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Lilac Questions
Answered by Tom Mugridge

Q: I transplanted a shoot from a lilac bush about 5 years ago, and it has yet to flower. It does not get a lot of sun, my yard is very shady.

What am I doing wrong? Is there some kind of fertilizer that I can use to make it flower?

A: I suspect it is the shadiness of your yard that is keeping the lilac from flowering. Also, it is possible the shoot you transplanted is just still too young to bear flowers.

Unless there is a way to allow more sunlight to the lilac, it may never flower, or it may flower but very sparingly.

Fertilization will not help negate the shade effect, only sunlight can do this.

I suggest you either move the plant to a sunnier location, or replace it with shrubs that prefer some shade (like rhododenrons and azaleas) and will flower under these conditions.

Q: I live in a small apartment with a garden the size of a double bed sheet out front. When I moved in, the garden was over shadowed by a spruce tree-one of those Christmas trees with a root ball. When this went I found some pale, weak shrubs, weeds and a starved lilac bush.

As the garden was being developed the lilac grew up, wide and suckered as they will. I am fond of lilac and gave it a season to bloom.

If an old fashioned type with scented flowers it would stay, if not, out. Now in late April I find the suckers are taking over and the tree needs another season to develop flowers.

I need to move it to maintain my herbaceous beds and the small shrubs I put in. My question is when is the best time to move a lilac (6 ft x 3ft now), should I take all the bush, only suckers or only the main stem?

And while I have a bright sheltered spot for it to move to, what other conditions are preferred?

A: It sounds like this lilac will ultimately be too big for your garden (it sounds like it's fairly big already).

Instead of transplanting it, I suggest installing a new lilac, and choosing one of the dwarf varieties such as 'Miss Kim' or "Tinkerbelle' (if these cultivars are not available in your area, ask at the nursery for something similar).

Your rate of success would be much higher than transplanting a large shrub or part of it. It would also be much less labor for you.

Should you choose to transplant the existing lilac, get as much of the whole plant as possible. Keep in mind there will probably be some loss (dieback), so be prepared for this and remove that which does not survive.

And, it may take a while for the full effects to show up. Be sure to water once a week, more often if it becomes unusually hot and dry.

You can prune the plant heavily to help it survive the move, but this will likely delay it flowering yet again. I think your best bet is to start fresh.

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Tom Mugridge

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