Lilacs Need some Love

I love lilacs. Always have, since I was in grade school walking past lilac hedges twice a day, stopping to breathe in the heavenly fragrance each May. Truly there is nothing comparable to that perfume.
When we bought our present home there was a lilac planted at the south end of the property, likely a Syringa vulgaris, aka Common Lilac. Aside from the cedar hedge it’s the only original plant left after 19 years. I’ve added four other lilacs over the years but my reluctance to do any pruning on these shrubs has finally come back to haunt me in a big way.
The flowers are definitely getting smaller and less numerous on all of them, while the suckers have begun to encroach upon the lawn. I see branches without foliage here and there, an awful lot of twiggy growth amongst big, thick old branches and not much “young” wood of finger thickness, the type that produces the most flowers.
Because I want these lilacs to act as a tall screen I’ve purposely let them grow for over a decade without any attempt to control them, but it’s finally time. Last week I began phase one of my lilac control operation. After standing next to them for several minutes, pruning saw in one hand, hand pruners in the other, and wondering whether I really wanted to do this I waded into the foliage and started cutting.
I began by cutting out several older branches at the six foot height and then got down on hands and knees, crawled underneath the canopy and began pulling by hand or cutting every sucker I could get to. Thirty minutes later my truck box was full, but I could at least see the base of the shrubs and I have a bead on which branches need to go next. A chainsaw will likely be a major component of lilac control operation part two and any job that requires power tools can’t be that bad.
In a perfect world I would have taken out 25% of the oldest branches and all but the strongest suckers each year. This would have allowed the plants to renew itself with vigorous new growth. But I let it go; I opted to do nothing and now the time of reckoning has arrived. I estimate at least two trips to the community compost pile.
The other step that must be taken is to improve the depleted soil. Once the cutting is done I’ll need to top-dress with a mixture of manure and compost, perhaps mixed with generous handfuls of fertilizer.
There might be a wait of a couple of years while my lilacs find their bearings again. I’ll have to take that grade school walk again next spring to find some flowers to inhale. But sooner rather than later strong new shoots will emerge, topped with fat buds full of promise. Hard work? Yes. Worth the effort? Absolutely!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *