Lilacs Wilting - Knowledgebase Question

Garrett, IN
Avatar for lynnkaczmare
Question by lynnkaczmare
October 29, 1997
I planted 4 young lilacs this past May. They started out beautifully for several weeks, then one died. Then early in Sept. (well before the frost), the leaves on two of the others bushes started to wilt and turn brown. I read in your Q&A library aboutBortrytis blight (since I do not use any chemicals on my lawn, and we had a very wet spring and summer, this seems to be what it is). My question is, at this point in time, is there any way to save the bushes, or should I dig them up and start over?

Answer from NGA
October 29, 1997
The most common problem with newly-planted shrubs is lack of water. Since you had a wet spring, that may not have been the problem with the one that died right away, but how about the others? Lilacs need lots of water all through the growing season--at least an inch a week, even 1 1/2" a week during the hottest part of the summer.

If it has been dry lately, water the lilacs well and keep them well-watered until the ground freezes.

Since you describe the lilacs as wilting, and if lack of water is not the problem, then I wonder if your shrubs have wilt disease, caused by the fungus Verticillium albo-atrum. The leaves of infected shrubs lose their glossiness, turn pale, wilt, and fall prematurely. If the branches (not just the leaves) wilt too, and when you cut off a shoot if the sapwood is dark-colored, then you may well have the disease. If you do, prune out all infected branches, disinfecting your pruning tool between cuts. If entire bushes are affected, remove them so they won't infect other plants.

Botrytis can be a problem on the new growth of lilacs, especially those growing on poor soils where there is inadequate air circulation. Often flowers are most noticeably affected, appearing water-soaked. Mature leaves least affected by the disease. From your description, this doesn't sound like your problem.

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