The following article was submitted by a reader named “Mick” to our Community Blogger Program. Mick writes:

I have been growing dwarf lilacs since I first started planting them in my backyard. They are one of my favorite flowers to grow and they provide me with lots of blooms each year!

My question is, what’s the best time to prune these lilacs?

I don’t want to cut down all their branches or anything like that, but just trimming off some of the tallest ones would be great.

Also, what’s the best way to take care of these lilacs after they’ve died?

Thanks so much for your time!

Hi Mick,

Congratulations on getting into flower gardening! Your lilacs are definitely one of my favorites too. So many different colors and shapes.

I’m sure you’re aware that lilacs are not native to North America (or at least not in any significant quantity) and it takes a little bit of effort to get them established here. But once they are established, they bloom abundantly and last for years.

So the question is, how long will those lilacs survive if you let them die naturally? How much maintenance do you need to give them after they die?

Well, there’s no simple answer to that. It really just depends on what your climate is like and how you maintain them.

For me, I’m in a very dry climate with extremely alkaline soil. So the first thing I need to do is water my lilacs well during their first year. After that, the watering can can be a little bit less frequent, but I still make sure to get all the way out to the ends of the branches and make sure they have enough moisture.

So if you’re in a very dry climate too, then you’ll want to water your lilacs at least once a week for a couple minutes whether it looks like they need it or not. Don’t over water them though, that can kill them too.

If you’re in a place with more normal rainfall, obviously you won’t need to water them as much.

Another thing you can do for your lilacs in either situation is to add some acidic fertilizer to the water every now and then. You can get this at any home and garden center and it’s fairly cheap. Don’t worry, you won’t have to keep doing it forever.

Just once a year after they’ve bloomed and finished their growth cycle.

So now that we’ve covered water, we’ll move on to sunlight. I would personally place your lilacs somewhere that they’re going to get at least a few hours of direct sunlight every day. Depending on how much you water them, this might mean you need to water them more often, so keep an eye on that.

However, if you have an over-abundance of sunlight in your garden, you can actually shade your lilacs so they don’t get burned up by it. All you need to do is take some larger branches from any trees in your yard (as long as they’re not an invasive species like Monterey Pine which can mess up the ecosystem in your area) and create a little canopy over your lilac. Be sure to space the branches out enough so they form a bowl shape and don’t let any direct sunlight through.

So you’ve gotten your lilacs planted and have been taking good care of them. Now it’s time for them to bloom! The first thing to realize is that your lilacs are probably not going to bloom the first year.

Pruning Lilac Bushes: When To Trim Lilac Bushes - Picture

Lilacs are a “hardened off” type of plant. This means that they need to experience certain conditions before they’ll start to flower.

So how do you harden off your lilacs?

It’s actually very simple. All you need to do is water them well (as stated above) and cover them at night or whenever nighttime temperatures drop below 60 degrees.

You can cover them with anything that won’t let any light through such as plastic or a large bucket, as long as it fits properly over the bush. A sheet is fine too, but you’ll have to check it every morning to make sure no light gets through or the sun will burn the leaves.

Now, once your lilacs are big and healthy enough, you want to make sure that you keep nighttime temps from falling below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. This will ensure that they get the cold they need to start their blooming cycle for next year.

If nighttime temps stay above 45 at night and your lilac bush hasn’t started blooming yet, you can still trick it into doing so. It’s not recommended though since it can cause your shrub to bloom prematurely and then all of next years blooms will drop before summer starts.

So just to recap…

If your nighttime temps stay above 45, then your lilacs will bloom around Mother’s Day the next year. If your nighttime temps drop below 45 for more than a few nights, then your lilac bush will bloom the following May. If your nighttime temps drop below 45 and you cover your shrub to make sure it stays below that at night, then your lilacs will bloom the same year they were planted.

I hope you have fun with your new Lilac bushes! Remember to keep them well watered and they should be a mainstay in your landscape for many years!

