Buying whole lilac shrubs or even lilac seeds from the store can be expensive depending on how many plants you want to grow. A less expensive option is growing lilacs from cuttings.
By doing this, you’ll be saving yourself money and building your gardening skills at the same time.
If you’re not sure how to grow lilacs from cuttings, don’t worry – it’s simpler than you think, and we’re going to walk you through the process one step at a time in today’s guide.
Here’s everything you’ve ever wanted to know about how to grow lilacs from cuttings, from when and how to obtain your cuttings, to caring for and transplanting your propagated lilac plants.
Why Grow Lilacs From Cuttings?
Taking cuttings from existing lilac plants is more cost-effective than buying shrubs or seeds from your local garden center. It’s also a great way to work your green thumb and increase your knowledge of propagation and lilac plant life cycles.
Additionally, these flowering plants, which typically bloom during the spring, have many benefits for the ecosystem of your garden.
You’ll usually see these shrubs or bushes planted as hedges, which not only enhances the privacy of your outdoor space, but provides valuable protection for animals like birds.
Now, obviously, you will need a few lilac plants to create a hedge, but you can grow the number of plants you need by taking just a few cuttings from those plants you already have at your disposal.
Although you can grow lilacs from seed, or even from shoots or root suckers, we find that the most effective and easiest way to propagate lilac plants is by using cuttings.
Therefore, this is the method we’re going to be discussing in today’s guide.
The Two Types Of Lilac Cuttings You Should Know About
Before we get into the step-by-step process of propagating lilac plants from cuttings, you should be aware that there are two different types of cuttings you can take from lilac plants: softwood and hardwood.
One is definitely preferable over the other, but you could use either in a pinch.
Hardwood cuttings have their place in lilac propagation. When the plant is dormant, taking hardwood cuttings should not be damaging to the plant, and although they will take longer to develop roots and grow into plants, they can still be effective for propagation.
The main thing to bear in mind if you choose to use hardwood cuttings is to make sure the plant is fully dormant when you take them.
That’s because, if you take hardwood cuttings outside the dormant period, the plant will send energy to the leaf and flower buds rather than to the roots, which can hinder the overall growth of the plant.
Softwood cuttings are generally the better choice for propagating lilac cuttings. This is because softwood cuttings don’t take as long to root.
Whereas hardwood cuttings can take many months to develop strong roots, softwood cuttings tend to have a rooting time of around 2 months.
It’s best to take softwood cuttings when the plant is in bloom, which is during the late spring season. The stems tend to be softer around this time and lead to the greatest success.
Growing Lilacs from Cuttings: Step-By-Step Guide
Growing lilacs from cuttings is a time-sensitive process that requires a lot of diligence and attention to detail. It’s important to follow each step in this guide carefully, paying special attention to the timings and temperatures required for growing healthy lilac plants.
If you take your cuttings at the wrong time of year or cut in the wrong place, you could compromise your chances of success, so it’s important to get the timing and technique right in the cutting stage.
Assuming you’re taking softwood cuttings, you should wait for the blooming time, which is usually during the spring. It’s also perfectly okay to take cuttings a short while after the plant has bloomed, but you don’t want to wait too long.
A good way to test whether your lilac plants are ready for cutting is to try and bend one of the green growths coming through when the plant is in bloom.
If the growth bends and snaps off easily, the timing is right.
You should also pay attention to the time of day, because this can impact the plant’s hydration levels and transpiration, and this will affect the cutting’s ability to grow into a healthy plant.
It’s best to take cuttings earlier in the day (the morning as opposed to the afternoon) for these reasons.
Always clean your scissors or clippers before taking cuttings, and try to ensure that they are as sharp as possible. Blunt scissors won’t make a good cut, and if the scissors are dirty, your plants may end up being contaminated.
When choosing a stem to cut, make sure there are no flowers on it. If a flower is attached to your cutting, the energy will go toward that growth rather than forming strong roots.
