How to Prune a Standard Lilac Tree

by Alex Kountry
Updated on

Find out how to prune a standard lilac tree by following these simple steps.

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Pruning Basics

Pruning is a critical step in maintaining a healthy and attractive lilac tree. It is important to remove dead or diseased wood, and to thin out the lilac tree to allow sunlight and air circulation. Proper pruning will also encourage new growth.


The standard lilac (Syringa vulgaris) is a deciduous shrub that blooms in late spring. It is a large bush, typically growing to 12 feet tall and wide, with large clusters of fragrant flowers that can be purple, magenta, pink or white. Lilacs are relatively low-maintenance shrubs, but they do require regular pruning to keep them looking their best.

Pruning should be done in late winter or early spring, before the new growth begins. This gives the plant time to recover from any pruning damage before it has to put out new leaves and flowers. If you prune too late in the season, you risk cutting off buds that would have bloomed the following spring.


The two most important tools for pruning are a pair of pruning shears and a small hand saw. Pruning shears come in two basic types: anvil and bypass. Anvil type shears have one sharpened blade that closes against a flat surface. Bypass type shears have two sharpened blades that slide past each other like scissors.

For most general pruning, bypass shears are the best choice. Anvil shears are generally only used for heavy duty pruning, such as cutting through thick branches.

A small hand saw is also necessary for pruning lilac trees. The best type of saw to use is a pole saw, which consists of a small hand saw blade attached to the end of a long pole. This type of saw is ideal for reaching high branches without the use of a ladder.

Pruning a Standard Lilac Tree

Pruning a standard lilac tree is important to maintaining its shape and preventing it from becoming overgrown. You should prune your lilac tree every year in the late winter or early spring.

Start with the three D’s

Pruning a Standard Lilac Tree – (How to Prune a Standard Lilac Tree)

Start with the three D’s:

1. Cut away any dead, diseased, or dying branches. To identify these, look for discoloration, weak or spindly growth, and/or misshapen leaves.

2. Cut away any crossing or rubbing branches. These can damage the bark and/or leave wounds that are susceptible to disease.

3. Cut away any branches that are Crowded or rubbing against other branches. This will promote better airflow and prevent the spread of disease.

Remove any dead, diseased, or damaged wood

Start by removing any dead, diseased, or damaged wood from the lilac tree. This includes any branches that are broken, have cracks or wounds, or are otherwise not healthy. These branches should be removed at the point where they branch off of the main trunk.

Next, thin out the lilac tree by removing any overcrowded or crossing branches. When thinning, make sure to cut back to a point where there are at least two buds (side shoots) remaining on the branch. This will help encourage new growth.

Finally, prune back any long branches to create a more compact shape. When pruning, make sure to cut just above a bud (side shoot) facing the direction you want the new growth to go.

Cut back any crossing, rubbing, or broken branches

Before you begin pruning, it is helpful to understand how lilacs grow. Standard lilacs produce flower buds on wood that grew the previous year (last year’s wood). This means that if you want your tree to produce lots of flowers, you need to be careful not to cut off last year’s growth.

Lilacs can be pruned in late winter or early spring, before new growth begins. The best time to prune your tree will depend on the type of lilac and the climate you live in. In general, it is best to prune early in the season so that your tree has time to heal before new growth begins.

To prune your tree, start by removing any dead, diseased, or damaged wood. Next, cut back any crossing, rubbing, or broken branches. Once you have removed all of the problem areas, you can start shaping your tree. To do this, first identify the tallest branches and shorten them by 1/3 their length. Next, cut back the lateral (side) branches by 1/3 their length. Finally, prune any remaining branches by 1/4 their length.

Cut back any suckers or water sprouts

Suckers are fast-growing shoots that emerge from the base of the plant or along the trunk. They are often lighter in color than the rest of the plant and have a more vivid green. Suckers rob the plant of energy and should be removed as soon as they are discovered.

Water sprouts are a type of sucker that grows vertically from lateral branches. They tend to be sturdier than regular suckers and can be more difficult to remove. Water sprouts should also be removed as soon as possible.

Remove any weak or spindly growth

Pruning a Standard Lilac Tree – (How to Prune a Standard Lilac Tree)

As with any pruning, you’ll want to start by removing any weak or spindly growth. Cut these back to the main branch or trunk, making sure to cut at a 45 degree angle. This will help encourage new growth in the spring.

Next, remove any dead or diseased branches. These can usually be identified by their lighter color and lack of leaves. Again, cut these back to the main branch or trunk, angling your cuts at 45 degrees.

Once you’ve removed all of the weak, dead, and diseased branches, you can begin shaping your lilac tree. Start by pruning any branches that are growing out of place or that are interfering with the shape of the tree. You can also prune branches that are crossing each other or rubbing together.

When shaping your tree, it’s important to make sure that all cuts are clean and even. Avoid leaving stubs, as these can encourage new growth that is weak and difficult to control. Pruning lilacs is best done in early spring, before new growth begins.

Thin out the center of the tree

To maintain a healthy standard lilac tree, it’s important to thin out the center of the tree. This will allow more light and air to reach the inner parts of the tree, encouraging new growth.

Start by removing any dead or dying branches. Then, cut back any branches that are crossing or rubbing against each other. Next, Prune any branches that are growing outward instead of upward. Finally, trim back any branches that are longer than the others.

It’s important to prune your tree regularly to keep it healthy and looking its best.

After Pruning

After you have finished pruning your Standard Lilac tree, it is important to know what to do next. This section will cover how to properly care for your tree after you have completed the pruning process.

Apply a tree wound dressing

After you have finished pruning your lilac tree, it is important to apply a tree wound dressing to all of the cuts that you made. This will help to prevent disease and decay from setting into the wounds. You can purchase a tree wound dressing at most garden supply stores.

Water the tree

Once you have finished pruning your standard lilac tree, it is important to give it a good watering. This will help the tree recover from the pruning and also encourage new growth.

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About the author

Alex Kountry

Alex Kountry is the founder of HayFarmGuy and has been a backyard farmer for over 10 years. Since then he has decided to write helpful articles that will help you become a better backyard farmer and know what to do. He also loves to play tennis and read books


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