This house came with half a dozen old, shabby and overgrown lilacs scattered around the yard. Due to time constraints and the late hard freeze last year they remained mostly mere bundles of tall, gangly sticks that I didn't know how to improve. However, with the information you have provided (and hopefully no repeat of a late freeze), I think maybe I can assess them this year and take remedial action. Thanks!
Toni,Enjoyed you article as in desperation I had had my mower Etc man who is quite clever prun our antient shrubs two years back and they seem to be doing well.The lady at the hardware store said lime would be a good idea and I have given them feed spikes what do you think about the spikes?
Hi Toni--Thanks for another informative article. May I share a lilac story or two with you?
My mother-in-law planted a lilac in her garden when my wife and I started dating in 1959. We left Iowa, never intending to return. However, life is full of surprises, and in 1977 we found ourselves living in my mother-in-law's home. The lilac had matured in the interim and had the most beautiful silvery lilac blossoms I'd even seen. They literally glow at dusk. Soon after our return, my mother-in-law passed away and the property became ours. Fast-forward to 2008: This lilac is now 49 years old and has led a charmed life. It has never been attacked by borers. It has never been pruned (although we do cut out the occasional sucker). The twisted, gnarly branch structure is so beautiful, I just haven't had the heart to cut the old stems out in favor of young shoots. I know full well, as you point out in your article, that one is supposed to do that. The biggest surprise has been that it continues to bloom its head off! To us the blossoms are a bonus. We're happy just to enjoy the branches and the screening they provide from a semi-public walkway that divides our property in half. I can't post a photo here, but I'll D-mail a couple to you so that you can see what it looks like.
The second, much shorter, story concerns my mother. Her favorite place to play as a youngster was inside a large lilac bush, where she was secluded and yet could see what was going on in the world around her. My mother died at age 90 several years ago, but the lilac is still alive at well over 100 years old! It is still growing in the same spot where it was originally planted. However, it no longer blooms. But like me, the current owner doesn't have the heart to trim it either, knowing its long history. She has settled for enjoying its shade and, again like me, its gnarled and twisted branches. Best--Larry
What's the process for transplanting lilacs? Is it easy or do they tend to not transplant well?
I've got one at the house I bought a few years ago, and it gets so little sun that I get maybe 3 blooms on it. I tried hard pruning it, but that didn't improve the situation, but at least no borers found.
Biggest lilacs I have ever seen were on Mackinac Island. I spent a summer there when I was a child and the trees there were apparently brought by the first French settlers and I think were over 300 years old. My dad, who was over 6 feet tall, couldn't put his arms around the trunks. They were still blooming and I think got no real care at all. Amazing - and the scent! that was when I fell in love with lilacs.
Thanks for the article, it gives me some good basic information on the care of my own plant, if I can get it moved.
Lilacs are very easy to transplant, depending on size. You didn't say how old the shrubs are, but larger ones take a lot of muscle and extra TLC until they re-establish. Early spring before the bush sets leaf buds is the perfect time to transplant.
If the shrub is large: trim back about 1/3 of the plant so it will focus on growing a new root system. Dig deep and wide to prevent damaging as much of the root system as possible. Do NOT shake off the excess soil. Take care not to damage the roots as you move it to the new location; i.e., don't drag it across the ground--use a garden cart or similar.
Replant in a hole twice as wide and deep as the root ball. Before placing the shrub, mix in plenty of compost.
Keep the crown of the plant at soil level and begin filling the hole. Do not tamp down the soil, but "water in" to help the soil settle through the roots.
Deep-water regularly for 3-4 weeks; keep soil evenly moist, but not wet.
Don't expect flowers for at least the first year after transplanting.
Good luck, and please let me know how you make out! Toni
Thanks for the article - very helpful! We just moved into a house with some pretty mature landscaping. One of our lilacs is surrounded by a house wall on one side and a concrete pathway on another. It's really cramped! It is just breaking bud - can't wait to see if it blooms. I might try to transplant it next spring since I think I missed my opportunity this year.
I do wonder if it's worth it, though. There are so many nice varieties out now - maybe I should just invest in one of those and (gulp) dispose of the old one.
Your articles on Lilacs are just what I needed, I bought a house(1925) from the original family,and from what they told me there is a lilac in the front yard that has been here for about 28 yrs.The 4 years I have been here,I have seen a couple of blooms,but it is in the northwest corner of the lot,and only gets mid to late sun,because of the trees.It didn't bloom this year,so I guess it is time to do something.It's only about 5 ft. high,and maybe 3ft in diameter.Should I move it,or just try to prune it's,been let go so long,it does have a lot of stems from the ground.I'm new at this,and don't want to kill it.The lady that owned the house loved her yard,and in her later years,it went by the wayside from neglect.I'm trying to keep what I can as she had it.She's gone now,but I think her spirit lives on here...thanks.Becki
I have a double white lilac that was planted in an unfortunate location at our vacation home. It gets so little sun that I have only seen it bloom once. Last fall though, I dug up one of the suckers and brought it home to plant in a sunny location; I took about a 2 lb coffee can size chunk of root and soil with it. It has survived the winter and I am waiting for it to spring into vigorous growth. I have decided that I may try collecting various old cultivars of lilacs by doing this - I am especially eyeing a very dark bloom that is down the street. Now to just remember which one it was in the fall!
Great article and perfectly timed. I'm trying to get up enough nerve to prune back a lilac that is over 25 years old. It looks a lot like your original lilacs. It is very tall and it doesn't have that many suckers. It will look very sad when I'm finished cutting it back and I'm wondering just how long it will be before it starts looking like a lush and mature specimen again. Your article was originally written a couple of years ago. Do you have any current pictures of ones you pruned?