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Growing lilacs for Minnesota landscapes

Quick facts 

  • Lilacs may take a few years to bloom after planting. 
  • Once established, lilacs can live a long time.
  • Lilacs need pruning immediately after blooming to promote flowering the next year.
  • Lilacs usually produce new growth (suckers) from the root area.
  • Planting a variety of lilac species and hybrids can provide continuous fragrance and extend the bloom time into early summer.
Pink flowers of the lilac species S. vulgaris 'Mme F Morel'
S. vulgaris 'Mme F Morel'

Lilacs are a favorite, long-lived, spring-blooming shrub. They are primarily grown for their fragrant flowers ranging from white to pink to deep purple.

Lilacs are native to Eastern Europe and Asia. The genus Syringa comes from the Greek word syrinx meaning pipe or tube and refers to the lilac’s stem which can be hollowed out.

In the landscape, lilacs make excellent hedges, foundation plants, specimen plants, large borders and group plantings. They bloom for 10 to 14 days, depending on the weather, and have a distinctive sweet fragrance. 

Lilacs also provide habitat for small birds and pollinating insects.

Growing lilacs

  • Hardiness zone: 3 to 7 depending on the species.
  • Full sun (6+ hours); less sun reduces flowering and increases powdery mildew.
  • Moist, well-drained soil; avoid wet soils with poor drainage.
  • Soil pH 7.0 to slightly alkaline. Have your soil tested by the U of M Soil Testing Lab.
  • Space new plants based on mature size. 
    • Planted too close, lilacs will require more pruning and will reduce bloom. 
    • Proper spacing increases air circulation and reduces powdery mildew. 
  • Once the lilac is established (2 to 3 years after planting), fertilize every few years with an all-purpose shrub fertilizer. 
    • Avoid applying lawn fertilizers near or around lilacs as the high nitrogen content will increase leaf production and decrease flower production.
  • Water after planting. Make sure the soil drains easily and does not pool. 
    • Poor drainage can result in stunted growth, fewer flowers and root rot.
  • This video (28:44) from U of M Morris gives selection, planting and growing information.
Large lilac bush with purple flowers.
Lilac hedge and flowers of S. xhyacinthiflora 'Pocahontas'
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Species and cultivated varieties of lilacs for Minnesota

The following section is not a complete list of cultivars available commercially. For a wider selection:

  • Visit your local garden center. Have a list of plant features you want in a lilac, especially the size of your planting space.
  • Use our plant selection program. It is free and takes just a few minutes to set up and confirm your user account. Instructions can be found at Plant Elements of Design.
  • Read Lilacs for Cold Climates by Dr. Laura Jull, associate professor in horticulture, University of Wisconsin Extension. 

The following lilac species and cultivated varieties are organized by bloom time (early to late). Plant sizes are listed height x width. Hardy in zones 3-7 unless otherwise indicated.

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Julie Weisenhorn, Extension horticulture educator

Reviewed in 2019

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