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How to Propagate a Lilac Bush

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Sarah is a homemaker and stay-at-home mom who enjoys writing about motherhood, healthy living, finances, gardening, and all things homely.

Learn how to propagate your lilac—the easy way!

Learn how to propagate your lilac—the easy way!

Lilacs have long been known and loved for their distinctive, sweet spring fragrance and beautiful pink, white, or purple spring flowers. They are fantastic to use for screening around fences and shrub borders. Best of all is that they are extremely easy to propagate.

If you are looking to add some shrubs to your landscape but money is an issue, consider taking some lilac root cuttings to start your own lilac shrubs. They are fast-growing, very hardy, and propagating them is almost fail-proof.

Lilac Propagation: What You Need

  • Pruning sheers or some other kind of garden cutting tool
  • Shovel or hand trowel
  • Water
  • Gardening gloves

How to Take the Cuttings (and When)

The best time to take suckers (shoots) from a lilac is in the spring or fall (I have successfully done both).

  1. Look around the base of the lilac bush for the fresh, young shoots coming out of the ground. Try to use shoots that are no larger than one foot tall, because the larger the shoot, the more roots you need to take to be successful.
  2. Remove the soil around the shoot until you can see the roots and cut the shoot away from the parent plant, using pruning shears or a large shovel.
  3. Make sure that you have a few inches of root attached to the new shoot.
  4. Plant three to four shoots together in a one-quart pot, or plant them right in the ground wherever you want the new shrub to be. If you want, you can add a little rooting hormone to the roots, but this is not necessary. Plant the shoots at the same depth that they were planted while attached to the parent plant.
  5. Keep the new plant well watered until it becomes established.

My Experience

I have done this twice, and it really is extremely easy. At first, the new plants may not look like they are doing well, but that is just because all of the plant's energy is going to the roots system. Once the roots get going again, your plant will take off. Remember that the more root you take with the shoot, the healthier the plant will be.

How to Plant the New Lilac Bushes

Preparing the site for your new lilac bush correctly is well worth the added effort as your new bush will become an established, healthy plant much faster.

  1. To start, dig a hole about 12 inches deep and about 12 inches in diameter.
  2. Water hole well and add about three inches of composted manure, which can be purchased at any lawn and garden store for under $2.00 a bag.
  3. Mix the composted manure into the existing soil and fill the hole back up with dirt.
  4. Use a hand trowel to plant the cuttings in their new home.

What to Look For in Gardening Tools

When choosing gardening tools, the most important features are strength and durability. Tools made from reinforced stainless steel will resist corrosion and will be less likely to bend or break when working in heavy soils or thick plant roots.

Make sure your tools are full tanged or the handle may break off with use (that happened to my husband with a trowel he purchased and used one time). They should feel heavy in your hand and have a comfortable grip.

High-quality tools may cost a little more upfront, but are worth it in the end because they will last much longer and you'll enjoy using them so much more because you won't have to stop to bend them back into shape between digs!

Look at this healthy propagated lilac!

Look at this healthy propagated lilac!

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Update: How My Propagated Bushes Are Doing

As I write this, it's the second spring since I transplanted this lilac bush. It is taking off and becoming tall and bushy!

Last fall, I got a very tall cutting with very little root from a family member. I really didn't think it would live, but it made it through the winter and is sending up shoots. Lilacs really are failproof!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: My lilac did not bloom this year. When is the best time to prune it?

Answer: There are lots of reasons a lilac won't bloom--including low light, late freezes, and age. Heavy pruning can cause the bush to stop blooming for several years. Lilacs bloom on old wood, so try to prune only lightly right after the blooms fade (or when they would have faded if you'd had any). In a year or two, you should start getting those wonderful flowers again.

Question: I am ready too cut down my lilac bush because it is dry and dead. Towards the center, a little bush is growing. How can I save it?

Answer: Cut away all of the dead dry stuff and the center live plant should be just fine.

Question: What does a lilac shoot look like?

Answer: The shoots are the little twigs coming out of the ground around the bush. If you look at the base you will see the new branches coming out of the ground. It’s the main way many bushes and shrubs propagate themselves.

If you dig around the shoot and pull them out a little, you will see that they are still connected to the root system of the parent plant.

Question: I took cuttings from an old lilac bush. There wasn't anything coming up from the ground. I cut the stem about an inch at the bottom pounded it just a little to stimulate. All I could do is throw it in water with miracle grow. I'm seeing new growth. I don't want to lose them, what should I do?

