No one needs this information more than we do, because we have four dead lilacs behind the garage – but I blame the location, chickens, and ducks on their demise. Then I went and purchased one at Dunnville Horticultural Society’s Plant Sale in May so, we better learn to take care of this one.

Step 1: Where to get your lilac? Maybe a friend has some lilacs and they can give you a sucker or offshoot from the root system of their plants. The sucker may look sad at first but get it in the ground, water, and wait for four to five years for those beautiful fragrant blooms. Now, I purchased mine at Dunnville Horticultural Society’s Plant Sale back in May. I still need to transplant it into the ground, but as I do I will ensure that the roots are spread out some and will set the plant 2-3 inches deeper than the pot it was grown in. With multiple lilacs, space them 5-15 feet apart, depending on the variety.

Step 2: Location and care. Somewhere sunny, as I know it will enjoy at least six hours of sunshine a day – wouldn’t it be nice to sit out in the sun for six hours a day? Lilacs thrive in fertile, humus-rich, well-drained, neutral to alkaline soil, but don’t over fertilize. They can handle a handful of 10-10-10 in late winter, but no more. You also want a location that drains well, as they don’t like wet feet and will not bloom if kept too wet. Plant in full sun, which is defined as being at least six hours of sunlight each day.

Step 3: Pruning. The time to prune your lilacs is just after it has finished blooming. Trim the bush to shape it and remove suckers at the same time. Don’t forget you can share those suckers with your friends or pot them and donate them in the spring to Dunnville Horticultural Society’s Plant Sale (yet another plug). Once trimmed, spread some lime and/or well-rotted manure around the base, but don’t over fertilize; they don’t like to be over fertilized. Take it from me, they really don’t like it – our chickens really over fertilized our poor lilacs!

Another option for old lilacs is to chop the whole thing back to about 6 or 8 inches high. Sounds drastic, I know, but lilacs are very hardy. The downside to this option is that it takes a few years to grow back. The upside is less work and more reward, as the lilac will grow back bursting with blooms.

It must be recognized that severe pruning can result in the loss of blooms for one to three years. For these reasons, a wise pruning program aims to avoid severe and drastic cuts by giving the bushes annual attention.

Other things to watch for are slugs and snails. And with the humid Ontario weather, powdery white mildew. Many plant species are susceptible to this and, although it may be unsightly, it does no harm.

Susan and Brad Emery are members of the Dunnville Horticultural Society. DHS meets every third Thursday, September to June at the Optimist Hall. For more information, contact DHS Secretary Jennifer Miller at 905-741-7727 or

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