wysteriangnome
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Severe Cut-back of Lilac

We have 2 or 3 fair size (6-7 ft) lilac bushes (trees) and I read that; for better & new growth, to cut back the lilac to 3 ft. staggering the size of each stalk? It sounds severe to me, but am willing to do it, if it will promote healthier, larger and more blooms. There is a fair amount of dead wood also. I glanced on this forum before and recall seeing 'not to cut into dead wood'. I'm new to careing for lilacs, and could not possibly read everything on this forum right now, looking for the answer. I appreciate your experience & opinions. Thanks. Inland Empire/So. Cali. here, so the summers are extremely hot some years. I don't know if I could trim them back now or best to wait for early spring?

lily51
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Re: Severe Cut-back of Lilac

I live in ohio and have a huge lilac that was here when we moved here, plus was here for former owners. It is at least 60 years old. My son talked me into letting him cut it back a few springs ago. It was huge, but mostly wood except at top. So as soon as it was done blooming in spring he cut it way back. It has to be done then since it sets the next year's buds soon after it is done blooming.
It is so beautiful now, blossoms all over,, lovely shape.
I don't know poo w these gr8 poo w in California, so check around with landscape specialists to see if this is the right approach for yours.

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rainbowgardener
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Re: Severe Cut-back of Lilac

To start with, now is the wrong time to prune lilac. It has already set the buds for next year, so you will be pruning off next year's flowers. Lilac is traditionally pruned right after it flowers.

Generally, you don't cut back lilacs, you cut out stems, that is cut selected stems off at ground level. You want to cut out dead or diseased stems, very thin or twiggy stems, very thick old stems, and stems that are crossing/ rubbing against each other. You can cut out up to 1/3 of the stems, focusing on the oldest ones. This helps rejuvenate the plant.
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tomc
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Re: Severe Cut-back of Lilac

If you want bloom next year don't prune out all the tops.

6-7 feet tall doesn't sound that large for a lilac.

I think I'd mulch them and let 'em grow.
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wysteriangnome
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Re: Severe Cut-back of Lilac

I will try to trim it out next spring then, and mulch. I was ready to cut it back soon, for next spring. I'll keep reading on here as well.

Years back my mother moved to an acreage in Alberta, Canada. There was a row of 'dead' trees in front of the house, she got her stepsons to dig them all up first thing Springtime. Not long later, a small root & stalk left over, bloomed a little lilac. One of her favorite flowers. :oops: Don't want to make any similar mistakes!

:) This helps, thank you.

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Re: Severe Cut-back of Lilac

Most humans don't have the patience to prune out (only) the dead-wood in a lilac. That said it will help their appearance and over-all health.

I wouldn't wait to mulch. In fact my sermon is mulch spring and fall every year...
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wysteriangnome
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Re: Severe Cut-back of Lilac

Ok, I will mulch very soon. I have been busy cutting down diseased Oleanders, time to spend more time on the healthy living plants as well.

No, the lilacs aren't that big but quite full (of leaves at least), there have not been as many blooms as we would like to see, and they aren't that big. Probably because I haven't done much with them, hoping since they are established, they would grow well naturally. :?

Thanks again. :)

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rainbowgardener
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Re: Severe Cut-back of Lilac

You shouldn't have to do much with them. But particularly with younger plants (which yours are), it is important to deadhead the lilacs as soon as the flowers are spent, don't let them set seed. The lilac seeds are big and heavy and don't travel far from the plant. So if it sets a good crop of seed one year, it tends not to bloom very profusely the second year, presumably to cut down the competition with last year's seedlings.
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wysteriangnome
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Re: Severe Cut-back of Lilac

Mulched :) Now I will have to remember to 'deadhead' them. My mother has such a big yard, so much 'deadheading' to do :D


Mulching; I have always thought mulching to be to, stir up the dirt around them with a prong thing (forget the name right now) and mix in manure or fertilizer? I am going to see if they have a gardener dictionary on here. All I have at the moment, is steer manure, but I understand 'horse manure' and goat or sheep? is better.

