The Q&A Archives: Proper Pruning Of Lilacs

Question: I have some 10ft. tall lilac shrubs that are older and have been neglected. How do I prune them properly to increase the blooms next year? When is the best time to prune? What is a good fertilizer to feed then that will promote fast growth, more blooms and lush foliage? They also have some very large, thick truncks of old wood. Is it best to remove these older sections and let the younger wood develop? Thank you.

Answer: Lilacs are pruned in spring right after they bloom. Each year you should remove new shoots from the ground that are smaller than a pencil plus a portion of the oldest trunks or stems by cutting them at the ground. Typically, you might routinely take about 10 to 20% of the older stems each year.

On a long neglected shrub, in addition to removing the smallest suckers, also remove one third of the oldest stems in year one, half the remaining oldest stems in year two, and the rest of them in year three. This three year plan renews the entire plant. Alternatively you can cut the entire plant to the ground in early spring, but this will sacrifice a year of blooms.

Lilacs do fine with a general purpose granular fertilizer such as 10-10-10 and/or well rotted manure and/or compost applied in late fall after the leaves drop or in very early spring and again in late spring after bloom. They also do best in full sun and with adequate moisture.

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