How to take a cutting from a lilac bush

Propagating Lilac Bushes: Growing Lilac From Cuttings

Lilacs are old-fashioned favorites in climates with chilly winters, valued for their sweet-smelling clusters of flamboyant springtime blooms. Depending on the variety, lilacs are available in shades of purple, violet, pink, blue, magenta, white, and of course – lilac. To enjoy even more of these great plants, you might want to try your hand at rooting lilac cuttings. Read on to learn more.

Growing Lilac from Cuttings

Propagating lilac bushes from cuttings is tricky, but definitely not impossible. Take cuttings of lilac bushes from tender new growth in late spring or early summer. Mature growth is less likely to root. Take several cuttings to increase your chance of success.

Take cuttings in the morning when the weather is cool and the plant is well-hydrated. Cut 4- to 6-inch lengths of tender, new growth. Strip the bottom leaves from the cuttings, leaving two to three leaves at the top. Roots will emerge from the nodes – the points where the leaves were attached to the stem.

Fill a pot with potting soil, sand and perlite. Moisten the mixture lightly, then use a stick or your pinky finger to make a planting hole in the mixture. Dip the bottom of the cutting in rooting hormone and plant it in the hole, then pat the potting mix lightly around the base of the cutting so it stands up straight.

You can plant several cuttings in the same pot, as long as they leaves aren’t touching. You can also plant cuttings in celled nursery trays. Place the pot in a warm location such as the top of a refrigerator. Bright light isn’t needed at this time.

Water the cuttings daily, or as often as needed to keep the potting mix slightly moist but never soggy. You can cover the pot with a clear plastic bag to provide a humid environment, but be sure to open the bag occasionally or poke a few holes in the plastic to provide air circulation; otherwise, the cuttings are likely to rot.

Watch for the cutting to root in one to two months – usually indicated by the appearance of healthy, new growth. At this point, move the pot to bright, indirect light and allow the potting mix to dry slightly between watering.

Let the lilacs mature until the roots are well established, then move them to their permanent outdoor location.

Can You Root Lilac Cuttings in Water?

Some plants develop roots quickly in a glass of water on a sunny windowsill, but this practice isn’t usually recommended for lilacs.

If you want to give it a try, take a cutting from a healthy lilac and place the stem in a clear or amber glass or jar with 1 to 2 inches of water. Be sure to strip the leaves from the part of the stem that will be in the water to keep the cutting from rotting. Add fresh water as needed.

If the stem develops roots, plant the cutting in a pot and let it mature until the young plant is well established, then move it outdoors.

How are lilac cuttings taken?

From this

Propagation by cuttings is one of the most popular ways to propagate lilacs. Cuttings should be taken when new green terminal shoots are produced. They should be four to six inches long, but should not be left out too long, because they will wilt easily and die. The cutting should be dipped in a rooting hormone like IBA (Indolebutyric acid) which aids the plant. The cuttings can be placed in a media with peat, vermiculite and perlite. Each cutting should contain 2-3 nodes, which are the growing points where the leaves are attached. The leaves aid in rooting by producing carbohydrates for the rooting plant. The cuttings should never be allowed to dry out and should be kept moist at all times. The cutting should root within 3-6 weeks. Once roots appear, you can place the plant outside in a desirable location.

What should be noted is that you need strong shoots that have a little bit of woodier stem and you need the strongest rooting hormone you can get. It used to come in three strengths and I recommend the strongest.

Take cuttings in the spring.

Try various rooting mediums but constant moisture, higher humidity levels and bottom heat are required. The quote recommends an artificial soil-less mix but I would also try floral foam, glasses of water or even pure perlite.

The trick with cuttings is lots of humidity to compensate for the lack of roots, lots of light and air movement to prevent mould. For many this means a greenhouse.

Garden detective: A few secrets to multiplying lilacs | The Sacramento Bee

I have tried many times to transplant a portion of a lilac bush that I have had in my yard for many years. I have attempted at least three or four times over the years to remove a small sprig and transplant it, but they never take. Here is what I have attempted: In the spring, when it starts to show green leaves, I remove a small branch, wrap it in newspaper and soak in water for several days. I then plant it in Miracle-Gro soil, but to no avail, as they all end up not taking. What am I doing wrong?

