Lilac Bush Is Not Blooming – Why Won’t My Lilac Bush Bloom
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With their conical clusters of tiny tubular flowers in a range of colors between white and purple, intensely fragrant lilac blooms lend a sense of sweet nostalgia to a garden. While lilac shrubs are fairly easy to grow and maintain, there may come a spring when you find yourself asking, “Why is my lilac not blooming?” It happens.
When a lilac bush is not blooming, it means there are a few things to investigate, so let’s explore the issues.
Why Won’t My Lilac Bush Bloom?
There are several possible answers to this question, but pruning may be the key. Lilacs bloom on last year’s growth, so it’s important to prune them immediately after they’ve finished blooming in spring. If you wait until summer, fall or winter to prune a lilac, you could be removing buds that would otherwise bloom the following spring.
Try to do just a light pruning right after the spring bloom. A drastic pruning of lilac will delay the next bloom, so just thin out the oldest and thickest branches, and trim inner branches to allow sunlight to penetrate through the bush.
Consider the age of your lilac bush, which may have grown into a tree by now. The lilac’s best blooming takes place on younger wood. Blooms can be sparse if your lilac consists primarily of aged old wood. You may need to do a rejuvenation pruning of an older lilac and wait two or three years to let it come back to full bloom.
Other Reasons Lilac Bush is Not Blooming
Your next step is to check on your lilac’s growing conditions.
Lilacs want full sun, which means about six hours a day of sunshine. Even if your lilac is in partial shade, it’s not going to do as well, so be sure other trees aren’t blocking its sun.
Mulching around your lilac shrub helps to control weeds and keeps the roots from drying out. In dry weather, it’s important to water a lilac regularly. However, lilacs thrive in well-draining soil and don’t like soggy, wet roots.
If you’re fertilizing your non-blooming lilac, stop. Over-fertilized lilacs will grow lots of luscious greenery, but won’t give you the flowering you’re hoping for. Lilacs don’t require much in the way of fertilizer except for, perhaps, a light feeding in spring. If you’re regularly fertilizing other plants or fertilizing a nearby lawn, your lilac may be getting more food than it wants. Adding phosphorus, like an application of bone meal, to your lilac’s soil will help.
Lilacs can be subject to scale insects and borers. Examine your bush’s leaves and stems to determine whether you need to do a renewal pruning. Cutting away the problem areas will usually resolve the problem.
When a Lilac Bush Never Flowers
There are several lilac cultivars that won’t bless you with blooms for five or more years after planting. If you have a young lilac, patience may be your only solution until the bush matures and grows strong enough to produce blossoms.
Even dwarf varieties can take up to a couple years to work up a bloom, so nurturing and providing the proper support for your lilac while it’s young will pay off later.
How and where you initially place your lilac bush is the best insurance for beautiful blooms, so plan ahead for a sunny, well-drained spot, and stay on top of spring pruning for beautiful, fragrant lilac blooms every year.
Lack of flowers on lilacs
Q. Why doesn’t my lilac bloom in the spring?
A. There are several possible reasons why your lilac fails to bloom. The most common cause is lack of adequate sunlight. Lilacs (Syringa) need to be planted in a location that receives at least six hours of strong, direct sun per day. They are very tolerant of different moisture conditions as long as they are planted in well-drained soil.
Another reason why your lilac may not bloom is because it is being pruned at the wrong time of the year. Lilacs bloom on the previous season’s growth and develop next year’s buds shortly after blooming in the spring. Pruning needs to be done at the same time that the spent flowers are removed, within a couple of weeks after the plant blooms, so that next year’s buds are not removed. Flower buds on early blooming varieties can be damaged by a late freeze.
As lilacs mature, they can grow leggy and overgrown, with little foliage toward the bottom of the shrub. When this happens it may be necessary for a complete rejuvenation by pruning them to within 12 inches of the ground. This should be done in late winter when the shrubs are dormant. Lilacs respond well to this renovation however, the plant’s bloom cycle will be interrupted for one season, maybe more. To prevent the interruption in bloom cycles, lilacs can be given a rejuvenation pruning over a two-year period. Hard-prune half of the shrub’s stems one year and the remaining stems the second year.
Lilacs are not heavy feeders. Excessive fertilization, especially nitrogen, can often encourage lush vegetative growth at the expense of reproductive growth, or flower development. If lilacs are planted near turf that is regularly fertilized, this could also be a cause of a lilac’s failure to bloom.
Not Enough Sun
Lilacs are one of many flowering shrubs which thrive best in full sunlight. While lilac bushes may still grow in shady locations, they are less likely to bloom if they are not exposed to sunlight for at least half the day. It is also common for lilacs planted in the shade to grow fungus which may also affect the plant's ability to produce flowers. In many cases, pruning back the trees around your lilac bushes will be sufficient to increase the amount of sun they get. If this is not possible, you may need to transplant your lilac bushes into a sunnier location.
Lilacs require a soil pH of 6 to 7. Soil-testing kits are available in most garden centers. Follow the manufacturer’s directions to determine the pH level of the soil around the bush. The soil needs to be alkaline, so if it is too acidic the flowers will not bloom. Adding lime or ashes from a fireplace around the base of the bush can help balance the soil. Fertilizer can also help, but do not use a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. Nitrogen will cause foliage to grow, but not flowers. Choose a fertilizer with the numbers 7/6/17.
