The Q&A Archives: Fragrant Lilacs, Pruning Tips

Question: Is there a proper way to prune or trim lilac bushes? Someone told me you should cut down all the old growth and let the new sprouts come up. Is that true? I previously asked a question about preventing "sprouts" or new growth from coming up around crabapple trees and what is the best method for doing this. I am trying to get as maintenance-free as possible to leave time to do the gardening I really enjoy! Are some lilac bushes more fragrant than others? I am going to plant more and I am lookingfor the old fashioned purple lilacs that had such a beautiful fragrance. Thank you! Sandra Licher Swisher, IA

Answer: First of all, the crabapple problem...there's no way I know of to prevent trees from producing "suckers", but you could install commercial-grade landscape fabric around the trees and layer mulch thickly on top of it. This would cut down on mowing, too. If you ever plan to plant more trees, ask the nursery staff for varieties that are less likely to produce suckers. If you have a very old lilac on its own rootstock (some are grafted onto quince or non-showy lilac rootstocks), and it's in dire need of rejuvenation, you can cut it back to a few inches above the ground. Otherwise, you can prune lilacs after they are done blooming. Remove all dead/weak/crowded branches first, then each year, remove 1/3 of the oldest branches until the whole shrub is new growth. The old fashioned lilac with the beautiful fragrance is Syringa vulgaris purpurea, and can be ordered from Mellinger's, 2310 W. South Range Rd., North Lima, OH 44452-9731; ph# 216-549-9861.

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