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Common Lilac: The How To's on Growing Lilacs

Common Lilac bushes (Syringa vulgaris).  A great way to add fragrance, colour and texture to your garden.

They come in a range of different coloured flowers:

  • white
  • purple
  • pink
  • bluish colour
  • lavender
  • yellow
  • purple with white edges

Lining a few of these bushes along the edge of your property would make a great hedge.

Growing lilacs in your garden will attract bees, butterflies and other pollinators. That's not to mention the gorgeous view you will have when they are in bloom.

I grow 6 different varieties in my yard including an Ivory Silk Tree Lilac. 

Common Lilac bushes (Syringa vulgaris)

My Experience with the Lilacs

I have several different varieties growing around my yard. 

The smell around my backyard when they are flowering is fabulous. Because they flower at different times, I have several weeks to see and smell these wonderful blooms.

Lilacs in containers

You can grow lilacs in containers but it can be a little tricky. It’s better with smaller, dwarf lilac varieties and also with the tree lilacs. 

If you don’t have the room in your yard but want one of these flowering shrubs, containers are a good option.

Container lilacs are great for:

  • smaller gardens
  • decks and patios
  • balconies
  • and roof top gardens

The best pot to use for this would be a clay pot. They are heavier and more insulated to protect them from the winter.  

You can use a plastic pot and wrap it with burlap to protect it from the winter winds. Or you can plant the pot in the ground to help protect the roots during winter. A thick layer of mulch can add more protection over winter.

One thing you don’t want to do is bring your common lilac inside over winter. The part above the ground needs to freeze so it will bloom in spring.

Pruning Lilac Bushes

Pruning your bushes right after flowering is a good way to keep them the size you want them to be.

The flower buds for next year start to develop around July. Waiting until August or later to prune them is cutting off next years blooms.

When pruning your bushes don’t forget to check around the base for any offshoots or suckers. You can remove them or you can wait until they are about a foot tall and dig them up. They will make a great gift for friends and family members.

If you have an older lilac that isn't blooming as well as it use to, there are a couple options you can try. 

  • You can prune out one third of the old growth the first year
  • then two thirds of the older growth the second year
  • the third year prune out the rest of the older growth

Another option you can try is to cut it back hard, about 12" from the ground. The downside of this type of pruning is that it will take one to three years for it to bloom again. When it does it will look amazing, like when you first planted it.

One of the best things about these bushes is cutting the flowers off and bringing them into the house. They will fill the air with the beautiful lilac scent.


Common Lilac Varieties

The common lilac varieties listed below are mid to dwarf size. They don’t grow as large as most other varieties. 

Miss Kim (Syringa pubescens subsp. patula 'Miss Kim')

Miss Kim (Syringa pubescens subsp. patula 'Miss Kim')

This slow growing, upright Miss Kim Lilac will grow to about 6 to 8' tall and wide, which could get bigger with age.

It pinkish coloured flowers bloom later in spring to extend the fragrance of spring.

It has great fall colour with a burgundy tinge to the leaves.

Dwarf Korean (Syringa meyeri 'Palibin')

Dwarf Korean (Syringa meyeri 'Palibin')

Dwarf Korean Lilac grows only 4 to 6' tall and 5 to 7' wide with pale purple flowers.

It looks great planted as a low hedge along a walkway or as a standalone specimen plant.

Tiny Dancer (Syringa vulgaris 'Elsdancer’)

Tiny Dancer (Syringa vulgaris 'Elsdancer’)

4 to 5' tall and 3 to 4' wide, Tiny Dancer Lilac will tolerates road salt, and is cold and heat tolerant.

It’s also disease, pest and mildew resistant.

Maiden's Blush (Syringa x hyacinthiflora 'Maiden's Blush')

Maiden's Blush (Syringa x hyacinthiflora 'Maiden's Blush')

Maiden's Blush lilac blooms earlier then most lilacs.  it's an upright, rounded shrub with panicles of fragrant pale pink flowers.

It can grow 6-8' tall and wide and considered one of the best pink blooming lilacs.