The stem should be green and at the end of a branch because the terminal shoots root more efficiently.
You will want to choose a stem that’s around 5 inches in length (give or take an inch). When you’ve detached the stem from the plant, take off any leaves low down on the stem, but leave about 3 leaves toward the top of the stem.
Repeat for as many stems as you need, and be sure to carefully place your cut stems in a container of clean water so that they stay hydrated until you’re ready to plant them.
Alternatively, putting the cuttings into plastic bags should help them to retain moisture.
Now that you’ve obtained your cuttings, it’s time to plant them. This stage is also very important because if you don’t plant your cuttings in the right conditions, they probably won’t grow successfully.
1. The first thing you need is a planting container with holes for drainage. You should avoid planting lilac cuttings directly in the ground if possible because these plants are sensitive to a lot of environmental factors when they start growing, so it’s best to grow them in a controlled environment that is sterile and easy to adjust.
2. Make sure that your chosen growing medium is sterile. Adding perlite and sand will help with drainage, and combined with a draining container, this should prevent your lilac cuttings from getting waterlogged.
3. Before putting your cuttings in the planting mix, add a small amount of water. The mix should be moist, but not wet.
It’s fine to put multiple cuttings into one container, as long as there is about 3 inches of space between each cutting. If you position the cuttings too close together, they will crowd each other and this could impact their rooting.
4. Instead of placing the cuttings straight into the growing medium, make sure to dip the end of the stem where you made the cut into some rooting hormone. This will help to ensure that roots start growing from the base of the stem.
5. Now, your cuttings are ready to be inserted into the potting mix. Try to place them so that more than one leaf node is submerged under the surface of the soil.
Pat down the soil gently around the base of the stem to make sure it will stand upright without falling over.
6. Once you have planted your cuttings, it’s important not to let the soil get dry. It should always be moist, but again, try not to overwater it because this can also be damaging to your cuttings.
If possible, you should cover your cuttings with a humidity dome. Lilac plants thrive best in high humidity, and using a humidity dome will help to provide the best possible conditions to reduce transpiration and encourage rooting.
Moisture management is one of the most important factors when propagating lilac cuttings. With that being said, we’re by no means suggesting that you need to go out and buy an expensive humidity dome.
You can make one yourself at home using just a few basic items.
To make your own humidity dome, all you need is a relatively big plastic bottle. Cut it in two horizontally and place the half with the cap on top of the cuttings so that they are covered.
Take off the cap so that the cuttings can still breathe while trapping humidity inside the bottle. You could also do the same thing with a plastic bag.
Once you have covered your cuttings with a DIY humidity dome, remember to water your cuttings regularly to keep the soil moist. It’s best to do this with a spray bottle so that you don’t accidentally overwater the potting mix.
If you don’t live in a naturally hot climate, you might struggle to build up the right humidity levels for your lilac cuttings without a source of heat from underneath the cuttings.
Keeping the soil warm will help with rooting and ensure that humidity is consistent inside your humidity dome.
You have a few different options when it comes to providing heat for your lilac cuttings. One of the easiest solutions is a heat mat. Heat mats tend to provide bottom heat on a gentle level that won’t overwhelm your cuttings.
However, depending on the climate where you live, the heat mat might sometimes be a little too much. You should be able to tell if the heat has reached excessive levels because the cuttings will start to wilt. If this happens, don’t panic.
Just take away the heat mat, spray the leaves lightly with water, and wait. They should perk up again when they begin to cool down.
It will take a minimum of 2 months for your softwood cuttings to grow strong roots and start to grow into lilac plants, so you’ll need to be patient during this waiting game.
It’s very important to wait until the root system has developed, and the cuttings are firmly rooted before trying to transplant them into the ground.
The time it takes for your cuttings to root will depend on how warm it is in your home environment. If it’s a little colder, you can expect slightly longer waiting times.
