How To Trim Lilacs After Blooming

Cutting off the tops of stems that have grown out of control is frequently insufficient when pruning lilacs. It is typically preferable to remove the entire stem. The best way to trim lilacs is with clippers. To avoid spreading and promote later blooms, remove spent blossoms right down to the stems. Three-quarters of the branches should be pruned. Remove any shoots that are emerging from the main trunk and are growing close to the ground. Lilacs within the inner branches may need to be trimmed in order to increase air flow or let more light through.

However, it may be essential to prune the entire bush or tree to approximately 6 or 8 inches (15-20 cm) above the ground if lilac shrubs are already too big or starting to look unpleasant. Remember that it takes around three years for flowers to grow after the entire bush has been removed, so you might have to wait.

Lilacs that have bloomed should they be pruned?

All lilacs should generally be clipped right away in the spring after they have finished blooming. Lilacs set their flower buds for the following year immediately after the current year’s flowers have faded, therefore trimming later in the summer or fall will result in the removal of most or all of the blossoms for the following year. The larger common lilacs as well as the shorter or more “shrub like” cultivars are all subject to this timing guideline. While the “when” of lilac trimming is rather simple, the “how” is a little more difficult. For the time being, we’ll refer to lilac pruning as either maintenance pruning or rejuvenation pruning to keep things simple.

Where should a deadhead lilac be cut?

Your lilac bush will produce more blossoms the following year if you remove the dead flowers. When cutting off your flowers, it’s crucial to only remove the wasted blooms—don’t worry about any nearby stalks. Simply concentrate on the spent bloom’s stem if you can see the two fresh shoots that will grow into blooms the following year. Avoid cutting off the blossoms for the following year!

I now wish to stimulate a second flowering on my dwarf Bloomerang, which ought to happen in late summer or early fall. In order to produce more new growth and blooms during the second bloom season, the spent spring blossoms should be pruned off. A small amount of fertilizer made specifically for woody plants, which I could also use, will help encourage the shrub to bloom once more.

What time of year should a lilac bush be pruned?

A lilac shrub needs to be pruned every year once it has reached the age of two. Early summer is ideal for cutting grass because the flowers have already flowered and withered. Here are some tips for taking care of lilac shrubs and trees.

Lilacs produce the flower buds for the following season in the early summer, right after their blooms have faded. You run the danger of removing the budding buds if you delay trimming until later in the growing season.

This also holds true for lilacs that bloom twice a year, like Bloomerang Purple. After the bush’s initial bloom, you can prune it to promote new growth and more flowers in the second bloom, which occurs in early fall.

Lilacs eventually only bloom at the tips of their highest branches if allowed to develop naturally. Lilac bushes can be revitalized and made more visually appealing by pruning to maintain a balance between older stems and young blossoming branches.

Pruning a lilac shrub involves a number of techniques:

  • First, remove any weaker branches and any dead, broken, or diseased stems. Branches should also be trimmed to avoid rubbing or crossing.
  • Old stems that are thicker than two inches should be cut off. This controls the height of your lilac plant and promotes the development of new shoots. It is best to thoroughly remove the stems.
  • Control sucker emergence. Suckers are fresh branches that sprout from the plant’s base. The main branches can be replaced by a few robust suckers, but any lesser suckers should be removed at the soil line to prevent them from robbing the plant of nutrients.

Last but not least, here are some general guidelines for pruning lilacs:

  • Lilac bushes that are mature should only be pruned to a height of 6 to 8 feet.
  • Aim for 10 to 12 primary stems, each of which should be between 1 and 2 inches thick.
  • Never remove more than one-third of the bush with pruning.
  • Older stems and fresh blossoming shoots should be balanced.

Should lilacs be Deadheaded?

Dwarf lilacs that resemble ordinary lilacs include the “Palibin” Meyer lilac (Syringa meyeri “Palibin”) and the “Miss Kim” Manchurian lilac (Syringa pubescens ssp. patula “Miss Kim”). However, they hardly ever need pruning for maintenance, though you can do it sometimes for shape. They can also profit from deadheading, just like other lilac kinds.

The act of manually removing withered blossoms from a plant is known as deadheading. This encourages some plants to continue blooming. But only during the first several years of growth does deadheading seem to make lilacs bloom more effectively.

