Pruning and Enjoying Lilacs

I love this time of the year because every time I walk out into our backyard, I am overwhelmed with the amazing aromas in the air from our lilacs and blooming fruit trees.  It absolutely smells like there is a perfume in the air!  We were blessed to acquire 9 enormous lilac bushes when we purchased our property 4 years ago.  Accordingly, I have been doing lots of research on how to care for them.  So, today, I am going to share with you some suggestions about Pruning and Enjoying Lilacs and how to keep them flourishing.

Pruning and Enjoying Lilacs

Mother’s Day was yesterday, so I made this for our living room from cuttings from three of my bushes.  I like mixing the different varieties we have to add a little more interest!  I am sitting here looking at them now as I write this post.  You should smell how lovely it is in here!

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Pruning and Enjoying Lilacs

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Most of our lilac bushes are well over 12-15 tall, so it is quite a bit to maintain.  They were primarily left unkept prior to us taking over the yard so I have been nursing a few back to a better life. In one case, it meant cutting it all the way back to the ground…a really sad day here for sure!  This year, I am working on scaling some of them back.

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Lilacs do really well here in Colorado.  Not sure why, but they do!  I just love enjoying their blooms both outside and inside.  It does pain me, however, to cut them to enjoy them inside.  I just choose from parts of the bush that I intend to cut back after they bloom.

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Pruning your Lilacs

Pruning a lilac bush is not like other bushes.  The best time to prune them is right after the blooms have withered. Most people are not aware of this.  Lilac stems set their next season’s flower buds almost immediately, so pruning too late will mean sacrificing next year’s blooms.  Brand new bushes do not require maintenance pruning until they are around 6 -8 feet tall, so they are pretty low maintenance overall up until they need to be controlled.

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To prune them, you will only need a couple of things…a heavy-duty lopper with a 2″ cutting capacity and a good set of gardening pruning shears and, of course, a pair of gardening gloves to protect that manicure! These are a few of my favorites.  To shop for them, click on the images below…


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For first time maintenance and pruning, you should start with cutting back the ends of the stems that just flowered (deadheading).  Next, cut out any dead or diseased stems.  If you are interested in maintaining a certain height or shape, you can cut back the stems that are growing beyond your desired size by going to down the stem to the length that you want it. Once located, cut it back about 1/4″ above a spot on the stem just above where there are at least two new shoots growing.

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Always cut the stems at an angle.  This is much healthier for the bush.

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Reviving an Old, Overgrown Lilac

I am in the process of doing this with several of my bushes.  Based on the height of mine, some of them are over 25 years old.  Our house was built in 1972, so that is certainly possible.  It is a bit painful if you take the more drastic route, but the outcome should be worth it in a couple of years.

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According to The Spruce (one of my favorite gardening websites!)“Older lilacs can have stems as thick as small trees and will flower only on the topmost branches. Fortunately, it is pretty easy to rejuvenate an old lilac in about 3 years time. There are two approaches you can take:

The less drastic approach to getting an overgrown lilac back into shape is to use the 1/3 rule of thumb. Prune 1/3 of the oldest branches each year, all the way to the ground. Start by taking out the thickest stems first. Although you’ll be losing some flowers for the current year, pruning overgrown lilacs is easiest early in the spring, before the branches leaf out. You can really see into the shrub and there is easier access to the base of the stems.  After pruning your overgrown lilac by 1/3 for 3 years, the new shoots should be the bulk of the plant, the plant should begin to bloom all over and you can do simple maintenance pruning from then on.

If you can’t stand the look of your old lilac or you just want a quicker approach, you can take the drastic measure of cutting back the entire lilac plant to about 6 – 8 inches from the ground, again in early spring. New shoots will start to develop throughout the growing season. Let them grow during the summer. The following spring, begin pruning out the spindly growth and maintain the healthiest shoots, giving consideration to the shape and structure of the plant. Then cut back the remaining shoots to just above a bud to encourage branching. Carry on with maintenance pruning.”

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Enjoying your Lilacs

Now, onto the best part.  Because lilacs are so fragrant and beautiful, there are so many ways to enjoy them.

