When To Cut Back Lilac Bushes (And How To Do That)?

Lilac bushes and shrubs are beautiful and accentuate any garden. The question that begs to be asked is when to cut back lilac bushes. We've asked experts, and they gave us tips on when and how to cut them.

Lilac bushes and shrubs should be trimmed in spring, right after they have bloomed. Postponing the pruning will make you cut the buds that would be due to bloom the next season. However, you can prune when the lilac shrub is bear to see what you are doing.

There are several species of lilac bushes and shrubs, and they can grow very aggressively. Read on as we explain why you shouldn't delay pruning and how to cut back a lilac bush.

gardener hands wearing purple garden gloves holding garden scissors, cutting lilac bush, When To Cut Back Lilac Bushes (And How To Do That)?

When To Cut Lilac Bushes

Gardening can be easier when you know the rules and timings.

The general rule concerning cutting back lilac bushes or shrubs should be familiar to amateur and experienced gardeners.

Ideally, you should cut back lilac bushes in spring right after the flowers have been spent. It is the best time because pruning later might result in cutting off the buds that should bloom the next season.

You can prune your lilac bush in late winter or early spring, around March or May. Unfortunately, you risk cutting off the buds that could bloom in spring.

human hands, scissors, cutting, lilac bush, green leaves, white fence on the garden

Pruning Lilac Bushes 

Maintaining gardens might or might not be an easy task for homeowners. Lilac bushes require three types of pruning:


This type of pruning helps revive the plant and allows it to start blooming. You should cut the upper branches that are at least two inches in diameter. 

Avoid cutting all the canes at a go in an overgrown shrub to help it transition easily. Take care of the tree or shrub to encourage its growth.


A healthy lilac shrub will require regular maintenance. It will include shaping and removing dead stems or withered flowers to create a neat bush with healthy flowers. 

Prune the shrub or bush using hand pruners to get the perfect shape. If you don't want the lilac bush spreading, you could cut the young plants at the root system.

Clean Up Pruning

You will only cut off the spent flowers when doing cleanup pruning. The energy that should go to the seed pods will be redirected to the plant.

You should routinely cut off small, dead, or diseased branches. It'll help control plant growth. Ensure that in three years you have removed the older stems. Look for wither and dry stems to cut off.

Here's a video demonstrating the process of pruning lilacs.

Ideal Tools For Pruning Lilacs

Pruning is serious business, and to do it right, you will need to have the right tools. There are three ideal tools for pruning lilacs: a hand saw, pruning shears, loppers, and gloves (optional).


It's the perfect tool when cutting stems at least two inches (five centimeters) thick. Use the hand saw to cut old, damaged, or diseased stems. Ensure you cut them very close to the ground to avoid damaging the other ones.

Have a look at this foldable handsaw on Amazon

Pruning Shears

These shears can cut branches with a thickness of 3/4 of an inch and less. Please choose pruning shears that can fit snuggly into your hand for a proper and firm grip.

Check out these pruning shears on Amazon


You can use loppers to cut stems and branches one to two inches thick. They have a longer handle and will reach hidden branches.

Here are some sharp loppers on Amazon

Please ensure that your tools are sharp and clean. Dull tools will shred, tear, or crush the lilac shrub branches.

It will result in uneven cuts that will take much longer to heal. Eventually, it will delay the blooming of your lilac bush or shrub.


Gloves are optional. However, you might need them when pruning during the cold season. The gloves you choose should fit properly and allow you to maneuver when working.

Check out these waterproof gloves on Amazon

The Objectives Of Pruning

Pruning has its goals and once accomplished, you will have a healthy and radiant plant. Before you start pruning, you should know what you want to achieve. 

Please aim for the following when pruning a lilac shrub or bush.

  • To reduce the height of the lilac shrub or bush.
  • To thin the plant for proper aeration and ample sunlight.
  • To rejuvenate the growth of the basal shoots.
  • To remove the spent flowers and give the shrub a clean-cut look.

Prune your lilac plant sparsely and stick to the one-third rule for a fuller and more radiant plant.

Why Aren't Lilacs Blooming?

close up photo of a lilac bud, lilac flower, purple flower captured, sunny day, green leaves

Any homeowner with flowers in their yard would love to see them bloom. Lilacs have a wonderful fragrance when in season. Moreover, they are beautiful flowers and can be used to make fragrances.

Unfortunately, you might find that your lilac shrub or bush isn't blooming, and you can't fathom why. Your lilac shrub or bush has no flowers because of:

Lack Of Sunlight

Lilacs need four to six hours of sunlight every day. Once you have a lilac bush or shrub in a shady location, it might bloom sparsely or not at all.

Poorly Drained Soil

Lilacs are tolerant to moisture, but if the soil poorly drains, the plant won't bloom. Although the excess water won't affect the flowers, the roots will rot and deter the plant's growth.

Over Nutrition

Don't put too much fertilizer on your lilac shrub or bush. The nutrients will make the plant leafy at the expense of the flowers. Naturally, you will get scarce flowers when in season.

Untimely Or Improper Pruning

Pruning is good, but when done wrongly, your lilac might take a long time before it blooms. Avoid pruning drastically or damaging stems. Prune lightly and ensure you do it every year using the one-third rule.

How Long Do Lilacs Bloom?

lilac bushes, lilac flowers, purple colored lilac flowers, white wood garden fence

Lilacs can bloom for different time lengths, depending on the climate zone. Northern state dwellers can enjoy lilacs for about two weeks. It usually happens between mid to late spring.

In other warmer climate zones, lilacs can bloom for about six weeks. Moreso, there are also seasonal lilacs.

Do Lilacs Bloom More Than Once?

Sadly, most lilac bushes and shrubs do not bloom more than once. Interestingly, the species known as the Bloomerang lilac tree blooms twice a year. It first blooms in spring, and later in mid-summer till fall.

When Is The Best Time To Plant Lilacs?

Lilacs are relatively easy to care for. But, if you don't have this lovely plant in your yard, you might not be aware of this.

The ideal time to plant lilac bushes or shrubs is late fall before the ground freezes. Alternatively, you could commence planting lilacs in early spring as soon as the ground thaws.

Although the lilac plant won't start to bloom immediately, you have made the first steps in the right direction. 

When Can You Expect The First Flowers On A Lilac Plant?

beautiful garden on the backyard with lilac bushes and flowers, nice flowers of purple lilac

Young lilac plants can take a while before you see the first flowers. However, if you are lucky and there's a lilac on your property, you might not have long for the plant to bloom.

It could take three to four years for your shrub or bush to bloom for the first time. Some species even take long as seven years to show their first flowers. Remember to take good care of your plant for a fuller look and a lot of fragrance.

How Many Types Of Lilacs Are There?

There are at least 25 species of lilac flowering shrubs and bushes. The varieties are even more! The flowering bushes have distinctive fragrances from the flowers.

In general, lilac bushes can survive cold temperatures as low as -60 degrees Fahrenheit. They also have a long lifespan. Some lilac bushes have survived hundreds of years.


gardener hands wearing purple garden gloves holding garden scissors, cutting lilac bush

Lilacs have been around for centuries, and their fragrance is legendary. Take care of your lilac plant by pruning on time and using the right tools. 

Although they take longer to first bloom, it's worth the wait. Your yard will be filled with whiffs of sensual fragrance and the sight of beautiful flowers. You can grab a drink and enjoy the summer with a priceless natural aromatherapy session!

Take advantage of more information from the following posts:

When To Plant Tulip Bulbs

17 Purple Shrubs And Bushes

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