Within two to five years, young lilac plants should start blooming. Deadheading the spent blooms when the plants are young encourages the plant to focus its energy on developing new buds. It won’t require this stimulation once the plant has grown older, and you’ll probably have so many flowers that the task would take too long.

Your lilac will blossom beautifully some years, and less so other years, just like with any plant. Blooms frequently rely on the climate. You will be rewarded with an abundance of blossoms the next year if you have a beautiful summer during which strong new growth emerges. Less flowers will bloom in a summer with harsh weather. Therefore, if your lilac’s color changes from one year to the next, don’t get alarmed. The blossoms will come as long as the plant is strong and you continue with maintenance pruning.

What happens to lilacs once they bloom?

Lilacs (Syringa spp.) are small shrubs or trees that are admired for their fragrant clusters of springtime white, pink, or violet blooms. The lilac looks messy because discarded flower heads are still attached to the plant after flowering. Lilacs can have their unattractive spent blooms removed by quick pruning after flowering is complete. As the lilac starts to generate buds for the following year’s blooms not long after spring blooming has ended, this is also the perfect time to prune it for shaping and renewal.

To clean the tools and stop the spread of disease, dip pruning shears, loppers, or any other cutting implements in rubbing alcohol or a solution made of 90% water and 10% bleach in between usage. Disinfect the pruning tool after each cut if you are cutting sickly parts of the lilac plant.

To shape the lilac, deliberately cut back branches and shoots by making cuts 1/4 inch above lateral buds that are facing in the direction you wish the branch to grow. Cut branches at different heights to promote a full, appealing appearance and wholesome lower growth.

Up to one-third of the lilac’s oldest stems should be removed, about 6 to 8 inches above the ground. Remove any stems at this height that are also dead, ill, or infected. Old stems, which are particularly susceptible to borers, should be cut off to stimulate vigorous new growth, particularly at the plant’s base.

Depending on the kind of lilac, carefully remove suckers from the plant’s base. Remove all suckers that develop at the base of lilacs with a tree-like shape. Remove all but one or two of the strongest, healthiest shoots from shrubby lilacs.

Do lilacs need to be clipped annually?

An old, overgrown lilac was one of the few plants that endured my garden restoration. The fact that it obscured my neighbor’s garage and, more importantly, sported steel-blue double flowers, led me to rescue it. Although the blossoms on this shrub were both lovely and fragrant, it was difficult to appreciate them because there were so few of them. I decided to go with a rejuvenation pruning because I knew there was no reason to give up on this long-neglected plant because lilacs can handle severe pruning.

On stems that are no older than five or six years, the common French lilacs (Syringa vulgaris cvs.) yield the most and the largest flowers. The flowers get fewer, smaller, and farther away as the stems get older. A lilac, however, may reliably produce blossoms for decades with the right trimming. The method you choose will depend on how old your shrub is. Plants are maintained annually to keep them healthy. A more drastic trimming may be necessary for lilacs like mine that have seen better days.

Lilacs should be clipped annually to encourage healthy stem development and strong growth that improves flowering. Cutting sick, deformed, and unproductive stems to the ground constitutes annual pruning. I thin and cut back some stems as well to promote healthy, evenly spaced growth. To prevent them from growing too far away from the center of the plant, I also pruned a few of the new shoots that emerged from the roots. I left a few inches between each stem to prevent crowding. Since they produce the most, I maintain the pencil-thick shoots that extend all the way to the ends of the branches. Small, twitchy growth is unproductive and won’t blossom. This growth can indicate an excess of aged, unproductive stems or too much shadow. Remove stems as soon as possible after blossoming, or in late winter if you don’t mind losing a few blooms. Cut off stems and shoots at or just below the soil line.

Dwarf lilacs rarely need pruning

Both the “Palibin” Meyer lilac (Syringa meyeri “Palibin”) and the “Miss Kim” Manchurian lilac (Syringa pubescens ssp. patula “Miss Kim”) are twiggy-habiting, somewhat small lilacs. On these types, just deadheading is needed in terms of pruning. You can prune some of the older stems as the plants get older to make place for younger, more robust stems. In contrast to regular lilacs, these plants hardly ever spread out of control. They might never need to be entirely regenerated if you only undertake a tiny amount of trimming every few years.

