Lilac Shrubs

Once established, lilacs may grace your homestead for centuries

Although lilacs are not native to North America, these tough, reliable, and long-lived shrubs are a part of our country’s horticultural heritage, planted by both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington in the 1700s, with some lilacs from that century still living today.

Lilac bushes belong to the Syringa genus, which contains about 25 to 30 species of deciduous flowering shrubs and small trees, commonly called lilacs. Lilacs typically bloom in mid to late spring, but there are early and late blooming varieties, and some new cultivars bloom throughout the season. Borne in branching clusters or airy panicles, the sweet-scented flowers can be single or double form and are usually lilac or purple, but are available in a rainbow of colors, including white, cream, pink, blue, red, and yellow. Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds adore them and floral displays benefit not only from their incredible beauty but also from their intoxicating fragrance.

Lilacs are multi-stemmed, spreading shrubs that typically mature to around 8 to 12 feet tall and wide, but in ideal conditions, they may grow larger. However, compact cultivars often only reach around 3 feet tall and wide. Lilacs make lovely specimens but are shown to best effect when grouped or massed and create a stunning loose hedge.

Lilacs are easy to grow but benefit from annual fertilization in late winter and annual pruning, immediately after flowering. Generally cold hardy, lilacs thrive in climates with cool summers and tolerate cold conditions. In fact, they require a period of cold-initiated dormancy. But cultivars have been bred for warmer regions. Lilacs grow and flower best in sunny locations with at least 6 hours of full sun per day. Although lilacs may take a few years to get established, once they settle in, they can stick around for centuries.