How to grow lilacs | Thompson & Morgan Blog

How to grow lilacs | Thompson & Morgan Blog


Three colours of lilac cut flowers - purple, mauve and white - shown spiling over the edges of a dark ceramic vase placed on a wooden table that's inside a wooden cabin

Lilac shrubs come in an array of colours and have a fabulous fragrance

Lilac is a quintessential cottage garden shrub, with varieties that range in size from large ‘standard’ specimen lilac trees to compact bushes for growing in patio pots. Lilac shrubs come in a fantastic range of coloured blooms with a lovely scent, making them a fabulous feature for every garden.

Learn how to grow low-maintenance lilac shrubs with this handy guide! These tough and undemanding plants burst into bloom every spring and need very little attention. They’re also wonderful for wildlife, with nectar-rich blooms that attract pollinating insects.

Where to plant lilacs

Grow lilacs in rich fertile, well-drained, neutral or alkaline soil in full sun. Great in the border or in containers, they’re must-have plants whether you have a balcony, patio or bigger plot!

Dwarf lilac flowerfesta white shown in full bloom, covered in white flowers, growing in a white planter outdoors on a grey decked area, surrounded by other garden plants
Dwarf Lilac ‘Flowerfesta® White’

Dwarf lilac plants will happily grow in containers in loam-based compost like John Innes No.3 on a sunny patio or balcony.

Lilac flowers smell great and have a distinctive sweet perfume, so position your plant where you can appreciate its fabulous fragrance as you pass by!

Wondering how fast lilac shrubs grow?

These shrubs come in all shapes and sizes, so check the mature height and spread when picking your plant. Plants always look best when they grow in proportion to the available space – too small and they lose impact but too large and plants can overwhelm your outside space.

When to plant lilacs

Plant lilac shrubs from November to February, when plants are in their dormant stage and have not started their spring growth.

How to plant lilac bushes

Pick your sunny position in the garden and dig a hole that will generously accommodate your plant. Carefully remove the pot from your plant and set the plant to one side. Put the plant pot in the hole to try it for size. Plant your lilac in the hole at the same depth as it was in its nursery pot. Fill in the gaps with soil and gently firm it down around the plant before watering it well. Adding mulch around the stems will help the soil beneath to stay moist.

For container growing, pick a pot that’s at least 60 cm in diameter and plant using John Innes No.3 compost.

How to care for lilac shrubs

Lilacs are easy to care for shrubs that only need checking a couple of times each year. Simply add mulch around the base of your lilac shrub annually each spring and deadhead spent flowers in midsummer, before pruning plants to your desired height and shape.

How and when to prune lilacs

Prune your lilac after it has finished flowering each year and you will prevent your plant from getting leggy.

Best lilac varieties to try

Lilacs are from a family of flowering woody plants called Syringa, which is part of the olive family (Oleaceae).

A close-up picture of three common lilac flowers, with a painted lady butterfly feasting on their nectar
Common Lilac

For large gardens:

  • Common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) thrives in UK gardens, bursting with purple blooms each spring, with a mature height and spread of an impressive 7 metres.
  • Lilac ‘Beauty of Moscow’ (Syringa vulgaris) seems to have a delicate two-tone effect as its white blooms unfurl from delicate pink buds. This variety reaches a height and spread of 7 metres.
A pale-mauve lilac josikaea bloom shown in close-up against green foliage
Lilac josikaea

For big borders:

  • Lilac josikaea (Hungarian Lilac) boasts sweetly scented pink flowers on plants with a wide, arching habit that have a height and spread of 3.5 metres.
  • Lilac ‘Primrose’ (Syringa vulgaris) is an unusual variety with creamy-yellow fragrant flowers, which reaches a height and spread of 4 metres.
A standard lilac palibin tree shown in full bloom, like a lollipop of colour, planted in a lawn with a silver birch tree beyond it
A standard Lilac ‘Palibin’

For smaller borders and planters:

  • Standard forms of Lilac ‘Palibin’ (Syringa Meyeri) have a perfectly proportioned height of up to 150cm. With a neat and compact 60cm head of blooms and foliage on top of a clear single stem, these plants add instant elegance.
  • Dwarf Lilac ‘Flowerfesta®’ is available with either pink or white blooms and lets you enjoy flowers and fragrance for months! These neat and compact plants are perfect for patio pots, with height and spread of 100cm.

Now you know how to grow lilacs!

We hope our advice has given you all the knowledge you need to grow your own lilac shrubs! If you’ve been inspired to start growing one of these spectacular syringas, take a look at the great varieties we have on offer.