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Propagating Lilacs: A Sweet-Smelling Guide for Spring Blooms

Lilacs are a very popular flower to grow at home — and for good reason.

They’re beautiful, they smell fragrant and sweet, and they’re always in bloom just in time for Mothers Day. They’re very low maintenance and easy to grow. You can even find them in a range of varieties, and a couple of different colors, but the classic purple color is timeless and you can’t go wrong.

If you love lilacs and want to grow your own, propagating lilacs is a great way to get started. Keep reading to learn all about how to propagate lilacs and have a garden full of these incredible flowers to enjoy!

Bright purple lilac blossoms.  Propagating lilacs.

What It Means to Propagate Lilacs

Propagation is a specific technique for using an existing plant to create one or more new plants by removing smaller parts and allowing them to grow their own roots.

It’s a great method to use if you want to increase the number of lilac plants you already have or if you know someone with lilacs who will allow you to use their plant.

It’s usually free, and you can see the original plant and what your lilac will eventually look like. You’re essentially creating a clone of the existing plant, so if you have access to a variety you really love, propagation will allow you to grow that same exact variety.

Propagation works by taking a cutting or shoot from a plant, then allowing the cutting to create its own root system and eventually grow into a whole new plant.

Another benefit of propagating lilacs is that it gives you a headstart you wouldn’t have if you began with seeds. At the same time, you don’t have to spend money on an established lilac which can be pretty expensive. Lilac propagation is the perfect solution for getting lots of lilacs in a cost-effective way.

Choosing a Plant for Propagating Lilacs

The best way to get started with lilac propagation is to identify a lilac bush you really love that’s healthy and thriving.

White lilac blossoms.

It’s also important to make sure you have permission to take a cutting or shoot from the plant you have your eye on–don’t try to sneak it from someone’s property. If the original lilac plant belongs to someone you don’t know, either ask them if it’s okay for you to take a cutting or find a plant that you know you’re allowed to cut from.

While it might be tempting to get a shoot or cutting from a lilac plant that’s for sale at a nursery or similar store, it’s not a good idea. Not only is this considered stealing, but you can even inadvertently damage the lilac plant you’re attempting to propagate from.

Lilacs come in many different varieties, so if you have a particular favorite, that’s the best one to propagate. Some lilacs are the classic purple color and flower shape, while others will have white blooms. There are even lilac varieties that will bloom more than once in the spring and summer.

Once you have a plant that’s okay to take a cutting or shoot from, you’ll need to take it during the right time of year. Late spring and early summer are best when the lilac is blooming and has a lot of new growth.

Using Lilac Shoots

A simple method for propagating lilacs is to search for shoots, also sometimes called suckers. These are small green stems with leaves at the end that you’ll typically find growing out near the base of the plant.

Many people often prune these shoots from their healthy plants to ensure that the bush is putting most of its energy into the blooms, but they can actually turn into an entire plant. The shoots are actually the host plant looking to spread out, so they’re already on their way to growing into new lilac bushes themselves.

To get a shoot for propagation, use a sharp shovel to dig it up from around the base of the bush to get as much of the root system as possible. Be careful not to damage the shoots or the root system of the original lilac. You may want to take a few shoots, as they may not all successfully grow roots.

Taking Lilac Cuttings

Another way to propagate lilacs is by taking cuttings from a healthy, mature bush.

Look for newer growth and select a branch.

Stems that will make good cuttings will have leaves and nodes, small sprouts where the leaves attach to the rest of the stem. These nodes are where the roots will eventually start to grow. In the morning, when it’s still cool out, cut your chosen branch from the plant.

Make sure you’re using a very sharp knife or shears, and they should be clean and sanitized to protect the original lilac bush from excess damage or bacteria.

Remove the leaves toward the bottom of your cutting, making sure to leave a few at the top. Just like with shoots, it’s best to take a few cuttings in case they don’t all grow roots. And if you get lucky, and they do, then you’ll have even more future lilac bushes!

Helping Your Propagated Lilac Grow

Once you have your shoot or cutting ready, it’s time to plant your new lilac so it can start growing into a new plant.

You can start shoots directly in the ground or in a pot since they already have roots started. To find an ideal spot outside, look for an area that gets full sun and has soil that drains really well. Dig a hole that can comfortably fit any roots attached to your shoot so they don’t break or sustain too much damage to be viable.

Cuttings are best started in small pots or seed trays, and you can even put more than one cutting in a pot if they aren’t touching each other. Make sure you have nodes buried underneath the potting soil.

It can take a month or two for these new roots to become established, so choose a spot with partial sun and make sure to keep your potting soil moist. Once the roots are well established, you can find a place to transplant your new lilac outside.

Keep your new lilac watered as it grows and settles into its new spot. Eventually, you can provide nutrients to help your lilac bush grow healthy and hardy.

Congratulations, you have successfully propagated lilacs!

Frequently Asked Questions for Lilac Propagation

Pink lilacs.

When is the best time to propagate lilacs?

Late spring and early summer, when the original lilac bush is in bloom and putting out plenty of new growth, are the best times to propagate.

This time of year is also ideal for allowing your cutting or shoot to grow in warmer weather. Your propagated lilac will be most fragile in the beginning as it tries to establish itself, so this more mild weather will be beneficial.

Can I put lilac cuttings in water?

You can propagate lilacs in water, but it’s preferable to plant shoots or cuttings in a small pot with soil most of the time. The main benefit of using water instead of soil is that it’s easier to monitor new root growth.

If you do put your cuttings in water, make sure you change the water out regularly to keep it fresh and allow oxygen to circulate into the water. Once you see roots begin to emerge, it’s time to plant the cutting in a pot just like a shoot.

Is it easier to propagate lilacs from shoots or cuttings?

Using both shoots and cuttings are great methods for propagation, but shoots tend to be a little bit easier and more successful.

This is because they already have roots starting to grow since they are how the lilac bush is expanding. Taking a cutting, on the other hand, creates a wound in the bark that can potentially introduce disease to the vulnerable inner parts of the plant. You’ll also have to wait for roots to begin growing from the cutting before it can become more established.

Watch Your New Lilac Grow

Purple lilacs.

Propagating lilacs is a simple way to get a whole new plant for yourself, and it’s free.

You can even continue to grow your lilac collection by taking multiple cuttings or shoots from a single plant. Now you can look forward to the air filling with the incredible aroma of lilacs every year with an unlimited source for more.

Help your garden explode with color and food sources for pollinators with a visit to our Flower Page for more ideas!