Answer: If you are seeing new growth, that is a good sign. I'd plant the cutting in good potting soil and leave it alone for a few weeks to let the roots develop. Maybe around six weeks from now, you should be ready to plant it in the ground.

Question: I live at 9000 ft (Bailey CO). Should I try to propagate a lilac bush in the spring or the fall?

Answer: If you have really harsh winters I would take cuttings in the spring to give the new plant plenty of time to get established before winter hits.

You might also protect it the first winter.

Question: We have an old lilac bush, that my grandmother planted. She is gone and my daughter wants me to bring her some of it. How would I travel 5 hrs without my lilac cutting dying?

Answer: Take some good root cuttings like I mentioned in the article and plant them in a pot with good potting medium. They should be fine traveling that far. I don't think you'll have any problems.

© 2010 Sarah


Gardener on the "Cheap" on July 11, 2017:

Great suggestions! Thank you! I am experimenting with some "suckers" that popped up this spring. I have easily 9 good starts and I can't wait to gift them to friends and family! P.S. I'm trying one in a jar of water on my window sill. Something really gratifying about watching the little roots grow!

Stephanie Rummell on July 10, 2017:

I've had my lilac bush now for 3 years,every year I think "this is the year it's gunna bloom" can't wait to stand at my kitchen sink and smell them! But every year it's just new leaves growing...this bush is almost 3 to 4 feet high, but hasn't bloomed, NOT ONCE! Open for suggestions, !!!

Debi on February 03, 2017:

I like the article, thanks. However, I am looking at the photo at the bottom of your article listed as "update" and, maybe I am mistaken, but those are peonies spouting up, not lilacs.

Constance Zollo on September 12, 2015:

Ive always brought my cuttings inside to start roots. I place them in a big vase and I change the water every few days. The clippings begin to root in 2-3 weeks. Makes for a beautiful vase. I occasionally add a flower or two to brighten up the vase.

Tracy on June 11, 2015:

Thanks so much for your help! I'll give it a whirl & do my best! :-)

Sarah (author) from Indiana on June 09, 2015:

I have never propagated a lilac from seed. I suppose it must be possible, but taking cuttings is so simple and reliable that I have never thought to try it.

Ben Zoltak from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA on June 09, 2015:

Great! I've always wondered about this! What about from the seeds?



Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on June 09, 2015:

Good to know. I just love lilacs. My friend has one bush,maybe she will let me try this in the fall. Thanks!

Jill Spencer from United States on June 09, 2015:

Am going to try this with a little Miss Kim. Thanks for the great tips. Wish me luck!

Sarah (author) from Indiana on June 08, 2015:

Tracy, go for it. If you had the option to wait until fall that would be ideal, but you can absolutely transplant now. Take extra cuttings in case you do lose a few.

As long as your starts have plenty of roots and you keep them well watered, they should be fine.

Good luck and congrats!

Tracy on June 07, 2015:

Since it's the first week of June, & I'm in East TN, would this be a bad time to propagate lilacs? We have a massive amount in our yard at our old house we're selling. I'd hate to miss the opportunity to get some for free to place at our new home. Thanks!

Sarah (author) from Indiana on May 10, 2014:

Sounds like you have had some trouble yourself. I know how frustrating that can be. I have taken cuttings from different lilacs 7 or 8 times and have never had problem. Perhaps you took the cutting during the wrong time of year ( early spring or late fall is best, although I have successfully taken cuttings in august) or didn't get enough root on the cutting (for best results you want several inches). Once you have taken the cuttings you need to keep them very well watered until they get re-established. other than that I really can't think of a reason the cutting wouldn't have made it. Lilacs fare well in partial shade or sun and are really hardy plants. Luckily, taking cuttings from lilacs doesn't hurt the plant and is completely free so you could keep trying until you get it figured out if you wanted to. Thanks for reading.

Carol on May 10, 2014:

Lilacs are not always all that easy to propagate. There is a high failure rate no matter which method you use - collected seeds, stem cuttings, or root cuttings.

Jill Spencer from United States on June 05, 2012:

Have never tried this but am going to now--although it's not the best time of year--to start a few plants for a friend with a new house. Thanks for the information! Very useful.

Ultimate Hubber on May 15, 2010:

Another useful hub. Would love to read more gardening hubs.

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