Cutting lilac back to ground


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We have a really overgrown lilac tree in the garden. We’ve just moved into the house and it looks like it has just been left for a number of years. Lots of branches and flowers only on the tops. I’ve been reading up about cutting this right back to the ground which I think it needs but that this should be done in late winter. Is there any reason for this? Would it be able to do this now in mid June rather than wait?
 
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So generically dormant plants have sucked all the liquids and sugars they can down into the roots for winter. It is along the same strategy you have in draining outside pipes so they do not freeze and burst. When the spring push comes, a lot of resources are in those roots and will help force growth of new material after your trim. You can prune after the flowers go by, but for really taking one back the winter is better.
 
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We have a lot of Syringa (lilac) on our patch and have cut it down hard on several occasions when needed. Autumn and winter is definitely the best time to do this as Dirt Mechanic said, although as it should have finished flowering now, you would get away with cutting it sooner (now) if it would improve the overall tidiness of your garden - you would probably even see new growth over the next few months.
It is tough stuff and grows back quite quickly. I love the scent :happy:
 
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We had the same problem with a smoke bush that was rapidly becoming a smoke tree, and leaning out over the grass. I trimmed it fairly heavily to keep things looking tidy, but delayed cutting right back until Feb. It seems to have worked well, lots of new growth from ground level and it should make a nice bush. I would stick to the advice for the main cut back and stick to giving it a heavy trim for now.
 
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We have a purple lilac and crab apple tree planted close together but directly above our garden. Every 2-3 years, we cut both to the ground to allow sunlight to reach the garden. Usually do this right after they bloom. And every 2-3 years they are 5' or higher. We cut ours last week.
 
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Thanks for all your comments. We have a lot of overgrown trees and shrubs in the garden. We only moved in, in April. The lilac has had some lovely flowers but it is definitely in need of a trim. Here’s a picture not sure where I’m going to put all the trimmings even if we just do a small cut back for now
 

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Thanks for all your comments. We have a lot of overgrown trees and shrubs in the garden. We only moved in, in April. The lilac has had some lovely flowers but it is definitely in need of a trim. Here’s a picture not sure where I’m going to put all the trimmings even if we just do a small cut back for now
Certainly would not cut that to the ground if it were mine. What I would do is thin out a few branches to help form a single trunk for about 3 foot. That will lean it out some and give it a nice shape. Of all my lilac "Shrubs" and have one Tree, I have Never cut any to the ground.
 
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Certainly would not cut that to the ground if it were mine. What I would do is thin out a few branches to help form a single trunk for about 3 foot. That will lean it out some and give it a nice shape. Of all my lilac "Shrubs" and have one Tree, I have Never cut any to the ground.
That’s helpful Esther. So you would take out all the small shoots and leave the main trunk about fence height? I think I’ll do that and then look at it again end of winter next year. It’s such a beautiful tree.
 
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That’s helpful Esther. So you would take out all the small shoots and leave the main trunk about fence height? I think I’ll do that and then look at it again end of winter next year. It’s such a beautiful tree.
First I cut out what is called the "Suckers" they are shoots that come up from the ground area, those go. Then I look at what branches are "reaching for God" those are those that stick straight up not following the normal growth habit of the tree. (this type of behavior can also be found in other bushes/and mini trees) I just clipped those sorts out of my star magnolia as well as the suckers. So those I cut out. Then I step back, and I look at what branches would be rubbing on other branches in the wind, rubbing branches can cause an opening in the limb causing issues. So you decide which of the branch is the least appealing to the overall look of the shrub/tree, cut it out. Usually of the rubbing branches there are few. Last year I had to cut out one from my Hydrangea tree. By then your probably done. My lilac tree is about 20 foot tall, I don't cut the height at all.
 
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The reason I cut back hard is mostly in order to keep the top of the shrub just under my nose. I think the flowers should be where I can see them rather than a half mile away up in the air. I prefer to keep the trees tall and the shrubs shrubby :)

Is there no space for a bonfire where you are Sarah?
 
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The reason I cut back hard is mostly in order to keep the top of the shrub just under my nose. I think the flowers should be where I can see them rather than a half mile away up in the air. I prefer to keep the trees tall and the shrubs shrubby :)

Is there no space for a bonfire where you are Sarah?
If you want the top of the shrub to be under your noise, then there are shorter variety of lilac shrubs. I have about 8 in a row that just grow to my nose height, have awesome smelling flowers on it, sweet dainty leaves, a nice dense habit. and I don't prune it. Then there are the taller variety about 10 foot. Then there is the Lilac tree, 20 foot.
 