- Lilacs require a soil pH of 6 to 7.
- The soil needs to be alkaline, so if it is too acidic the flowers will not bloom.
Tips from our Customers
"About 20 years ago I had just moved to a home in the suburbs of Portland, Ore. (in the spring). There was a small tree in the front yard, looking very lonely and unattractive. I soon recognized the leaves as a lilac, but no blooms that year. The next year it had grown, but still no blooms. Because it still looked unbeautiful, that fall I talked to it. Yes, I know that talking to your plants helps! But it's what you say that counts, and what I said was something like this: "If you don't bloom next year, your days are numbered!"
You guessed it, it bloomed and was a beautiful dark French lilac. Every year after that it bloomed, more profusely each year, and people would stop to ask where I got it. I am sure that it hadn't bloomed because it was just too small and wasn't ready, but I like to think that the "talking to" it got helped it along. So talk to your plants, and if they don't perform, warn them."
"I would like to add to the person's tip about talking to your lilac bush: Like her, we moved last spring to a home with an established lilac that had never bloomed. I explained my plant philosophy to the recalcitrant bush—"I will love, feed and cherish you as long as you in turn produce flowers (or fruit etc.)—otherwise, your spot will be given to something else." The lilac is evidently a true adolescent and put out two flowers! So, does it stay or does it go? "OK bush, give me more than two flowers, or else!" And this year, there are three! My tip: when you talk to your plant, be VERY explicit about the rules :-)"
Cooperative Extension in Piscataquis County
Every year we gets calls from people who are disappointed their lilacs bloomed only sparsely or not at all, even though there were gorgeous lilacs blooming all over the county – even in abandoned house lots and in yards that look totally uncared for. Here’s a rundown of the most common reasons a lilac might not bloom:
Shade: Excess shade is the most likely culprit when lilacs fail to bloom well. Lilacs bloom best in full sunlight, or at least a half-day of sun. Anything less will mean fewer flowers developing. When they’re in a location that’s shaded all day, lilacs rarely bloom at all. Sometimes the shade creeps up over the years as nearby shade trees grow taller and fuller. In many cases, the lilacs may have been planted in a poor location to begin with.
Pruning: If you prune lilacs back drastically, it may take a number of years before they begin to bloom again. They should produce flowers eventually, but it could take three or four years – maybe even longer. If you prune only lightly, but wait until mid to late summer to do it, you may not see many flowers the following year. That’s because the flower buds for the following year are set shortly after the plant is through blooming. So if you do plan to prune, be sure to do it right after the flowers fade in spring. At the very least, you may wish to remove the brown flower/seed clusters which are unsightly.
Nutrients: Lilacs are not heavy feeders they don’t need fertilizer to make them bloom. Often, in an attempt to help young plants become established, people will fertilize them several times each spring and summer. Plus, there’s usually some lawn nearby, which is also fertilized. This abundance of nutrients, especially nitrogen, encourages the lilac to make a lot of leafy, vegetative growth – which may come at the expense of flower bud development. If this appears to be the case, and the plant receives plenty of sunlight and hasn’t been pruned too heavily or at the wrong time, simply stop the fertilizing. Eventually, it should begin to bloom well.
Moisture: Lilacs grow best in well-drained soil. While wet, poorly-drained soil isn’t directly associated with lack of blooms, it is associated with plants that develop root rots or generally fail to thrive. If you have a young lilac in a low lying moist location, transplant it to a more favorable site if at all possible.
The Lyle Littlefield Garden on the University of Maine campus in Orono has an extensive lilac collection that the general public is welcome to come and see anytime during the year. Early June is the lilac bloom time. The Littlefield garden also has collections of crabapple varieties, rhododendrons, and magnolias.
It was founded in the early 1960s by Lyle E. Littlefield, then Professor of Horticulture and Extension Specialist. Over the last four decades, the Littlefield Garden has amassed a collection of over 2,500 woody and herbaceous plants. If you are in the Orono area plan to make a stop at the Littlefield Garden. It is located near the Hilltop dorm complex on the Orono campus.
Reference: Brown, D., Why Lilacs Don’t Bloom, Yard & Garden Line News, Volume 5 Number 8 June 1, 2003, University of Minnesota Extension Service.
Lilac Bush Not Blooming
I have the same problem with my lilac bush. My grandmother told me that it will not bloom unless there is another lilac bush near. I am not sure how "near" it needs to be. I have checked out other blooming lilac bushes and there's always another bush near by. I am not sure how true this is, but Grandmother has been around for 83 years and she can grow anything. (05/01/2006)
Lilac Bush Not Blooming
I was having the same problem. I was told to dig a very narrow trench, that was about as deep as your shovel would go, in a circle around the bush so I did this and it worked. (06/25/2007)
Lilac Bush Not Blooming
I have 3 lilac bushes, I live in Wilmington NC., they bloom. What I have found is they love horse poop. I have them in full sunlight, one bush really blooms the other one has little blooms, but it still blooms. (04/23/2008)
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