Sincerely,

Mrs. Montgomery

Pruning Lilac Bushes: When To Trim Lilac Bushes | igrowplants.net

P.S.

Did you know that Lilacs are known for their nice fragrance?

If you’d like to test this out for yourself, pluck a few petals off and crush them slightly between your fingers. Then take a big whiff!

Clara folded up the letter, tucked it away, and headed over to her brand new Lilac bush. It was planted near the edge of her garden where it could get plenty of sunshine.

She got down on her hands and knees and inspected it. It didn’t look anything like the picture in the instructions or like the bushes she’d seen in other people’s yards. It looked more like a little stick with a few green strings coming out the top.

“It’s going to be a while, I guess,” she said with a sigh.

She stood up and brushed the dirt off her dress. She started to go back inside but stopped when she noticed something pricking her leg. She looked down and realized that it was one of the little green shoots on her new Lilac bush.

It seemed to be trying to reach out to her, as if it were trying to say “Pick me!”

She smiled and kneeled back down next to it. She gently plucked it from the ground, being careful not to break it off. It seemed very fragile, almost like a baby’s arm, but she knew it was strong.

It was connected to a root after all.

As she ran her fingers over the little green shoot, she noticed that there were tiny little purple blossoms starting to bud out of it!

Pruning Lilac Bushes: When To Trim Lilac Bushes - Image

“It’s a sign!” she said excitedly.

She quickly plucked four more little shoots and then carefully carried them inside. She knew that her Mother would want to see this miracle as soon as possible.

As she burst through the back door with her arms full of Lilac shoots, her mother and father were having their evening coffee and pie. Her mother was just taking a bite out of a slice of Sweet Cherry Pie when she saw her youngest daughter come rushing into the room.

Clara, what are you doing carrying those wilted Lilac bushes in here for?”

her mother asked. “I thought I told you to toss them out yesterday.”

“But they’re not wilted anymore!” Clara said with a smile. “They’ve bloomed!

They’re not dead, they’re alive!”

Her mother and father just stared at her, confused. Then they looked at each other and rolled their eyes.

“Clara, those bushes have been dead for years,” her mother said. “Now set them over there and go wash up for dinner.”

“But, Mom, they’re not dead, they’re alive! They bloomed!” Clara insisted, thrusting the shoots at her mother.

Her mother took one look at the little shoots and sighed. Then she took a deep breath and let it out.

“Clara, those bushes are seven years old,” she said in an exasperated tone of voice. “They were set out as sticks with barely any roots attached to start. You planted them the same year you were born.

I showed you where we planted them together when you were just a toddler, remember?

You and your little imagination are seven now, and it’s high time you started acting like it.”

Pruning Lilac Bushes: When To Trim Lilac Bushes at igrowplants.net

Clara looked at her mother, then down at the shoots in her hands.

“But they’re alive,” she said softly.

“No, Clara, they aren’t,” her mother said. “Listen, I’ll make you a deal.

If, by next year, those sticks haven’t grown into bushes yet, we’ll go pick out a new bush for the garden together, okay?”

Clara nodded silently.

“Okay,” she said and turned and walked out of the room with her head down.

She walked outside and sat down on the front porch. She sat there in silence for a few minutes, then she reached into the ground next to the house and pulled out the little wooden man her father had made for her.

“I’ll call you Vincent,” she said as she stroked its head with her thumb. “

You’re my very own little garden helper, right?”

Vincent just kept on smiling his wooden smile up at her.

She sat there stroking his head for a long time. She didn’t cry, she just sat there.

“I’m going to make you real,” she promised. “And then they’ll see.”

She didn’t understand what happened next. One minute she was sitting on the porch, and the next she was inside looking down at herself curled up in a ball asleep next to her little wooden man.

What happened?”

she asked in a daze.

Then she looked over and saw her mother standing by the doorway shaking her head.