Tony Tambini, South San Francisco

Lilacs are not the easiest shrubs to propagate. Kent Thompson of the Sacramento County Master Gardeners tackled your dilemma.

“I recommend a book called ‘Plant Propagation’ by the American Horticultural Society,” Thompson said. According to that informative guide, lilacs can be propagated via softwood cuttings in late spring. Here’s what it says: “Take stem cuttings from 2-inch softwood shoots. With hormone rooting compound, free-draining medium, and bottom heat, rooting takes 6 to 8 weeks.”

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The book claims this method is “moderately challenging” with lilacs, Thompson added. It also says starting them from seed is easier.

But cuttings often are easier to obtain than lilac seed. And what do these horticulturist instructions mean for the average gardener?

Always start with a healthy mother plant with strong, green growth and no signs of disease or pests.

Also called “greenwood” cuttings, softwood cuttings come from that vigorous new growth. These cuttings are made from soft, succulent new growth of woody shrubs just as it begins to harden, typically in May through July for most plants. You can tell a shoot at the softwood stage because it will snap easily when bent. The youngest leaves on a softwood shoot have not yet reached their mature size.

A 2-inch softwood shoot is just like it sounds: The stem portion should be at least 2 inches long not counting attached leaves. There should be at least one node – that notch where a leaf was attached – near the bottom end of the cutting; ideally, a cutting should have two or three nodes. Make the cut with a sharp knife or pruning shears at a 45-degree angle (that creates a larger surface area for rooting). Remove all but the top two sets of leaves.

Rooting hormone is the secret to success for rooting cuttings from woody plants. Under various brand names, this hormone is available in powdered form from most nurseries and home improvement centers. Moisten lightly the bottom (cut end) of the cutting and dip that end into the powder so it covers the bottom inch (including that bottom node). Gently shake off any excess powder before putting the cutting into the potting mix.

“Free-draining medium” is the potting mix. Most high-quality potting mixes, particularly those designed for starting seeds or new plants, would qualify as “free draining medium.” Your cutting has no roots, so choose a mix with no added fertilizer. If creating your own free-draining medium, use equal parts clean coarse sand and peat moss mixed with a little perlite and vermiculite.

To keep the rooting hormone on the cutting, poke a hole in the moist potting mix with a chopstick or pencil, then insert the cutting and gently tap the mix around it. Keep the potting mix moist but not wet; don’t let it dry out while your cutting is trying to root.

“Bottom heat” refers to a seedling heat mat or other device to keep the potting mix (and root area) warmer than the surrounding temperature. That stimulates root growth as well as seed germination and can speed up the overall process.

As an alternative, indoor conditions usually are warm enough to stimulate most cuttings to root. (Cuttings such as lilacs prefer temperatures above 70 degrees to root.) Instead of bottom heat, just keep the cuttings indoors, preferably in a warm window (but not direct sunlight).

An extra step that helps in rooting such cuttings is to create a “terrarium” atmosphere, surrounding the cutting with its own mini-greenhouse. Put the cutting and its pot inside a clear plastic bag, closed at the top. Or put the cuttings inside an empty aquarium, covered with glass or clear plastic, and placed in a bright spot.

Once the cutting sets roots, it will start to form new leaves and grow. Then, you can set it outdoors in a protected spot, without its terrarium, until its ready to transplant into the ground.

This method can be used on a wide range of cuttings, not just lilacs. Try it on fuchsias, chrysanthemums and geraniums.


Questions are answered by master gardeners at the UC Cooperative Extension services in Sacramento and Placer counties. Send questions to Garden Detective, P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852. Send email to h&[email protected] Please put “Garden Detective” in the subject field and include your postal address.

