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Caring for lilacs

Posted on April 20th, 2020

Lilacs are a feast for the senses in the spring garden!

Everyone loves the beautiful, fragrant lilac and the wonderful way it brings spring to life in your garden. They have so much nostalgia – everyone remembers going to their grandparent’s house where grandma had a lilac.

The most important thing when it comes to planting lilacs is to make sure they are in the right spot. Lilacs require full sun of six hours or more. They don’t like shade or root competition, so don’t plant them along a wood line with existing trees – they like to be center stage in their own area. 

Make them a foundation plant on the end of your landscaping along your home or do a hedgerow border planting of lilacs along your property line. Make them a standalone plant in the middle of your backyard. Just don’t shoehorn them into an existing, well-established area.

Lilacs need well-drained, neutral soil. They don’t like to be in a wet, boggy, poorly-drained situation, and they don’t like acidic soil. Because a lot of soil conditions in Connecticut are more on the acid side, you’ll want to remedy that by feeding lilacs with garden lime. 

If you aren’t sure if your soil is neutral or acidic, we offer test kits for pH or you can get your soil testing done at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven.

When it comes to caring for your lilac, pruning is important. If a lilac goes some years without routine maintenance, it can start to show signs of that as suckers start popping up from the ground level and they need to be removed. When a lilac is healthy it shows six inches in growth and the width of these shoots will be pencil thick. If you’re seeing thin and spindly growth, that’s a sign that the plant is not healthy and needs some fertilization.

Remove small branches and diseased canes each year and prune 1/4 to 1/3 of the oldest branches which will make the plant more apt to producing lots of flower buds. Leave a strong main stem to the plant so it has plenty of air circulation around the base. 

If you’re going to sheer it, make sure you do that after it flowers. If you go out today and cut a third of it down you won’t get any flowers this season. Remember to deadhead the plant after it flowers and as soon as those flowers turn brown – before the Fourth of July. If you wait too long, you run the risk of impacting the flowering for next year.

Finally, lilacs don’t like a lot of overhead watering, so make sure to always water the base.

Even young lilacs get flowers on them and add beautiful color and fragrance to your garden. Treat them with care and you’ll have happy, healthy plants brightening up your yard.