| Jun 05, 2008

Master Gardeners - June 5, 2008

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Master Gardeners - June 5, 2008 Lilacs and their care byAnkaret Dean, Lanark County Master Gardeners

This is the time of the year when the rural roads and villages display their spring show of fragrant lilac blossoms and what a beautiful show! Lilacs love our climate, with sunny days (they need at least four hours a day), and cold in the winter to develop the flower buds. They can be hardy to Zone 3 and thrive on our rocky, dry soil. The common lilac, known as Syringa Vulgaris, probably originated in the mountainous regions of Asia, and traveled via Europe to come to North America in the baggage of early settlers. Now there are hundreds of hybrids and varieties of the lilac family, in many sizes and various colours of dark red to purple to white, and one variety is even yellow.

Although they require little attention, watering and fertilizing will certainly help young plants, but they do require a bit of pruning to keep their shape and encourage blooming. Like many spring flowering shrubs, this should be done after the blossoms have finished and before new growth is made. Pruned lilacs are more likely to bloom every year, and stay a reasonable size. Pruning lilacs is like cutting lilac blossoms to bring into the house - not a very reliable method, but the idea is to remove the flowers. This allows the shrub to replace it with a new leaf and, more importantly, a new flower bud ready for the following year. Pruning should also remove any broken or diseased branches. Cuts should be made either just above a bud, flush with the adjoining branch, or right down at ground level. Never prune more than 25% of the shrub per year and if there are many suckers only remove 1/3 of them each year. The later in the year you prune, the less time there is for the plant to prepare for the following spring.

You can grow new lilac bushes quite easily by digging up a 2-year old sucker and replanting it. Another method is by 'layering'. This is done by taking a lower branch, making a small cut and removing some of the bark, and pegging the branch down under two inches of soil. It should be kept well watered and treated with a rooting hormone. After a year it should be rooted and ready to be cut off from the mother plant.

Apart from their wonderful fragrance, lilac flowers can also be eaten. It is suggested that you sample them first; some kinds are better than others. Simply wash the flowers if they are dusty, let them dry and then pick off individual flowers to add to a salad, to decorate a dessert or garnish a dish.

For more gardening information, phone Ankaret Dean at 613-278-1203.

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