When I bought my house in 2007, it had a lot that I had wanted for a very, very long time, including a row of 15’ lilac bushes along the back fence. These lilacs were not only long longed for but were essential in hiding a neighbor’s half-century old, neglected fence. The lilacs were old-growth, they probably went in soon after the fence, but old growth in lilacs is not necessarily good growth. These scraggly, neglected lilacs were oddly shaped with broken branches, infested with mildew, and did not bloom much the first June that I owned the property. The lilacs covered too large an area for me to spray, and anyway the efficacy of chemical treatment is questionable. So I trimmed the lilacs into a natural lilac bush shape, which was a mound, and fertilized them several times that first year. The following June my lilacs still had mildew and very few blossoms.
So I did some heavy pruning. I sat on the ground and reached under each lilac bush to cut out the long, thin suckers that grew up from their base in an untidy, no-blossom sort of way, I had to do this several years in a row as the lilacs persisted in their preferred method of propagation. My trimming eventually made the lilacs somewhat stark at the base, but it let in the necessary light and air to drive out the mildew. Whenever I had the strength for it I sawed away the old growth wood from the middle of the lilacs. These were knurly, old branches, some as thick as my wrist, that had few leaves and took energy that might have gone to blossoms. Removing so much wood stressed the lilacs but I gave them what I could, which was water, and hoped for the best. Finally, with terrific expenditure of energy on my part, I stood on a stepladder and hand-trimmed the top branches of the lilacs down even with each other.
It took a few years, but my lilacs have filled in to their natural shape with fresh, healthy green leaves, and this year my lilacs finally bloomed with an abundance of lovely purple sprays.
Caption: Lilacs In My Backyard
by Annmarie Throckmorton June 2018