Maintaining a very old Lilac

aviastar 7A VirginiaApril 28, 2013

Hi! I have a very old lilac (possibly a group of lilacs); we bought the property about 2007 and it was in total neglect for probably 30 years before that. So the lilacs are at least 40 years old, but I think even older than that. The family that lived here in the 1940's did a lot of improving and I think this is one of theirs.

They haven't been great bloomers ever, but last year was terrible- I hear it was just a bad year for them in general. We pruned lightly after the 'bloom', mostly to simply contain it a bit better, which end up being almost all suckers and very little out of the bases. This year is the best bloom I've seen from her, but it's still a small percentage of her overall size. I just want to make sure I am doing right by this plant and helping bloom its best.

She's probably about 15-17 ft tall. She gets full sun all day. Here are my immediate questions:

A) Prune this year again? The suckers and up to 1/3 of the base growth, immediately after bloom ends?
B) There are some branches not producing any green at all- it's ok to take these out, right?
C) Can I pot some of the suckers up for sharing and adding to other places in my yard?
D) Any guesses to variety? It's fragrant and the bloom bunches are about 4-6 inches in total length.

Thank you!

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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

I'd cut it all down to 18 inches some winter so that everything above that point was new wood. There will be a lag time before it starts flowering again after that.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2013 at 8:25PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

google : rejuvenation pruning of flowering shrubs ...

count the number of monster trunks.. remove one third.. as close to the ground as you can.. say 3 to 6 inches ..

the suckers are already there.. about 3 foot tall twigs.. once exposed to the sun.. they will explode with growth.. with no insult to the root mass ...

if you dont mind looking at that shed for the season .. take all the monsters down ...

you cant kill this thing if you wanted... so there is no reason to live with it.. as it is ...

most of us would do it just after flowering.. why not enjoy the show .... timing is NOT important ...


    Bookmark   April 29, 2013 at 8:27AM
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aviastar 7A Virginia


My half way re-done old shed? Yea...maybe if I looked at it more it would get finished!

There's a monster mock orange behind it and a monster boxwood behind that. Maybe I'll just take a few years and they can each get a major haircut while the others are still up/coming back to hide my house from the road.

There is also one random grapevine-that bears fruit!- and one random yellow tulip under there. It's like a treasure hunt around here sometimes!

    Bookmark   April 29, 2013 at 1:07PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Do you want to have things that look like trees or just kind of a hedge?

    Bookmark   May 1, 2013 at 3:08PM
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aviastar 7A Virginia

Hmmm, purple, good question! I hadn't thought about it, but we like the height in general. It helps to hide us from the road and the road from us.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2013 at 4:40PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Our maintenance plan for the above tree (at a house where my Mom lived for 10 years) was to trim the suckers at the base after flowering each spring. Then whatever branches that might have grown unattractively, or banging into the house. The more you trim, the more it will be inspired to grow. The pic was taken about 2-3 weeks before annual sucker trimming time, so you can see that with minimal trimming, there's minimal suckering. A lilac does not need regular pruning to bloom well, only for size when the desire is for a shorter entity. In this case, a hedge or shrub would have blocked a lot of the view and light from of that window.

Lilac makes a FINE tree. I think yours is absolutely stunning!

    Bookmark   May 4, 2013 at 7:59AM
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aviastar 7A Virginia

Thanks, purple! we are fond of it even if we can't take credit for planting it!

    Bookmark   May 4, 2013 at 3:40PM
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dominoswrath(5 WI)

My husband *inadvertently* trimmed our beautiful shrub into a square. I was livid, but it was too late. Needless to say, it took a few years to recover, but bounced back and by the third year was an attractive shrub again.

I admire the mature tree form. I'd keep it.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2013 at 8:58PM
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aviastar 7A Virginia

Thanks, domino! We aren't planning on overly *shaping*- I really like the natural tree form as well. Just want to make sure we're caring for it appropriately.

The flush is gone now, of course, but it actually did really well this year!

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 12:35PM
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Need2SeeGreen(10 (SoCal))


I have never known quite where to trim off the blooms on my friend's two potted lilacs. So, once again this year, I didn't do it. (One is Angel White, one is Pocahontas, I got them at Descanso. Great place for SoCal lilacs.)

Is it too late?

If not, where exactly do I trim? (Just basically under the seed pods, or somewhere else? I'm new at this, obviously.)

Also, do you have to trim, or is it optional? I just want to make sure they bloom again next year. They are not very big plants yet, so it's not like they're out of control or anything.

I also need to trim suckers. Is it the wrong time to do that? (I think the Angel White bloom may have been *on* the sucker, just fyi. Is that bad?)

Thanks for any help!!! Very much appreciated. This has been bugging me for a while.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2013 at 9:55PM
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Need2SeeGreen(10 (SoCal))

Me again:

I searched again, looks like I used the wrong terms.

If this thread -- --

answers my question about *where* to trim correctly, then please ignore that part of my post.

(It says, this late in the year, I will be okay if I trim just at the very bottom of the seed/blooms, but I shouldn't trim anything more than that.)

Sorry, I just got excited, I've been needing to find this out forever.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2013 at 10:04PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Need2see, assuming your plants are Syringa, there's no need to deadhead the old flowers unless you just don't like looking at them. Doing so, or not doing so, should have no bearing on next years' flowers. Many lilacs are way too big to do this and they bloom profusely every year.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2013 at 9:30AM
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Need2SeeGreen(10 (SoCal))

Thanks, purpleinopp!!!

    Bookmark   July 10, 2013 at 2:38PM
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