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a lilac bush with MANY suckers, some quite far from parent

Hi - we moved to a house a few years ago and inherited some very overgrown lilac bushes. I have been reading about pruning and think I have a good understanding of how to do that - my question is about one area of my yard that we recently cleared of brush and discovered many lilac plants with just one or two branches that I am assuming are suckers from an original plant (in pretty bad shape). This area of my yard would be totally fine to fill with lilac bushes - so my question is will these lilac plants grow into lilac bushes if they are in fact a product of one original lilac tree? Do I need to do anything to help this process along? Or should I cut them all back? They range in distance from what I assume to be the parent plant about 10 yards or so. Or am I totally wrong that they're from suckers and the original owner planted several bushes that just weren't thriving bc of overgrown brush?

I'm a TOTAL newbie - moved from Brooklyn and had just a balcony there. So assume a great level of ignorance when responding. Thank you for any advice you can give!!!!

Amanda Doofenshmirtz
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Location: Twin Cities, Minnesota

Hello! This is a great question!

Yes, they are products of an original bush. I just learned about this recently, they are Rhizomes. This just means that the root decided to become a shoot, and pop up out of the ground to create a new daughter plant. Lots of grasses do this. (If you have ever tried to pull quackgrass out of the ground, you know the roots can take on a U shape with grass blades on each end. Very unlike dandelion roots, that go straight down. Canada thistle does this, too. Rhizomes can be great, or difficult, depending on the plant. Solomon's Seal rhizomes have medicinal properties.)

Everything I have learned in my mere 2 semesters as a Horticulture major tell me to trim those suckers/tillers (whatever you wanna call them) down to the ground. If you want lots of lilacs, buy more. The reason being is because of genetic variation. Those suckers will give rise to "clones" identical to the parent plant. If a disease were to strike, it would affect ALL the lilacs in your yard! Not only that, but all the lilacs in your yard would be literally connected through a shared root system, creating a pathway between the plants for disease. I'm not saying you will get disease, because you may never see one. But IF you did, it would be bad.

If it were me, I'd buy lilacs to plant, and maybe even buy some from one store and some from another to ensure maximum genetic variation. I hope that helps. Lilacs are the best! I am making mine into bath oil for beating the wintertime blues.

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Hmm interesting point about genetic diversity, but it seems to me if the original plant is particularly desirable, then clones would be what you would want.

If you want to keep some of these, then I think that would be perfectly OK. I think maybe create cluster groups -- keep 6-8 to form each clump then cut down others in between to provide air flow/circulation and room to walk between each clump for maintenance.

If you love lilacs you may want other varieties for color as well as extending the season by planting ones that bloom earlier and later than the one you currently have.

Also consider getting other companions to form a plant community for diversity and visual interest as well as blooms and foliage to enjoy during other seasons.

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