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Transplanting an old lilac bush (now six feet tall) – Knowledgebase Question

Common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)
Posted by zuzu
I’m not sure you’d be successful digging and transplanting a lilac that has been growing in the same spot for over 25 years. Your lilac, being where it is for such a long time, would have such extensive rooting that it would be nearly impossible to dig up all the roots and doing so would probably prove disastrous to the neighboring rhododendrons. Instead of attempting to dig and move this plant, why not dig up a few of the shoots at the base of the shrub and transplant them?
Lilac shoots are exceptionally easy to transplant. I have transplanted many lilac bushes from the original bushes that my grandmother planted on our Wisconsin dairy farm 70 years ago. Early spring until late spring, from when the lilacs develop buds until they actually have small leaves, is the best time to transplant. If you have lilacs growing in your yard — or if you have a friend who has lilacs — and you would like to start some new lilac bushes, here’s how:
1. Decide where you want to transplant the lilac bush or bushes.
2. Dig a hole that’s about one foot deep by one foot across for each bush you want to transplant.
3. Dig up a lilac shoot from somewhere around the main bush. Lilacs spread by runners. Use a shovel to dig up the shoot because you are going to have to cut off the runner, and a trowel will not be tough enough to do the job. Choose a shoot that is approximately 8 to 14 inches high. Smaller shoots that are only a few inches high will take a very long time to mature to the point where they will have flowers. Larger shoots seem to take a longer time to recover from being transplanted before they start to grow well. Do not worry about how much root you are getting with the shoot. You will not be able to take all of the root since the roots are all connected.
4. Put the shoot in a bucket of water if you are not going to transplant it immediately so that it will not dry out. If you are going to transplant it immediately, carry it to the hole you have dug and set it in the hole.
5. Center the shoot in the hole and fill in with dirt. Leave a three or four inch depression around the shoot so you will have a reservoir for water.
6. Water your new lilac bush with a couple of gallons of water. Continue watering the bush several times a week for the rest of the season to ensure that it has a good start. From what I have observed, lilacs seem to be quite drought resistant, although like any plant, tree or bush, they will grow more if they have plenty of water. In subsequent years, water your new lilac bush from time to time, especially if rain is in short supply.
Note: I have noticed that it takes 4 or 5 years for the new bushes to grow enough to start producing flowers, although bushes that I transplanted from small shoots only a few inches high are taking longer than that.
Best wishes with your lilac!

How to Split Lilac Bushes

Flowering lilac in the city park. Novosibirsk, may 2007 image by Igor Zhorov from

Lilac bushes are spring blooming plants with aromatic flowers. The densely growing limbs of the bush are propagated through division. According to the North Dakota Extension Service, the best time to split and transplant a lilac bush will be in the late fall or early spring. If transplanting in the early spring, division should be completed prior to the leaves fully emerging from tight buds. The new location must have access to full sun to enhance blooming. The soil must also be well drained, preferably with a rich soil content.

Remove all dead branches from the lilac bush. In most cases, the interior of the lilac bush may contain dead branches from previous years growth. Bend the ends of the upper portion of the branch over. If the branch breaks easily and the interior wood is not green, that branch is dead. Cut the dead branch down to the existing soil line.

Select outer branches of the lilac bush to be split from the mother plant. Typically these smaller branches, less than 18 inches high, will contain enough material in the root ball for a successful split.

Push the sharp end of the shovel, its full length, between the selected split and the mother plant. The shovel tip will sever any roots connected to the mother plant.

Set the point of the shovel to the outside edge of the selected split. Push the shovel down, using your foot on the top edge of the blade. Work the blade under the roots of the lilac split.

Pull the shovel handle back towards you. This will pop the selected lilac split from the ground. The top of the root ball should resemble a large “eye” the same size as the width of the shovel blade, and approximately 4 inches to 6 inches across. The size of the root ball will depend on the size of the branches that are split from the mother plant.

Dig a transplant hole for the lilac split. The transplant hole should be two times to three times the size of the root ball. The larger the transplant hole, the better the roots will take hold in the new location.

Place the lilac split root ball into the transplant hole. Keep the original soil line on the lilac split, aligned with the ground level in the new location. Lilac splits that are planted too deep, may fail to bloom.

Back fill the native soil around the root ball. Pack the soil, with your hands into the hole and around the roots.

Water the new transplant several times, to remove air from around the roots and increase the contact between the root ball and the soil.

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