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I liked maintaining a shrub shaped (not tree shaped) lilac and would remove about 1/3 of the branches over an inch or so in diameter about 6 inches from the ground every year. I would also do this just after it flowered out.

Again this was maintenance trimming not a wholesale cut back. If you take it back to the ground listen to the others and do it late winter but when it's still cold enough your hands will be numb working without gloves.

And your wife will watch on in horror the first time you do this to the plant you gave her as a birthday gift 5 years earlier.

Use a sharp saw blade and good sharp loppers for this task.

Now I'm in a new house and it will take a few years before the 9 lilacs we planted are large enough to worry about.
 
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I liked maintaining a shrub shaped (not tree shaped) lilac and would remove about 1/3 of the branches over an inch or so in diameter about 6 inches from the ground every year. I would also do this just after it flowered out
Please clarify, what you mean, about 6 inches from the ground.
 
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Please clarify, what you mean, about 6 inches from the ground.
I had several stems making up the large shrub - again an informal shrub shape not the single stem tree style. So of any three or four stems / branches over an inch in diameter at the base one would get cut out each year.

Worked great with the privet hedge and forsythia too.
 
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I so agree with your comments @Mr_Yan. If only more gardeners would be brave enough to use this corrective pruning for their overgrown and untidy shrubs they would see the benefits for themselves.
@Esther Knapicius 6 inches from the ground is easy, get a ruler and look for the 6 - put one end on the ground and cut the plant where the 6 comes to :)

One plant I grow a lot of is Mahonia, which gets very leggy and tall, losing sight of the flowers altogether. These definitely benefit from the 6 inch chop every few years - that way you don`t need binoculars to see those lovely yellow flowers during the winter months.
Generally though, people just refuse to do this job
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Was only clarifying as to, was that measurement accidently incorrect. I would never ever cut any lilac shrub 6 inches from the ground. So sad to hear that. SIX INCHES, sad. 6 inches , is not even knee high. Sad. Never. Never. ever.
 
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Back story here - Around May 2009 I planted a purple or double purple lilac for my soon to be wife. When we planted it it was a multi stem shrub about the size of a basket ball. Within 6 years that tiny bush was 12 feet across and 12 feet tall and being a real estate hog in the backyard. We then had 3 kids trying to use the back yard and the lilac was blocking part of the gate into the back yard.

Yes I cut one third of the large branches back to about 6 inches.
  • This leaves plenty of leaf area still up there to support the plant
  • This brings down the height of the bush
  • This keeps some new growth down low and inside the structure of the bush
  • You don't really notice the removal after about a week
  • Lilacs, privet, redtwig dogwood, forsythia, spiria will all readily coppice and bounce right back after this level of pruning.
A lilac's growth this year is what flowers next year. Lilacs flush new growth just after flowering. In a perfect world I will prune out the bush when the flowers are still on it but looking like skeletons. This ensures new growth all through the plant avoiding @Tetters "second story plant" problem.
 
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When it comes to shrub renovation, many gardeners are shocked at the idea of hard pruning @Esther Knapicius .
Here is a link to some general advice from our Royal Horticultural Society. I hope it will be of interest :)
 
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When it comes to shrub renovation, many gardeners are shocked at the idea of hard pruning @Esther Knapicius .
Here is a link to some general advice from our Royal Horticultural Society. I hope it will be of interest :)
I have no issues with hard pruning. but SIX inches from the ground it, in my estimation too much. the lowest I cut my Annabells is to my knee height, and that is half the shrub. I will be cutting this week some wild Azaleas to about waist height, they are over my head now. but never 6 inches from the grown. If I do prune Miss Kim lilac shrub, it will be to my shoulder. I have also mini lilac shrubs could use three inches around pruning. I hard pruned my honeysuckle on our deck last year, its a happy person this season. but never 6 inches from the ground ever. I shudder to think when I am gone from my garden what havoc some person will to prune the naturally short hydrangea, that stays at a nice 4 foot, and needs nothing done to it but minor, very minor shaping. Or the hydrangea from Japan, also not needing anything major.
 

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