Once your cuttings have developed roots, you can transplant them into your garden or outdoor growing area. However, before you do that, you should prepare the cuttings by hardening them off.
1. First, take away the humidity dome to make sure that the cuttings can withstand the lack of humidity. You should also cut down on your watering schedule, and take away the heat mat more frequently.
This should slowly acclimatize your lilac plants to the conditions of the outdoor environment so that they don’t go into shock when you transplant them.
2. Now that the plants have been prepared for the great outdoors, you can go ahead and plant them outside. Bear in mind that they won’t bloom straight away.
In fact, it will probably take at least 2 years for your lilacs to start producing flowers, but when they do, the plants should be healthy, strong, and vibrant.
Usually, it’s best to plant lilacs during the fall, but if it’s cold where you live, you may wish to consider waiting until the spring.
This is because the colder conditions in the fall might be too inhospitable for lilacs in cold climates, even if you have prepared the rooted cuttings for colder weather beforehand.
Additionally, if you waited until June to take your lilac cuttings (right after blooming time), they probably won’t have a strong root system in time for the fall.
This is another scenario in which it’s best to wait until the following spring to plant your cuttings. If you do this, you won’t need to worry so much about frost and other weather conditions that could harm your plants.
If you’ve been wondering how to grow lilacs from cuttings, we hope that the information in this guide has helped you to understand the process and feel prepared to try it out yourself.
Remember, timing is everything when it comes to propagating lilacs. Not only should you take your cuttings at the right time of year, but also at the right time of day to ensure hydration and minimal transpiration.
After planting your cuttings, always keep the soil moist (not wet) with a spray bottle and use a humidity dome in conjunction with a heating mat to make sure the delicate cuttings get the warmth and humidity they need to build a root system.
It’s important that soil hydration is maintained after transplantation, and you’ll also need a lot of patience, since it will probably take at least 2 years for your lilac plants to bloom.
Frequently Asked Questions
Lilac cuttings are technically capable of growing when you plant them directly in the ground, but the chances of success are significantly lower.
This is because lilac cuttings need very specific conditions in order to form strong root systems, and it’s easier to provide those conditions in a controlled environment.
If you plant your lilac cuttings directly into the ground, they probably won’t get the humidity and heat that they need in order to thrive at the beginning.
Additionally, as we mentioned earlier, too much heat can also be an issue, and if you plant the cuttings in the ground, you can’t control the temperature with an easily-removable heat mat.
You will enjoy much better success with your lilac cuttings if you plant them in draining containers with a humidity dome and access to a removable heat source.
Whether or not you can safely root lilac cuttings in water depends on whether you’re working with softwood cuttings, and also on what time you took the cuttings.
Hardwood cuttings will not readily root in water, so trying this is likely to be a waste of time.
As long as you take softwood cuttings early in the day, during or just after the blooming season, however, your cuttings should be able to root in water without too many problems.
Just bear in mind that when you eventually plant your lilac cuttings in the ground, they will need to adjust to absorbing the nutrients they need from the soil.
If they don’t have any experience in absorbing nutrients this way, due to being rooted in water, they might struggle to root down properly during the transplanting process.
Therefore, you’ll need to take extra care to keep the soil moist after planting lilac cuttings that were originally rooted in water.
In theory, yes, an entire lilac bush can grow from lilac cuttings. However, it’s important to remember that this is not a process that will happen overnight, or anywhere close to that time frame.
It can take between 2 and 3 years for lilac cuttings to bloom after being transplanted.
This means that growing whole lilac bushes isn’t the easiest gardening task, so you need to take steps to give yourself the biggest chance of success. That involves taking your cuttings at the right time of year, and ideally, at the correct time of day.
If you want your cuttings to be as strong as possible when they’re transplanted, you will also need to take good care of them during the initial rooting process.
That means using a humidity dome and a heat mat, and making sure you use a spray bottle to keep the soil consistently moist.