Tips on growing lilacs

How to Grow Lilacs

With their lush blooms and deeply floral fragrance, lilacs are a harbinger of summer in the northern garden. They generally bloom from early to late May at the same time as other flowering trees and shrubs, such as apple, crabapple and cherry trees.

Lilacs are easy to grow and can serve a variety of purposes in the garden. The large common lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) form dense hedges that birds love to hide their nests in. New varieties, such as the more petite ‘Miss Kim’ lilac work well as specimen plants or dainty dividers in urban yards.

How to Grow Lilacs

For the best flowers, plant lilacs in full sun (6 to 8 hours a day) and in well-drained soil. Lilacs perform really well in Minnesota’s slightly alkaline soils. They need ample water, especially when first planted, so if Mother Nature does not provide it, you should supply about an inch of water per week. (No need to worry in our very damp spring of 2013!) Lilacs should be given adequate space—usually 5 or more feet between plants—to grow to their full size.

They do not need an excessive amount of fertilizer. A layer of compost in spring or a light sprinkling of a 10-10-10 fertilizer should do the trick.

The most important part of lilac care is pruning. You want to deadhead as many of the spent blooms as you can. Go ahead and cut a big bouquet to bring in the house or give to neighbors—your plant will thank you with more blooms next year. Buds are set on old wood, so the best time to prune is right after lilacs bloom in early summer.

In addition to deadheading, you will want to remove branches that are dead, distorted or diseased. Lilacs benefit from fairly serious pruning, but never remove more than one-third of the bush. Renewal pruning—when you remove one-third of the branches down to the ground—may be necessary on older lilacs.

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About Tom McKusick 30 Articles
It is the mission of MSHS to serve Northern gardeners through education, encouragement, and community. Through a variety of educational programs, classes and conferences, and by publishing an award-winning magazine, Northern Gardener, MSHS helps its members and the general public to be better gardeners in USDA plant hardy Zones 3, 4 and 5. MSHS’ plant donation network, Minnesota Green, started in 1988, serves the greening efforts of volunteer gardeners throughout the state. Minnesota Green promotes grassroots efforts to revitalize communities by coordinating the donation and distribution of nurseries and greenhouse’s flowers and trees to be planted in public spaces statewide. MSHS was formed in 1866, as an association of fruit growers who took on the challenge of growing apples and other fruits in a northern climate. Two years later, the association became the Minnesota State Horticultural Society to recognize the importance of all phases of horticulture development in rural and urban Minnesota. In 1873, the Minnesota Legislature approved an act providing for the publication and distribution of 2000 copies of all the transactions of the society. 1894 marked the birth of one of the longest continually published horticultural magazines in the country: Northern Gardener, formerly known as Minnesota Horticulturist.