kissygoose
Full Member
Posts: 13
Joined: Wed May 31, 2006 11:31 pm
Location: Central PA

What's wrong with my lilacs?

I have two lilac bushes ( I think). They are very tall and only have growth on the very top of the bushes. The bottom 2/3rds is just wood. they look terrible and hardly flow at all and have no fragrance unless you get real close.

Unfortunately I don't know much about the bushes as they were here when we bought the house in 2004.

Emmie9999
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Posts: 1
Joined: Sun Jun 11, 2006 3:13 pm
Location: Billerica, Massachusetts zone 5

Re: What's wrong with my lilacs?

kissygoose wrote:I have two lilac bushes ( I think). They are very tall and only have growth on the very top of the bushes. The bottom 2/3rds is just wood. they look terrible and hardly flow at all and have no fragrance unless you get real close.

Unfortunately I don't know much about the bushes as they were here when we bought the house in 2004.
Hi! I joined the forum because I have a similar problem. We have lived here for 8 years, and over the past three or four our lilacs have grown to look like what you describe: about 8 feet tall, only growth is on the very top 1/3 or 1/4 of the bushes. My neighbor said they look like trees in "Horton Hears a Who" from Dr. Seuss! :shock: (Not quite the look I was going for!)

I have found a few things that may help you. First of all, we have been mulching with cedar mulch, which I have discovered is acidic, and lilacs like things a bit sweet. Secondly, I gave them a very severe pruning last year, although sadly I did it a little late in the season and I think I lost blooms in the process. I did some pruning of dead wood this year after flowering, and already I am noticing that limbs I thought were dead are branching out a little bit. Next time I'm going to use the instructions for pruning located on this site, and follow them closely.

I'm going to rake up the last of the mulch, scratch in some lime, and maybe put down some composted manure. I'd love to give these old shrubs a feeding of fertilizer, does anybody have any suggestions?

Emmie

N2264J
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Posts: 2
Joined: Fri Jul 14, 2006 7:19 pm
Location: Northern Kentucky just south of Cincinnati

Re: What's wrong with my lilacs?

I set out a couple of the dwarf lilacs in the spring. Both seemed to be doing fine for a few weeks then one started drying up and now appears to be dormant or dead although there is still a little green under the bark close to the root system.

When it began to deterioate, I watered it pretty good and gave it some nitrogen which, if I'm reading this and other forums correctly, may not have been necessary or advisible. The healthy one is actually getting a few fragrant blooms on it again - isn't that unusual?

My plan is to replace the dry one soon (so the new one is established by this winter), cut off all the dead twigs down to about 3 inches from the root stock where there's a little green under the bark, replant it in it's own container out in back of the house and see what happens.

Any comments or suggestions? Could it be in shock or dormant?

Newt
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Posts: 1868
Joined: Wed May 26, 2004 2:44 am
Location: Maryland zone 7

Hi N2264J,
My plan is to replace the dry one soon (so the new one is established by this winter), cut off all the dead twigs down to about 3 inches from the root stock where there's a little green under the bark, replant it in it's own container out in back of the house and see what happens.

Could it be in shock or dormant?
I can't tell if it's in shock or gone dormant. Trees and shrubs will shed their leaves when stressed, as those are expendable. I'm a bit confused about what you say you are going to do though (happens to me sometimes) :? I think what you are saying is that you want to cut back the lilac that appears to be dying, pot it up and put it in the back of the house to spend the winter in the pot. I'm thinking you are in hardiness zone 6, so you will have to sink the pot into the ground for the winter. I would suggest that you add some compost with a sprinkling of lime to the soil you pot it up with and mix it in.

Newly planted shrubs need water for about a year after planting. Take a look at these sites about how to plant, water and mulch (the same as for trees) newly planted shrubs.
https://www.ext.nodak.edu/extpubs/plantsci/trees/f1147w.htm
https://cals.arizona.edu/pubs/water/az1298/
https://www.mdvaden.com/advice-landscape.shtml#wateringsuggestions
https://www.watersaver.org/pdfs/shrub_watering_recommendations.pdf
https://www.treesaregood.com/treecare/mulching.aspx

Here's info on growing lilacs.
https://www.helpfulgardener.com/lilacs/03/index.html
https://spi.8m.com/care.htm
https://www.heardgardens.com/basicsforlilacs.htm
https://lilacs.freeservers.com//lilac_tips.html
https://www.gardenersnet.com/lilac/lilac02.htm

Newt

N2264J
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Posts: 2
Joined: Fri Jul 14, 2006 7:19 pm
Location: Northern Kentucky just south of Cincinnati

Newt wrote:I think what you are saying is that you want to cut back the lilac that appears to be dying, pot it up and put it in the back of the house to spend the winter in the pot. I'm thinking you are in hardiness zone 6, so you will have to sink the pot into the ground for the winter.
Thanks for the tip. On second thought, I think I'll leave it where it is, cut it back to about 3" and see if it sprouts next spring.

It did OK for about the first two months (April and May) and the other one I planted with it seems to being doing great.

Did I read somewhere that lilacs don't like too much water?

Newt
Greener Thumb
Posts: 1868
Joined: Wed May 26, 2004 2:44 am
Location: Maryland zone 7

You are so very welcome. If you cut it back to 3" it could take up to 5 years before it blooms again. I would suggest you cut back to live wood. Lilacs set their buds for next years blooms about 2 weeks after the finish of bloom. Look at the tips of the branches to see if there are buds. You don't want to cut these off. They will look like this.
https://www.brianthebrain.com/Photos/plants_two/page_3.html
https://carlray.smugmug.com/keyword/bud/1/60182930/Large

How to prune lilacs:
https://www.gardenersnet.com/lilac/lilac02.htm
https://www.ipm.iastate.edu/ipm/hortnews/1993/2-10-1993/lilac.html

Newt

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