Sensation (Syringa vulgaris 'Sensation')

Bright purple flower clusters with white edges hanging from a branch with green leaves

Growing 10' tall and 6' wide this mid season bloomer is a must have for lilac lovers.

Purple flower clusters edged in white attracts wildlife to your gardens.

White Common Lilac

Tiny white clusters of white panicle flowers hanging from green leaved branches

Add a splash of white to your garden with these beautiful white panicles flowers. This common lilac will bloom from mid spring until early summer.

It grows to about 10' tall and wide.

Primrose (Syringa vulgaris 'Primrose')

Syringa vulgaris 'Primrose' Lilac

Pale yellow panicle clusters of blooms is a favourite amongst gardeners.

Growing 9' tall and 11' wide, it will be stunning when in blooming.

Cutleaf Lilac (Syringa x laciniata)

Fine-textured leaves with showy and fragrant lilac-pink flowers in spring

7’ tall and wide

Full sun to part shade

Attracts butterflies

Josee Lilac (Syringa x 'Josee')

A reblooming fragrant pinkish lilac that will produce heavy clusters of flowers into the summer.

4-5' tall and wide

Loves full sun to part shade

Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds

Adding a common Lilac bush to your yard will add fragrance, colour and character. They are one of the least favoured plants to deer, so unless the deer is starving they will leave it alone. 


Common Lilac Pests and Diseases

Mealybug on common lilac leaf

Common Garden Pests

Lilac borers – They cause the limbs to be rough or gnarled and the trunk and bark to swell. Sometimes there will be sap oozing from the plant. You might also see something like sawdust around the tree. This substance is frass (a combination of larvae waste and wood from the plant).

The larvae will drill hole into the plants wood to feed. Usually this doesn’t hurt the plant to much but may cause the limb to die.

Crushing the larvae will kill them or you can use beneficial nematodes to kill them. You can also try a broad spectrum insecticide. Using it in baits, spot treatments or during colder temperatures will help.

Leaf miners – They are the larvae from flying insects that live inside the leaves of plants. You will see a squiggly line through the leaves and won’t harm the plant.

Scale – If you look close you will see little bumps on the stems of your plant, which are the scale insects. The plant won’t grow as big as it should; leaves turn yellow and drop from the plant. Some scale insects produce a sticky substance called honeydew. Beneficial insects will get rid of scale insects.

Mealybugs – Small white cotton like bugs that like to eat the sap from the leaves of plants.

Root Nematodes – These very tiny, round pests that live in the soil and feed on the roots of plants. The roots will have little bump along them called galls. They cause the leaves to wilt during the hottest part of the day, even when the plant has lots of water. The leaves will turn yellow and are smaller than normal.

Fuller rose beetle (Weevil) – They are brown beetles that can’t fly and have big eyes. They like to eat the leaves of plants but won’t kill the plant.

Reference UC IPM

Common Lilac Diseases

powdery mildew on Salix caprea leaf

Powdery mildew – This is a common plant disease when there isn’t enough air circulation around them. It’s most common towards fall when the nights are cooler but the day is still warm. It looks like white fuzz on the stems and leaves of the plant. Watering during the day instead of the evening will help prevent this plant disease. 


Lilac blight – This plant disease appears in spring and causes the leaves stems and flowers to turn black. If you see this happening, prune out any infected areas. Disinfect your pruning shears after every cut so the disease doesn’t spread.


Leaf spot – are from different fungus and bacteria’s that affect many different types of plants. Although it rarely kills the common lilac it does weaken them and spreads more during wet weather. You will see small brown to black spot on the plant’s leaves which will get bigger. The blackened leaves will need removing and disposed of into the garbage.  Avoid watering in the evening to help prevent this disease.

Uses in the Landscape

You can use a common lilac bush in many ways around the landscape

  • stand alone specimen
  • as a hedge along a fence or along the house
  • grow it in a large container on your deck or patio
  • as a screen to block out unsightly scenes
  • you can even cut the flowers and bring the fragrance indoors

Huge Lilac Bush covered in pinkish purple flower clusters

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