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rainbowgardener
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Re: Severe Cut-back of Lilac

No WRONG "Mulching; I have always thought mulching to be to, stir up the dirt around them with a prong thing (forget the name right now) and mix in manure or fertilizer? I am going to see if they have a gardener dictionary on here. All I have at the moment, is steer manure, but I understand 'horse manure' and goat or sheep? is better."

That's not mulching; it is adding manure to the soil.

Mulching is just to put a layer of mulch on TOP of the soil and leave it there. Usually you want the layer to be at least 2-3" deep. Mulch can be anything organic: the bark chips they sell as mulch, fall leaves, shredded paper, compost from your compost pile, pine straw, grass clippings, etc.

The point of having the layer of stuff on top of the soil, is that it protects the soil from losing moisture, shades the soil and the roots in it from too much heat, and then the mulch layer gradually breaks down to feed the soil.

Incidentally the "prong thing" has a very technical name--it is called a fork. :)
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wysteriangnome
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Re: Severe Cut-back of Lilac

:oops: Haha your kidding me, a fork? That is funny, I thought it was something else. Technical huh, you made me laugh at myself. (in a good way)

Thanks again, darn, I JUST the other day raked up excess leaves and threw them out to make the garden 'look neater'. Mistake I see. I will start saving all the leaves, we have many. :)

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rainbowgardener
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Re: Severe Cut-back of Lilac

Oh jeez... never throw away leaves! I go around the neighborhood collecting all the leaves people put in bags at the curb. They are very valuable as mulch and as browns for the compost pile. I keep the bags of leaves to have browns to add all through the winter as I add my kitchen scraps. If you (somehow managed to ) have too many, you can make a separate bin just of leaves. Eventually they break down into this wonderful stuff called leaf mould (from mouldering, old word for composting, has nothing to do with mold as we think of it) which is black and rich and crumbly and probably full of earthworms, and terrific for your garden.

Just an aside, re making your garden "neat." I have found that my garden aesthetics have changed over the years, as I get more in to what I call natural gardening. Years ago I aimed for a neat garden with straight rows and never a weed in sight and if not bare ground then covered in nice commercial stained bark mulch. These days I do very diversified plantings with herbs and flowers and veggies mixed together in companion plantings, things stuck in to beds with not much rows. A lot of weeds get left because the purslane and lambs quarters are nutritious edibles, the plantain is wonderful medicinal, the velvetleaf is a great trap crop for the leaf miners, the wild grape is a trap crop for Japanese beetles, the pokeweed is beautiful and the berries feed the birds.... The weeds I do pull may get laid back on the ground to add to the mulch. Lots of things are allowed to bolt and go to seed, so that they will self seed themselves and come back on their own, which sometimes means I have lettuce popping up on the edge of a path or where ever else the seeds landed . So my garden is no longer what you would call neat. But it is lush and wild, very full, very green, very lively and diverse. Now that my eyes and my expectations have changed, I think my garden is beautiful. Nature never made rows or straight lines.
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wysteriangnome
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Re: Severe Cut-back of Lilac

Excellent, I will try to loosen up in my neatfreak ideas. Usually the very end of our warm season, I do leave the leaves to 'keep the plants warm'. I don't know if I am right in doing this, but it seemed to make sense. My grandma used to keep a great compost pile with everything but the kitchen sink, & she had the best flower and veggie gardens. So, I will get a compost pile going. Another important thing I have to do; talk my mother out of spraying for bugs once a month, & I just ordered the praying mantis. No doubt the bug spray kills almost everything in its sight! They say it is 'safe', yet I wonder why we have to keep the pets in and cover their water/food bowls if its so 'safe'! :x I don't want mosquitoes, so spiders are great, as long as too many don't move in. I don't like bug spray, she doesnt' like the 'black widows'. :/ I will go check out the natural way to keep some pests away.

