Lilac shrub close up.
Garden for Beauty

15 Great Reasons to Grow a Lilac Bush

Who can forget the unique, distinct scent of a lilac bush? Man made scents are nice but it’s not the same. When you stop and smell a lilac, what memories come to mind?

Our common lilac shrub next to our dog Chippy. Circa 1980’s

When I was a kid, we had a large common lilac shrub in a postage size yard in front of our row house. I remember we could not wait until it bloomed in early spring. There were so many blooms that we could afford to prune it and share cuttings with the neighbors so the scent of lilac filled their home too.

This is a closeup photo of Syringa vulgaris, also called English or French Lilac.

Table of Contents

What’s the difference between a lilac bush and a lilac tree?

I admit I had assumed a lilac tree was based on just the height but I have learned there is an actual distinction. Even though the common lilac which I grew up with was tall, it wasn’t a tree. The actual lilac tree is called Syringa reticulata or the Japanese tree lilac. It is the largest lilac and the blooms don’t have a fragrance. The blooms look more like an Astilbe.

The ‘Miss Kim’ lilac variety is smaller than the common lilac but I occasionally prune mine just to keep the shape in the area it’s planted.

What’s the difference between a lilac shrub and a lilac bush?

A shrub is woody with several stems while a bush is closer to the ground and more densely compact. The common lilac can be very tall but if you look closely, it fits the description of a shrub.

How big do lilacs get?

The common lilac can grow to 12 to 15 feet tall and 10-12 feet wide. It needs a lot of space. If you are going to plant it near a structure, measure the width so it doesn’t get crushed against the siding or hit the corner of the roof. Planning ahead will save you a ton of work.

How long does it take a lilac shrub to grow?

It’s actually a more slow growing shrub that grows 1-2 feet a year. The dwarf varieties can be even slower. It takes at least 3 years until it blooms.

When to trim lilac bushes?

The best time is right after they bloom. The flowers turn dark brown so if you have it in a prominent place in your yard and this bothers you aesthetically, then dead head them. If the lilac bush or shrub is mature and there is a ton of blooms, you can let the brown spent flowers fall off on their own.

I have 4 acres to take care of so I let nature take it’s course. I trim my lilac shrubs and bushes to shape them so they look good in the space they are in.

Let’s get into all the reasons that may persuade you to add a lilac bush and/or shrub to your garden

According to the Perfume Society, the Celtic cultures believed lilac fragrance could transport you into the spiritual world and fairyland.

1. The most obvious reason is fragrance.

Lilac flowers have a unique fragrance that is loved by many people. The flowers last only a couple of weeks and that’s only if they aren’t hit by a cold snap which can shorten bloom time.

I haven’t tried all the lilac fragrances out there but the one that comes close is Highland Lilac Perfume. It’s one I personally have and there aren’t any affiliate links. I would love to know if you have found a fragrance that smells authentically like lilacs.

2. They are low maintenance.

For busy gardeners or homesteaders with lots of property to take care of, lilac shrubs and bushes are a great choice because they are slow growing. They don’t have to be deadheaded for more blooms like many perennials. I never deadhead my “Miss Kim” and it blooms like crazy year after year. You can trim to shape it if you need to. As long as they are planted in ideal conditions, they can be ignored.

3. The smaller shrubs are dense enough to be a home for birds.

During winter when the leaves fell off, I have found bird nests deep in my lilac shrubs. I don’t know what type of birds they were but the nests were an average size. I’ve read on other posts that blue jays and robins like building their nests in lilacs.

4. They don’t spread like crazy or are invasive.

Another reason that lilacs are low maintenance is they don’t grow like crazy. As a busy gardener, you can focus on the higher maintenance plants and enjoy this one. It will take years for it to grow big enough to trim. People are very busy living their lives and some just like to dabble in gardening so having a lower maintenance garden makes more sense.

5. The smaller lilac varieties make beautiful ornamental bushes.

The wide leaves blend with other shrubs and perennials or they can create a nice contrast like they do in the picture on the right. Looks can be deceiving when you plant a young lilac bush. It’s so easy to just eyeball the space and hope for the best but take the extra 5 min to measure the area to save some work for yourself later.

