How to Grow Lilacs From Cuttings

Lilacs are one of the most beautiful flowering plants that you can use for bonsai. They have lovely green leaves and, in spring, produce the most beautiful sweet-smelling sprays of white, lilac, purple, or pink flowers. In this article, we’ll show you how to grow lilacs from cuttings.

Lilacs as Bonsai

The Common or Korean Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) is a small tree or shrub that grows to around 7 meters in the garden. The plant has heart-shaped leaves, and in spring and early summer, they produce masses of sweet-smelling flowers in lilac, pink, purple, and white. 

Lilacs make excellent bonsai specimens, but they need careful shaping as young plants. 

They can have long spindly trunks and branches, so they need careful pruning as young plants. The trunk must be encouraged to thicken in most cases, so planting it in a large pot to promote growth is essential. 

Once the trunk has thickened, you can begin pruning it into the shape you desire. Many lilacs do well as brooms or uprights but look stunning in informal slanting styles.

How to Grow Lilacs From Cuttings

Steps for How to Grow Lilacs from Cuttings

Lilacs do not grow quickly from cuttings, but that is no reason not to try. Follow these easy steps, and you will have a reasonable chance of success.

Step 1: Gather Your Equipment

You will need:

  • Sharp secateurs or scissors. You will need sharp scissors to clip the cuttings from the lilac bush.
  • Hormone Rooting Medium. Use the hormone rooting medium that you like. It makes no difference whether it is a gel, powder, or liquid.
  • Small pots or a seedling tray.
  • Potting soil mix. Use your favorite potting soil mix. Two parts organic compost to one part vermiculite or perlite will work well.
  • Clear plastic bags or a large plastic sheet

Step 2: Take the Cuttings

It is best to take the cuttings from a well-hydrated plant early in the morning. Water the donor plant the evening before so the foliage is adequately hydrated the following day. Also, it is best to take the cuttings from new growth when the twigs have four or so pairs of leaves.

Softwood cuttings will root more successfully than hardwood cuttings from lilacs.

Clip twigs that have a few pairs of leaves and strip the lower leaves off, leaving a couple or perhaps two pairs at the top.

Step 3: Plant the Cuttings

Prepare the pots or seedling trays with your potting soil. Using a finger, make a hole into the ground large enough that you can drop the cutting in without brushing off the hormone medium. 

Dip the end of the cutting into the hormone medium, and drop the cutting into the hole. Press the soil firmly down around the cutting and water.

Many gardeners find that placing a large plastic bag over the top of the pot as a temporary greenhouse works well, but let air circulate each day, so the cutting does not rot.

Be patient, as these cuttings do not root in a couple of weeks. It may take a month or more for the roots to appear.

How to Grow Lilacs From Cuttings

Are There Alternatives to Taking Cuttings?

Yes, there are two alternative ways of propagating a new lilac plant.


Lilacs send out roots that will grow shoots. Look around the base of a mature lilac plant, and you are bound to find many shoots growing a couple of feet from the parent plant. These are suckers. Dig carefully around the base of the sucker until you find the root connecting it to the parent. Cut this root and lift the sucker out of the ground with its root ball. You can then plant this new lilac plant into a pot.

Air Layering

Lilacs will successfully air layer, but as with rooting cuttings, this takes a fair length of time before the roots appear. It’s good to use clear plastic to cover the air layer before you wrap it in foil or dark plastic. You can remove the foil or dark plastic and see if any roots have grown. 

How to Grow Lilacs From Cuttings

Final Thoughts

Lilacs are beautiful plants, and the flowers are both pretty and sweet-smelling. They will handle harsh pruning, so they make good bonsai specimens, but to reduce the size of the leaves and flowers, the grower will need to manage the pot size carefully.

Patience will be the key to propagating lilacs with cuttings but do not despair. Softwood cuttings are best and have a much higher success rate for rooting, so clip at the right time of year and don’t be impatient. 

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