Growing Lilacs for a Fragrant Spring Garden

Vego Garden
Vego Garden

Renowned as spring’s most fragrant flowers, lilacs are easy to maintain once they become established. Though those lovely flowers may be fleeting, their aromatic scents are indelible. Arranged in branching clusters called panicles, lilac bushes are the quintessential flowers for spring, their bursts of soft color evoking timeless images of picturesque cottage gardens. Whether you’re looking for fragrant plants to add to your garden or a subtle spring palette, lilacs are the ideal plant for anyone seeking low maintenance options. 

Growing Lilacs for a Fragrant Spring Garden | Vego Garden

Throughout history, lilacs have been frequently viewed as a harbinger of spring. In the language of flowers, lavender lilacs have been used to symbolize youth and first love, while white lilacs represent spirituality. Their fragrance drifting leisurely in the cool spring air, these ephemeral flowers bring about a peaceful atmosphere to any garden. 

Basic Information

Scientific Name

Syringa vulgaris

Common Name

Common lilac, English lilac


Full sun 

Soil Type

Fertile, well-drained 


Drought Tolerant 

Days to Harvest

3 – 4 years from seed 


Not necessary 

Hardiness Zones

Annual planting in zones 3 – 8 


Types of Lilacs

Native to the Balkan peninsula, lilacs have been naturalized throughout parts of Europe and the US. They are believed to have been brought to America by colonists in the 17th century. The vastest collection can be found at Highland Park Conservatory, where there are approximately 1,200 shrubs representing over 500 varieties. Ranging in form from ground covers to shrubs and small trees, lilacs can be tailored to fit almost any garden. Though most are commonly pale purple in color, they can also come in pink and white shades. Through lilacs are available in several cultivars, the best known in the common lilac. 

  • Common White Lilac (Syringa vulgaris var. alba): White, richly-scented petals; can be used to create a tall, dense hedge. 

Growing Lilacs for a Fragrant Spring Garden | Vego Garden


  • Sensation Lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘Sensation’): A striking variety known for its unusual coloring, this lilac produces deep purple blossoms with distinct white edging.   

Growing Lilacs for a Fragrant Spring Garden | Vego Garden

  • Nadezhda Lilac (Syringa vulgaris ‘Nadezhda’): Derived from a Slavic name that means hope, this flower features radiant double blooms in shades of violet-blue. 

Growing Lilacs for a Fragrant Spring Garden | Vego Garden

  • Syringa Persica: Known as the Persian lilac, this variety is smaller than common lilacs and makes attractive hedges. 

Growing Lilacs for a Fragrant Spring Garden | Vego Garden

  • Josee Lilac: A dwarf variety, this compact cultivar features profuse blooms of lavender-pink on luxuriant panicles. 

Growing Lilacs for a Fragrant Spring Garden | Vego Garden

Benefits of Lilacs

Companion Plant

Lilacs are great companion plants to a host of flowering shrubs and trees. Spring flower bulbs like daffodils, tulips, and grape hyacinths are popular choices with gardeners. For a garden that evokes Southern charm, interplant flowers in pastel shades of beige, pale yellow, soft lavender, and peach. To account for the fleeting nature of lilacs, choose flowers that bloom at different intervals to ensure continuous color in your garden.  

Culinary Uses

Lilacs are actually edible and have been steeped in lemonades and iced tea for flavor. When infused in tea, lilac blossoms can be used to soothe the stomach and improve digestion. However, essential oils derived from lilacs are difficult to acquire due to its delicate nature. Most lilac essential oils on the market are created from synthetic compounds. 

Ornamental Uses

A highly ornamental plant, lilacs have many versatile applications in the garden. Though there are some varieties of lilacs that grow to be 13 ft tall, they are technically considered bushes. Lilacs have a tendency to spread, forming attractive informal hedges of profuse blooms. They are also used as specimen plants, ground covers, and shrub borders. 

How to Plant Lilacs

Lilac shrubs take at least three years to become established. Container lilacs are recommended because they will bloom quicker. To plant a container lilac, dig a hole as deep as the plant’s rootball and twice as wide. Take the lilac from its container and place it in the hole. Optionally, sprinkle some root booster to help it establish faster. Afterwards, cover with soil and gently press down. Water deeply. 

Conditions for Growing Lilacs

Once established, lilacs are drought tolerant and can tolerate a wider range of soils, but new plants will require well-drained soil high in organic matter. The target pH is between 6 – 7. A long-lived plant, many shrubs can live to be over 100 years old. Although honeybees are drawn to the fragrant flowers, a specialized bee called the leafcutter will also visit them. 


For best results, grow lilacs in full sun. They can be either sown in early spring or fall after the leaves have fallen, but before the ground freezes. Since spring periods are short, spring planting is only recommended in areas with severe winters. Due to their prolific blooms and light requirements, most types of lilacs are not suitable for growing indoors. 


Lilacs prefer humus-rich, well-drained, neutral to alkaline soil but can also tolerate sandy as well as clay soils. However, they do not like boggy or acidic soil. A soil test can be used to determine the pH – if the soil is deficient, lime can be added to raise the pH level. 

While lilacs are commonly grown in the ground, those with limited space can also choose to grow them in planters or containers. Due to their vast root network, it is important that you select a large container with a minimum depth of 12 inches and 24 inches wide. For sturdy options, consider Vego raised garden beds, which provides better insulation to roots in extreme temperatures and reduces the need for frequent watering. 


Considered a drought-tolerant plant, lilacs should be watered infrequently. After you have planted your lilac, water deeply once or twice a week initially, then every two weeks once it has become established. 


A low maintenance plant, lilacs do not require fertilizer. Avoid fertilizer within two years of transplanting, which can harm the roots. You can choose to fertilize with a high phosphorus formula in early spring to promote flower growth. Refrain from fertilizing too much, as it can cause lilac bushes to absorb nitrogen and prevent it from blooming. 


While lilacs are hardy and not usually susceptible to pests, you may occasionally encounter leaf miners and root weevils, and even those aren’t serious to worry about. Neem oil, Bt spray, and the use of predatory insects are common ways to combat leaf miners. Root weevils can be treated with pyrethroid insecticides.

Powdery mildew is the most common disease, resulting in a powdery filmy appearance on leaves. As it is mostly an aesthetics issue, chemical controls aren’t necessary. Powdery mildew can be prevented through regularly pruning.

Harvesting & Pruning 

Lilacs will need to be pruned to prevent them from becoming overgrown and leggy. Prune only after flowering during the spring as removing them during other times can inadvertently cause the loss of new blooms. Lilac suckers – shoots that grow from the base – can be dug up and transplanted. When removing suckers, tear or dig them up at the root level instead of cutting, which encourages new growth. For a useful tool in removing suckers, check out the 10 in 1 Hori Hori Knife Kit.

When harvesting lilacs, pick them in the cool of the morning, choosing clusters of blooms that are half to three-quarters open. Bring a bucket of cool water for freshly-cut blooms while you continue to pick. Make sure to cut off a long portion of the stem, and remove the leaves to maximize the energy needed for flowering.

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