6. Lilacs are food for pollinators.

You aren’t the only one who loves the fragrance of lilacs. Pollinators like hummingbirds and butterflies. Lilacs bloom early enough to provide nectar early when the food supply can be limited. Click here for more frugal plants that attract butterflies.

7. Lilac shrubs are long lived.

Lilac shrubs can outlive the gardeners that planted them. They can live to be 100 years old but more often live to be about 50 years old. When you see old lilacs planted in places that seemed random, they were actually planted in near buildings and structures that are no longer there.

Consider that long lived plants save a lot of money. If they like their space, you won’t have to replace them and their larger size will fill the space. Less plants less dent to your garden budget. Check out Facebook marketplace for good deals from local gardeners selling the common lilac. The more rare varieties can be purchased at garden centers, plant catalogs or nurseries.

8. Though not native, lilacs were cherished by our forefathers.

They are native to Eastern Europe and Asia. But did you know that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both have lilacs in their gardens? According to the Arnold Arboretum, Thomas Jefferson recorded how he transplanted existing lilacs.

9. The smell of lilacs boost mood and relaxation.

Linalool is a an ingredient in lilac essential oil and is believed in aromatherapy to have calming effects on people. Whatever your beliefs are about aromatherapy, for me personally, I get an instant sense of calm when I breathe in lilac fragrance both as an essential oil and in real life.

Everyone knows the power of how smells connected to memories. For many people, it takes them back to their childhood. For others, it can remind them of a trip they took or be connected to an important person in their life like their grandma. If there are good memories around the smell of lilacs, consider getting a scent to put your in a good mood.

10. The common lilac shrub has the longest blooming time.

You can enjoy the common lilac shrubs blooms for a month. If you plant different varieties, you can extend this blooming time even more.

If you have a limited space, you can choose a compact, re-blooming lilac variety that will bloom more than once. Click here to see two types of re-blooming lilac bushes.

11. They can be a border plant.

If planted together in a row, they can create a border. A lilac shrub boarder can serve as a windscreen or for privacy during the warmer months. You can also plant them in a corner as a nice focal point. Use common lilac or other varieties to create an amazing spring backdrop in a sitting area behind a white bench. They would look amazing near a white picket fence and a house with white siding.

Smaller bushes can be positioned to create a border around a patio or cover unsightly structures in the yard. Take advantage of the smaller bush variety being much more dense looking and create a hedge.

12. Lilacs look and smell great in a vase.

Lilacs big and small look beautiful in a vase. Even if you don’t have allergies to worry about, a bouquet of lilacs could be overpowering in the room you put them in.

I love giving friends flowers from my garden. Sometimes, I will collect glass vases and have them on hand to put flowers in when the occasion arises. If you have a sick friend who is stuck indoors, flowers from your garden like lilacs can cheer them up more because it reminds them more of the outdoors than store bought flowers.

13. Lilacs are deer resistant.

I’m sure you can relate to losing lots of plants to deer. In some areas where deer are everywhere, you almost have to plan your garden around deer resistant plants. Well good news, lilacs are one you can add to your list.

There are a couple of challenges with growing lilacs.

Nothing is perfect but the downside of lilacs isn’t terrible. The biggest struggle gardeners have is when the lilac shrub gets powdery mildew. The common lilac is especially vulnerable to mildew. Best advice is to plant it in a sunny area so that rain dries on the leaves quickly giving less of a chance for the mildew to start. Also if your lilac is already planted in an area where it gets powdery mildew, be careful of planting other plants nearby that are susceptible to it like zinnias.

They also have shallow root systems which could make them vulnerable to falling over during a bad storm or soil erosion. Make sure to plant them on firm ground.

Some gardeners are very strict about only addition native plants. If it’s not invasive and provides benefits to wildlife like lilacs do, life is too short not to enjoy such a wonderful shrub to your garden if it makes you happy.

Summary

The best part of lilacs is their color and distinct fragrance. They are budget friendly because they live a long time, take up a good amount of space and can make a beautiful bouquet that would rival an expensive one. The scent can give you a mental boost while also give stress relieving benefits. Lilacs are a good addition if you have a problem with deer. They can hide unsightly things in your garden and be used as a border. They also provide shelter to birds and food for pollinators.

With the right conditions, invite lilacs into your space to make it more beautiful and fragrant.