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Create floral arrangements!  Lilacs are literally one of the easiest flowers to arrange because they already come with their greenery.  No need to add more.   They are the type of flower that you can just cut and plop them in a vase, with or without the leaves!  Oh, and the fragrance just takes over!!

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You can easily make a large one like I did, but it is also so nice to make smaller ones and disperse them throughout your home for added fragrance.  I love using them in powder bathrooms and next to my bed.  There is one sitting next to my bed right now. 🙂

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Decorate a cake or platter with them.  I have had a passion for lilacs for most of my life.  In fact, my entire wedding cake was covered with heaping mounds of lilacs.  They are actually edible!  We didn’t eat them, but they looked gorgeous on my cake.   How gorgeous is this one by Twigg Studios in England?! I also like adding them to my platters when doing early summer entertaining.

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Dry or press them.  Hanging dried lilacs in areas of your home is a lovely way to use them.  You can also press them (between two pieces of wax paper) to use for a variety of craft projects.

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Use them to scent your homemade projects…like soaps, lotions or candles.  It would also be quite decadent to sprinkle fresh ones into your bath.  They actually have medicinal benefits and provide essential oils.  Bonus!

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Pin for later!

Pruning and Enjoying Lilacs

Hopefully, this post was helpful for pruning and enjoying lilacs and find great ways to enjoy them.  For more inspirations, check out my Pinterest page featuring gardens and gardening tips.  I hope you all had a beautiful Mother’s Day!


  1. Cheryl | 20th May 18

    I have attempted to subscribe to your blog but I receive an “error with subscribing” message each time. Just wanted to let you know, I will try again another time!

    • Holliday Johnson | 20th May 18

      Cheryl, thank you so much for letting me know. I will look into it right away with my website host. I did see one new subscriber come in earlier this morning, so I don’t know what is happening. I am so grateful you stopped by and want to subscribe. Please try again!!

  2. Julie Briones | 14th Jun 18

    Just lovely, Holly! I would love to have lilacs in my area! Thanks for sharing the tips, too!

    • Holliday Johnson | 14th Jun 18

      Thank you so much, Julie! Lilacs so very well here in Colorado so I consider myself one lucky gal! I just wish they lasted longer! XO

  3. Stacey @ Poofing the Pillows | 14th Jun 18

    Oh how I wish we could grow lilacs in Texas! We recently visited northern California and the lilacs there were mesmerizing.

    • Holliday Johnson | 14th Jun 18

      You were so lucky to be able to see them there at the right time! I am blessed that they do well in Colorado! Where in Texas are you from?! I was born and raised in Dallas and have lots of family still there. 🙂

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  6. Barb | Creative Culinary | 18th May 19

    I am in a newer home which meant starting from scratch which was painful and fun at the same time. I planted a couple of lilacs 4 years ago and while I think they may have had some buds last year, a late season cold snap did them in. I’m in Castle Rock…the extra thousand feet up in the air does make a real difference in the spring!

    This year I am hopeful; lots of flowers and while it is hard to steal from the bushes, some will definitely be coming inside too.

    I’m a prolific gardener but a lilac novice; thanks for the info!

    • Holliday Johnson | 18th May 19

      Oh, I am so glad it was helpful for you. I have never had lilacs until we moved into this home (a 1972 ranch in Greenwood Village), and luckily, the previous owner’s planted a lot of them! I will cross my fingers for plenty of blooms for you this year! XO

  7. Beatrice | 29th May 19

    I’m in the same boat, but in the snowy Austrian Alps at the altitude of denver. three years ago, I inherited 40-year-old trees with pathetic top bloom. I cut 1/3 of each old tree out as soon as they finished blooming. Three years on, they are covered with blossoms and strong new growth. As for cut flowers, I had soooo many, I experimented this year. With leaves, sans leaves; split stems, cut stems, smashed stems; hot water conditioning, ice water conditioning. The only variable that kept them longer than a few days was putting them in the 35-40 degree patio at night. BTW, they do not open much after cutting and seem to wilt more easily if they have lots of closed top buds, so select spikes with most of the buds open. Onward to iris season!

    • Holliday Johnson | 29th May 19

      I am so happy to hear about your success with your pruning. And, I am totally gonna try putting my cutting outside overnight. That is brilliant. Mine are only lasting about 2 days. 🙁

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