COLUMN: Good show for lilacs this year

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By Jeneen Wiche

Last year, I spent some time rejuvenating, if you will, our “Miss Kim” lilac. It had gone years without any maintenance pruning, just never making the priority list for chores out at the farm. Although “Miss Kim” is considered a dwarf variety and needs less maintenance, it was in need of some serious reduction.
Last spring, after the shrub finished blooming, I removed about one-third of the oldest wood, which resulted in new growth, so this year, the lilac looks great. Lilacs across the state have bloomed better than ever this year with the consistent cool weather.
However, many still wonder why their lilacs fail to bloom well or bloom at all. The first question to ask is, when was it planted? Lilacs require full sun, so if the shrub was planted in a spot 10 years ago, check to see if that location is still sunny enough (at least six hours). Other trees or shrubs may now shade the area. If this is indeed the case, your lilac should be moved to a new, sunnier location.
If your lilac is in a sunny location and it still does not bloom then it is likely in need of a little rejuvenation. Once the lilac finishes blooming, start pruning (lilacs set their buds during the early summer months, after they finish blooming so don’t prune after July or you will remove next year’s buds).
Begin by pruning out one-third of the oldest wood all the way down to base of shrub. Next year, prune out another third and the following year, the last third. Each time you prune you will encourage new growth, which will be more vigorous than the old growth.
The newer wood will look better and bloom better. And, since lilacs are prone to powdery mildew, your pruning activities will open the shrub up for better light penetration and air circulation, which is a deterrent to the fungus.
Another potential problem with most well known varieties of lilacs is that they bud out too early in the spring. Mother Nature always seems to have another frost or freeze up her sleeve before spring truly arrives. Fortunately there are many good, new varieties that are better suited to our strange springs: lilacs that set their buds a little later lessening their chances of being nipped by a late frost.
Considered a very hardy lilac, “Beauty of Moscow” (Krasavitsa Moskovy) has an extended period of bloom and large, double flowers. The bloom clusters first appear as light pink buds and as they open, they slowly turn to a pure white. The combination of light pink and white on this vigorous bloomer is spectacular. “Beauty of Moscow” looks the most promising with its fragrance and old-fashioned lilac appeal. This lilac will grow to about 10 feet in height and 6 feet in diameter once it reaches maturity.
Our “Superba” lilac has a great show of blooms right now, but what is most impressive is that it goes through another bloom cycle in early August. The blooms are dainty and first appear as mahogany-red spikes, opening to light pink flowers. This lilac is also very fragrant. Both varieties are also disease resistant, particularly to powdery mildew. And to many who have tried to grow lilacs successfully, they know that this is a bonus.
Another great stand-by is the Korean dwarf lilac “Miss Kim,” the variety I mentioned before. They are also a later blooming variety and disease resistant. The compact growth makes them an ideal selection for hedges and smaller areas. And remember, keep your lilacs looking good by removing the oldest wood every couple of years. Don’t be like me and wait until it is an unsightly problem.