Tips for healthy lilacs

Recently, someone asked me if now is the right time to prune lilac (Syringa) bushes.  Definitely not!  Many of our early spring blooming shrubs including rhododendron, forsythia, winter-blooming heather and lilac need to be pruned immediately after blooming – never in the winter. 

The reason for this is that the lilac’s flower buds are produced in pairs on the ends of the branches immediately after blooming, each giving rise to a fragrant flower cluster.  Normally you would prune lilacs by carefully snipping off the spent blooms in the spring.  Care is needed because you do not wish to damage the buds for next year’s flowers that are already forming on the seam beneath.  Also any dead or diseased wood should be cut out at that time.  If the plant gets too leggy or dense, canes may be cut to within four inches of the ground.  Just do one third of the canes each year so that you will have continuous blooming on the remainder of the bush. 

 Newly planted or transplanted lilacs often do not come into bloom again for a couple of years.  They seem to need this time to ‘settle in’ and make a good root run.  When they do start blooming you can look forward to years of beautiful, fragrant blooms with very little care.  Many of the new varieties especially the French hybrids, boast heady fragrance and huge colorful blooms, some even with double petals.

 Lilacs like to be planted in sun or part shade in well-drained alkaline soil.  Mulch the roots in spring and water during dry spells.  To really help profuse blooming, top dress with dried steer manure every second spring and be sure to remove spent blossoms promptly to prevent seed formation.  Every second or third year, prune out most suckers from the base of the shrub.  This will keep your lilac healthy and attractive to look at.  If you want to start more lilac bushes the rooted suckers can be dug up from around the base of the plant and replanted in good soil.

 Many folks use lilac blooms as cut flowers on the table.  They fill the home with fragrance and make attractive arrangements.  Collect your flowers when they are just beginning to show color in the buds and cut the stem on a 45 degree angle.  In order to have them last as long as possible in the vase try mixing one-third 7 Up, two-thirds water and one capful of bleach.  This makes a good mix for almost any cut flower. 

When placing them in the vase be sure to remove any leaves that would be underwater, otherwise they will rot and pollute the water very quickly.

 So go ahead and anticipate the treat that you are in store for, but please don’t prune them now.

 Until next week



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