“Clara, Clara, Clara,” her mother said with a sigh. “I’ve told you a thousand times not to play around with magic unless I’m around to watch you.”

She walked over and picked up little Clara in her arms and carried her over to the bed.

Pruning Lilac Bushes: When To Trim Lilac Bushes at igrowplants.net

“It’s like I’ve been trying to tell you,” her mother continued as she tucked her in. “You’re really too old to be playing with dolls and such anymore. Especially when you’re going to be starting magic school in a couple of years, you need to start acting your age and put away childish things.”

With those words of motherly wisdom, little Clara’s mother kissed her on the forehead and turned down the wick on her bedside candle. Then she walked over and closed the door behind her as she left the room.

Clara looked down at her little wooden man with a frown, and then looked up at the door as she heard voices coming from the other side.

“She’s too young,” her father’s voice said.

“She’s not,” her mother replied. “I started yours training when you were that age.”

“But she’s a girl, and we’re wizards,” her father said. “We have certain advantages, and being a girl is one of them. She doesn’t really need the training.”

Um, dad?”

little Clara asked. “I can hear you.”

“Oh!” her father said, his voice suddenly much closer to the door. “I forgot.

Um… Goodnight, sweetie!”

“Good night, daddy,” she yawned.

She heard her parents walk down the stairs, still talking.

“She shouldn’t be up so late at night anyway,” she heard her mother say. “It’s not good for the mind to stagnate.”

“Well, it won’t happen again,” her father said. “

I’ll make sure my dear wife doesn’t overwork herself again, okay?”

“You do that, honey,” her mother replied.

Pruning Lilac Bushes: When To Trim Lilac Bushes - Image

Then they both giggled as they walked out the front door. Little Clara just rolled over and hugged her wooden man as she closed her eyes and soon fell fast asleep.

She would be swiftly awakened, though, by a loud scream from her mother. She shot up in bed to see her door explode off its hinges and a shadowy figure of a man walk in. She was so startled that all she could do was scream as the dark figure slowly walked towards her.

“Little Clara!” a voice called out. “It’s me, Tori!”

Clara’s heart nearly stopped in her chest as she saw the figure get closer and closer in the darkness, and then light from the now open doorway behind him illuminated his features.

Uncle Torrance?”

she asked.

“Yes,” he said, smiling. “I’m glad to see you remember me. Now, come on, we need to get you out of here.”

Clara quickly grabbed her stuffed animal and followed her uncle through the front door and into the night outside. A large black carriage was parked in front of the house.

How did you know I was here?”

she asked as she peaked around at the darkness.

“I’ve been following you since you escaped from the temple,” he said. “I was going to come get you earlier, but you were with a rather large entourage, and I didn’t want to mess things up.”

My parents?”

“They’re fine. Now come on.”

He opened up the carriage door and ushered her inside. As she looked around, she saw that there was already somebody else in there.

“Hello,” a deep, rumbling voice said from the corner of the carriage.

Pruning Lilac Bushes: When To Trim Lilac Bushes | igrowplants.net

Clara was terrified, yet fascinated. The voice did not sound threatening, but it sounded quite…

old.

“Don’t be afraid,” the voice continued. “I am no threat to you.”

As her eyes grew used to the dark, she saw that there was a cloaked figure sitting in the corner of the carriage. Its face was obscured by the shadow of its hood.

“Clara, this is Gloom,” her uncle said. “Gloom, this is my sister’s daughter, Clara.”

The cloaked figure slowly stood up and walked towards her, and Clara felt terrified as this figure towered over her. It slowly reached its hand up to its hood and pulled it back.

Clara was terrified by what she saw.

Sources & references used in this article:

Pruning ornamentals by CB Cordy – 1959 – ir.library.oregonstate.edu

Pruning trees, shrubs, roses by HR Kemmerer – … University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign campus …, 1957 – ideals.illinois.edu

The pruning book by L Reich – 2010 – books.google.com

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