Ask a Question forum: 100 year old lilac bush in need of serious help!

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May 20, 2016 3:24 PM CST
Hi! I have recently moved into a new place with many Huge lilacs on the property that are absolutely beautiful! There is one however that is not. It seems as though someone has pruned it several times, not really knowing what they were doing. I am now left with a shrub that is missing in the center and a few of the suckers that were around it, are now full sized. Its absolutely horrible looking. I am debating removing it completely, but I'm thinking that would be a huge undertaking, considering the plant is about 8 feet wide. I do have plant knowledge, but I absolutely need an experts opinion on what to do with this one. Do I chalk it up as a loss and take on the task of removing it, or is there hope?! Any advice is much appreciated! Thank you very much for your time!!
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Name: Gene Staver
Portage WI 53901 (Zone 5a)
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May 20, 2016 4:20 PM CST
Since you have nothing to lose (you were thinking of just digging it up,) prune it way back. Say 2' high and see what happens? Gene
Minnesota and Alaska (Zone 3a)
May 20, 2016 4:32 PM CST
I am with Gene on this one too. It looks like someone did a poor job of removing the oldest canes messing up the portion of canes cut per year (1/3) of the oldest wood. I would just shear it down to give it some shape and it will come back just fine.
Name: Tiffany purpleinopp
Opp, AL 🌵🌷⚘🌹🌻 (Zone 8b)
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May 21, 2016 6:52 AM CST
Lilacs grown as hedges are pruned often, pruning won't hurt it. Remove anything detracting from the lovely shape you see in your mind's eye, however tall that ends up being when you're finished. It will grow again and should bloom profusely next spring if the pruning is done soon.

A never-pruned lilac can form a lovely, small tree. Once pruned, it can never look like a tree again. If you start with a new one, you might enjoy it more as a tree, which never needs to be pruned (except, as in the pic, if put so close to something that it needs to be stopped from bumping into that something occasionally.) I didn't plant this tree, but leaving it was the saddest part of moving away from this particular house.

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Name: Sue
Ontario, Canada (Zone 4a)
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May 21, 2016 7:12 AM CST
I'd cut the whole thing down drastically, to somewhere around 6-12". It's so big it would be very difficult to get it out.

May 21, 2016 2:06 PM CST
Thank you all so much for your replies! I am going to prune it all back, and see what becomes of it next year!
Name: Tom Cagle
SE-OH (Zone 6a)
Old, fat, and gardening in OH
May 21, 2016 3:12 PM CST
Feed your homely tree. Give it some mulch and oyster-shell.
free for them in need:
Minnesota (Zone 3b)
Jun 1, 2016 12:24 PM CST
If you prune it it will be years before you have any more than sporadic flowers.
If you want to remove it, Lilacs are shallow rooted and easy to remove. Use a heavy rope attached to a trailer hitch.
It looks like some pruned willy nilly or maybe the old main tree like trunks got too big and fellover and were removed.
If you have been to Mackinaw Island they have the largest trunked Lilacs in the world and are supported by ropes and steaks to stop them from falling over and breaking off.

On good thing about an Lilac that does not have all the new growth low down removed is they help support the older large trunks that will eventually keep drooping till they break off or are simply get in the way by sticking out so far.

If you cut it down you will just have bunch of green leaved little branches for years if you just let it grow itself out you will be able to, in three years or so trim it so it is how you prefer or then decide it isn't worth the hassle.

My one neighbor down the street used to have a nice little Lilac bush about five feet high he trimmed every year.
He came down one year and asked me why his Lilac bush never bloomed like mine.
I said stop trimming it.
In a couple of years he got his first few flowers and a decade later it looked real nice with blooms.
Then he moved and the new dude ripped it out. Sighing!

As a side note, Lilacs burned for firewood give off the most lovely scent.

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