk, consult with a professional arborist who can recommend the best course of action.

Another common problem that affects lilac trees is powdery mildew. This fungal disease appears as a white, powdery coating on the leaves and can cause them to curl and become distorted. To prevent powdery mildew, make sure your lilac tree has good air circulation and receives plenty of sunlight. Avoid overhead watering, as this can create a damp environment that promotes fungal growth. If powdery mildew does occur, remove and destroy any affected leaves and consider applying a fungicide following the instructions on the label. Regularly inspect your lilac tree for pests and diseases, and take prompt action to keep it healthy and thriving.

Syringa Reticulata

Maximizing the fragrance and beauty of your lilac tree blooms

One of the most enchanting aspects of lilac trees is their intoxicating fragrance. To maximize the fragrance and beauty of your lilac blooms, there are a few tips and tricks you can follow. First, deadhead the spent blooms as soon as they start to fade. This will not only keep your tree looking tidy but also encourage it to produce more flowers. When deadheading, make sure to remove the entire cluster of fading blooms to promote new growth.

Another way to enhance the fragrance of your lilac blooms is to plant them near a seating area or pathway where you can fully enjoy their scent. The fragrance of lilacs is strongest on warm, sunny days, so take advantage of these moments to immerse yourself in their heavenly aroma. You can also cut lilac blooms and bring them indoors to enjoy their fragrance in your home. To do this, choose flowers that are just starting to open and cut them at a 45-degree angle. Place the cut stems in a vase of water and change the water every few days to keep the blooms fresh. With these tips, you can truly savor the fragrance and beauty of lilac blooms.

Propagating lilac trees

If you’re looking to expand your lilac garden or share the beauty of lilac trees with others, you can easily propagate them through various methods. One common method of propagation is through hardwood cuttings. In late fall or early winter, take 8 to 10-inch cuttings from the previous season’s growth. Remove the lower leaves and dip the cut end in rooting hormone. Plant the cuttings in a well-draining rooting medium, such as perlite or sand, and keep them in a warm, bright location. Mist the cuttings regularly to keep them moist and provide bottom heat to encourage root development. With patience and care, the cuttings will develop roots and can be transplanted into pots or the garden.

Another method of propagating lilac trees is through layering. Select a low-growing branch and bend it down to the ground. Make a small incision on the underside of the branch where it touches the soil and secure it in place with a U-shaped stake or a rock. Cover the incision and the branch with soil, making sure it is in contact with the ground. Keep the soil moist and wait for roots to develop at the incision point. Once roots have formed, cut the branch from the parent tree and transplant the new lilac tree to its permanent location.

Syringa Reticulata


In conclusion, growing, caring for, and enjoying the fragrant blooms of lilac trees is a truly rewarding experience. By choosing the right location, providing proper care, and taking the necessary steps to maximize their beauty, you can create a lilac oasis in your own backyard. Remember to select a sunny spot with well-drained soil, and prepare the soil before planting. Water your lilac tree regularly, fertilize it once a year, and prune it right after blooming to maintain its health and shape. Keep an eye out for common pests and diseases, and take prompt action to prevent infestations. By following these guidelines and techniques, you can unlock the secrets to cultivating the unparalleled beauty of lilac trees and enjoy their fragrant blooms for years to come.

Before you go, try to read our guide about the health benefits of Saffron (Crocus Sativus), you will be amazed.

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