Lilacs are hardy, long-lived plants that can add beauty to a landscape for years to come. Proper selection, siting, and care will ensure healthy lilacs for generations.
When choosing lilacs for your garden think about fragrance. Some lilacs offer a familiar sweet scent, while others are spicier. If selecting multiple lilacs, try to include early, mid-, and late bloomers to extend the season. If garden space is limited, consider looking for smaller-stature lilacs.
Good drainage is critical when planting lilacs as they will not tolerate saturated soils. Neutral, slightly acidic, or slightly alkaline soil is best (learn more about soil pH here). These plants also require full sun, with limited shade in order to produce the fullest flower set. Remember to prune dead, dying, diseased, or damaged limbs. This helps with air circulation and reduces the likelihood of powdery mildew, a common lilac pest.
Be sure to plant lilacs in early spring before the flowers open or in late summer to fall. Though they are hardy, lilacs still need ample water, especially after transplanting. Once established (typically after three growing seasons), an inch of water once a week is sufficient.
Top Performers at NYBG
Syringa x hyacinthiflora 'Pocahontas'
Syringa x chinensis 'Lilac Sunday'
Syringa pubescens ssp. patula 'Miss Kim'
Syringa vulgaris 'Betsy Ross'
Syringa vulgaris 'Minuet'
Syringa vulgaris 'President Lincoln'
Syringa meyeri 'Palibin'
Beauty of Moscow common lilac
Syringa vulgaris 'Krasavitsa Moskvy'
Syringa vulgaris 'Katherine Havemeyer'
Syringa vulgaris 'Maiden's Blush'
What to Look For
Lilacs can be challenging to identify, which is why breeders created color and flower classifications. Though helpful, these systems are imperfect. Many lilacs change color throughout their life cycle, sometimes even changing daily as flowers open.
Lilacs often appear two toned when one side of the petal shows a deeper pigmentation than the other. Variations in the environment such as soil chemistry can also change flower hues. Cool, damp weather allows the flowers to retain their initial, intense color for longer, while hot sun fades color. A lilac’s scent is similarly altered by its environment. Flower buds form during the summer before their spring bloom, so last year’s weather can impact this year’s flower, altering the intensity of the fragrance.
When buying lilacs for your own garden, note that because of these factors the plants may be mislabeled. NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library has resources that can be helpful in making proper identification of lilacs. Listed below are some other resources that can help:
The International Lilac Society’s list of sources for online or mail-order lilacs
If you are looking for a specific cultivar:
The University of Minnesota’s Plant Information Online
Royal Horticultural Society’s Plant Finder