The Q&A Archives: Pruning Old Lilacs

Question: We recently bought a house with a garden that was planted in the 1930s. The lilacs are taller than the power lines and have trunks as big as my arm. Is there any hope of rejuvenating these monsters or should I cut them down and buy new plants?

Answer: Goodness! Lucky you! NO, don't cut them down and start over yet. Try this first. You'll need three years for this technique. As soon as they have finished flowering, take your pruning saw and cut down 1/3rd of the bush. Cut the oldest, and fattest trunks as close to the ground as you can comfortable get. You'll get some new wood this year. Then next year after it blooms, do the same thing. You'll get more new wood after that. The third year, cut out the remaining old part of the bush and VOILA! you'll have an entirely new shrub, growing on old, strong roots. It should reward you mightily. Not only that, all the flowers will be down where you can enjoy smelling and cutting them because they'll be within reach!

You actually could do this in two years...or if you're ready for the one. Just cut it back to the ground and don't pull it out. It should sprout but will look pretty sad! I'd go with the 3 year version. I know it works, 'cause I've done it. You'll love the results!

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