After the blooms have faded, deadheading, another aspect of annual maintenance, should be carried out as soon as feasible. Just above the two new shoots that slant out from the stem that stopped with the old bloom, the base of the old flower cluster should be cut off. The new shoots will develop throughout the course of the summer, produce flower buds, and culminate in a cluster of flowers the following spring. While not as crucial as the annual thinning, eliminating the old blossoms enables the plant to focus more of its energy on developing robust branches and flower buds. In June, I deadhead and thin my plants as needed.

While performing this yearly maintenance, I occasionally come upon a young, robust shoot that may be getting too tall but is still a good, productive stem and is a candidate for tipping off. I cut the wasted flower’s entire top stem back to one or two side shoots at the desired height rather of just cutting it off at the base. The side shoots that are now near the top of the bush are encouraged to grow vigorously and develop flower buds for the following year by this cut, which also aids in shrinking the shrub.

My own old, overgrown lilacs need more severe pruning. I went outside in the early spring before growth got going to get a good look at the bush. I looked to see if the plant had been grafted before I began chopping. I immediately cut it down to the ground as it hadn’t (for a grafted plant, see the panel below). I recognized that this drastic trimming would result in the plant losing part of its aesthetic appeal for a few years because lilacs bloom on the growth from the previous season. However, I was also aware that the reward—more blossoms and a stronger plant—would be worthwhile.

It’s crucial to nourish the plant after rejuvenation pruning with compost, composted manure, or a balanced chemical fertilizer and to make sure the soil pH is close to neutral, which lilacs appreciate. In the upcoming years, these supplements and some high-quality mulch will help to encourage vigorous new growth and enhanced flowering.

Has your lilac been grafted?

If your lilac has been grafted, check it out before you start making cuts to the stems. Grafting is a method of plant multiplication in which the scion, or branch, of one species is joined to the rootstock, or stem, of another species. This is typically done to enhance a plant’s look or traits. A graft union, where the cultivar’s scion wood joins the rootstock several inches above ground level, should be obvious. An apparent change in the bark from the rootstock to the scion’s bark, as well as a little swelling at the graft union, are things to watch for. If your plant has been grafted, all of your cuttings must be made above the graft union, and you must prevent shoots from the rootstock from developing into new flowering stems. Flowers of the desired shape or color will not be produced by shoots that emerge from the rootstock.

Does new or old wood produce lilac blooms?

What specifically prevents these traditional plants from blooming? Instead of focusing on just one theory, consider a number of potential causes for this issue, including (in addition to illnesses and pests):

  • Pruning when it’s not necessary
  • The flower buds die in the cold
  • placing your lilacs in the incorrect location
  • The shrub in question either isn’t old enough to generate flower buds or is too old to do so.

You’ll see that while reasons one and three point to the gardener having done something incorrect, arguments two and four point to no one having done anything incorrect.

Why does it matter what time of day you prune? Shrubs called lilacs produce flowers on rotting wood. This indicates that the flower buds for the upcoming spring’s blooming season have already been formed on the growth from the previous year. When this growth is pruned, the flower buds and, consequently, the blooms they would have produced, are lost. Because of this, it is recommended that you clip lilac bushes as soon as they finish flowering (before they have set bud for next year).

Click Play to Learn How to Prune Lilacs

Despite being a relatively cold-hardy plant, the common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) can suffer harm if a hard frost or freeze occurs just as the flower buds are about to open. As a result, that year’s flowers are lost. You can’t really stop it, so simply accept the loss and look forward to the blossoming twice as much the next year.

Where you put your lilac shrub matters a lot, just like it does with most other plants. Lilacs require full sunlight and prefer well-drained soil. If you made a mistake when you first put your plants on either of these fronts, you can be paying for it today by your lilac not blooming. However, there is a simple solution to the issue: move your shrub to a more favorable location.

Regarding the fourth reason, be aware that although though these bushes have a long lifespan, they do tend to produce fewer flowers as time passes. Implementing a rejuvenation pruning on your lilacs will solve this issue (do not expect immediate results, though). Sometimes, though, the converse is true: your plant may be too young to bloom. Allow some time.