Keep Cut Lilacs Fresh Longer with These Tips

For many people, lilacs are a sentimental flower. My mother planted many lilacs on our farm in Kansas. The scent carried across the yard as I played. When my husband and I started our family, planting a lilac in our garden was a priority so our children will have the same heavenly memory of the fragrance and flower.

Over the years I have tried to bring the bounty of this flower into my home and have often failed. The flowers would droop within an hour of bringing them inside, even though I had them in a clean vase full of fresh water. Through trial and error I found the trick to help the blooms last as long as possible:

Fill a bucket half full of fresh, cool water, and have it at hand as you cut blooms. Pick flowers in the cool of the morning or evening. Lilacs open very little after harvest, so choose stems that have at least three-quarters of the flowers open. Next, remove all of the leaves so the plant isn’t putting its effort into keeping the leaves hydrated. Place stems in the water. Leave the bucket in a cool, dark place and allow the flowers to take up water for at least an hour.

Pick flowers in the cool of morning or evening
Pick flowers in the cool of morning or evening.

Remove all of the leaves from each stem
Remove all of the leaves from each stem.

Next, using heavy clippers, recut the stem ends, then slice vertically up the stem 1-2 inches. Grasp one side of the sliced stem and twist backward. Immediately place the cut stems back into the bucket of water.  Allow the stems to take up more water in a cool, dark place for another one to two hours. The lilacs will then be ready for arranging, and will last three to four days.

Recut the stem ends, then slice vertically up the stem 1-2 inches
Recut the stem ends, then slice vertically up the stem 1-2 inches.

Grasp one side of the sliced stem and twist backward
Grasp one side of the sliced stem and twist backward.

Our finished bouquet: an arrangement of fragrant Evangeline hyacinth lilac (<em>Syringa ×hyacinthiflora</em> ‘Evangeline’)
Our finished bouquet: an arrangement of fragrant Evangeline hyacinth lilac (Syringa ×hyacinthiflora ‘Evangeline’).

Stephanie Lindemann
Manager of Horticultural Events
April 27, 2017


Thank you! I’m delighted to have some helpful hints. Our lilacs are not blooming fully yet this year, but I couldn’t help bringing some flowers into the house, where we will treasure them, and they will hold up longer, thanks to you.
Do you put sugar in the water???
Normandy park, WA

Heading out this morning to cut several for a friends Mother who isn’t feeling well; she too has memories of her Moms lilac garden many years ago. I’m thinking this will cheer her up a bit!
Thank you for sharing!

Thank you for demystifying the process. Mine are about 20% open, so a few days of anticipation ahead.

Thanks so much! My mother had huge bouquets in the house. She would crush the stems with a hammer! I will try your method though...lilacs , like peonies, iris and lily of the valley bring back my childhood. Oh...and hydrangeas of course!

These tips for keeping cut lilacs blooming in vases worked like a charm! Thank you SO much. Also - I used a 'utility' (razor) knife to split the stems. Perfect. Lilacs just starting to bloom here (6000') in Ketchum, Idaho.

I loved reading your article on fresh lilac blooms even though it wasn’t what I was searching for. I have lilacs that just began blooming. I’m afraid to pick them because I don’t know if that means they will have one less bloom next year. I’m new to gardening. Can anyone tell me I’d there is a right or wrong way to cut off blooms or shape these. Shrubs?

No, it won't make them b;loom less next year. the reverse, if anything.

Hi Nicole, here is an article that should help with pruning lilacs.

I used to work at a florist and we would pound the stems with a hammer. But I find now, when I cut them myself, my lilac flowers still don't last beyond a day or two. Will try the split and bend back routine next opportunity. Thank you!
I'm moving to S. Carolina next winter and am afraid I won't be able to enjoy these in my yard again as I understand they need a long cold period to set bloom.

It works!

Having been in the FLORAL Industry for years you only need to add a capful of rubbing alcohol to warm water. Cut the lilac blossoms and leave leaves on
Pound the cut end of the stem and put in the alcohol water. The flowers will open and the leaves stay perky. Same trick for any woody stem plant. Laurel. Pussy Willow. HYDRANGEAS. Forsethia. Mock Orange.

Why do you use warm water instead of cold? And pounding the stem instead of slitting it is okay? I had pounded them before, but it didn't seem to make them last longer, so today I tried the slit approach. Thanks!

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