Thanks again :)

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rainbowgardener
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Re: Severe Cut-back of Lilac

Yeah, try to educate her about the bug spray. Part of the point of my mixed up plantings is that the aromatic herbs tend to drive away some of the bad bugs or at least make it harder for them to find your crops. The nectar bearing flowers attract a lot of the beneficial insects, like ladybugs and lacewings and tiny wasps that parasitize cabbage worms and tomato hornworms... If you spray for bugs, you just wiped all that out. Once you wipe out the beneficials that are keeping your pest insects in check, then the pests will bounce back in greater numbers.

For mosquitos, one of the best things you can do (after you have made sure there are no little pools of standing water around anywhere) is put up hummingbird feeders and/or bat houses. Hummingbirds and bats both eat LOTS of mosquitos.

And definitely compost pile is the best thing you can do for your garden.
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wysteriangnome
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Re: Severe Cut-back of Lilac

:) Thanks. Love hummingbirds and bats are great, as long as they don't bite me. (I did get bit, but my own fault and I was punished for it lol, nice big shot in the hip, to prevent rabies) I may go look for 'favorite' hummingbird plants. I think we have room for one more little flowering tree/bush.

Yes, I have started to talk her out of it. (the monthly bug sprayer) She is quite taken with the idea of the baby praying mantis's, I hope they 'hatch' (?). I know they are not eggs, don't make me laugh again...proper names are always disappearing from my mind, right at the moment I need them. :)

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rainbowgardener
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Re: Severe Cut-back of Lilac

Well, in this case there is a technical term, ootheca, which is a praying mantis egg case. But eggs work, because inside the ootheca are a bunch of eggs. Unlike some other insects, what hatches out of the eggs/ ootheca is not larvae, but a whole bunch of tiny miniature praying mantises. Very cute! :)
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rainbowgardener
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Re: Severe Cut-back of Lilac

I looked back at where you said we have room for one more little flowering shrub for attracting hummingbirds. Actually some of the best hummingbird attractors are vines. It is easy to have space for a little trellis somewhere. If you want something that will stay small, cardinal climber and the related cypress vines are annuals that need to be started over from seed each year. They are very dainty and delicate and only grow about 8-10 feet tall, so they don't need anything sturdy as trellis. I have one on a little trellis that's just a couple feet tall and I just keep weaving it all around and through the trellis. They get covered in little red trumpet shaped flowers that hummingbirds love.

If you don't want to start over every year and can provide sturdier trellis, you can plant trumpet honeysuckle (lonicera semperviren) or trumpet creeper. The trumpet honeysuckle is more manageable. The trumpet creeper spends the first few years getting established, doing nothing much, not even blooming, and then it takes off and gets gigantic. Do NOT plant it next to your house unless you want to spend the rest of your life pulling it off your roof and out of your gutters. But if you have a space for it somewhere away from the house, it is a very nice habitat plant. After it blooms, it makes long slender seed pods, which are very hard and impossible to open. They stay on the plant for months and only open after there have been some hard freezes. Then they open to reveal hundreds of paper thin seeds which finches and other birds like. In mid winter when there is very little other food around, birds congregate on the trumpet creeper vine (which stays conveniently up above the snow) for those seeds.
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wysteriangnome
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Re: Severe Cut-back of Lilac

I just got back on computer, busy for days in the yard. Thank you so much for your responses, I will check out the plants in my Sunset book. We have a beautiful bushy plant in the yard that I saw a hummingbird on today. I don't know what it is, my aunt gave it to me (potted) and when I went to plant it in the yard, the soil in the pot was like cement, so I couldn't break it up...however it has grown so much this year. :P I'm pretty sure it was very happy to get out of that pot & loosen its roots over the past 2 1/2 yrs. I will take a photo and post it for identification. (dark orange flowers, blooms spring & now in early fall)

Thanks again

wysteriangnome
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Re: Severe Cut-back of Lilac

Ootheca, cool. I love them. I have found tiny ones in the yard before...I agree, think they are the cutest little insects on earth. None have hatched yet, but I think I hear movement in a couple of them. This is probably a bad time of year to be hatching them though. :( Hope they get out in time to hibernate, it's getting cold at night. Next year I will definitely order more earlier, in the spring.

Appreciate all the information & help Rainbow. :D

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