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Monday, June 27, 2011

Gails Garden - Lilacs - June 2011

What a rainy spring we had, but now finally it’s summer: don’t forget to get your drip and sprinkler systems up and running before the garden dries out any more!

I had a lovely road trip up to Oregon: going north along the coast, visiting my daughter in Portland, then returning home via the Eastern part of the state.  It is a wonderful state with so many great State Parks, rivers, and forests.  I had the great good luck to see trilliums in bloom on the shores of Hyatt Reservoir — the first time I’ve seen them in the wild!

Throughout the trip we were treated to a continuous parade of purple lupines: tiny dwarf varieties clinging tight to the sandy shores at the ocean; gigantic glorious 3-foot-tall stalks in the lowland valleys; tough brilliant varieties on the rocky road cuts.  Amazing how this  apparently delicate flower can adapt itself and thrive in so many  different conditions — a true expression of Mother Nature’s tenacious drive to survive.

Q&A with Gail
Janie from Santa Rosa asks “Why don’t my lilacs bloom? I had them back home in Illinois and they always bloomed with no care at all. ” 
The most common cause of poor lilac bloom here is a lack of cold! Most old-fashioned lilacs (Syringa vulgaris), which many of us know from the East coast and Midwest, need a cold winter to set buds. If you inherited a Syringa vulgaris, you can try this trick:  once or twice during January, dump a large amount of ice on the roots.  This cold shock seems to encourage them to set blooms!

A Meyer lilac, also known as Korean lilac, (Syringa meyeri) is a better choice for consistent bloom in mild winter climates.  The dwarf variety ‘Palibin’ is a good choice for smaller gardens,  while ‘Miss Kim’ is a larger vigorous variety.

Another excellent choice for our warmer climate are the group of lilacs developed at Descanso Gardens in Southern California (a wonderful visit when you are in L.A. area): ‘Lavender Lady’ is perhaps most similar to the old-fashioned lilac we all grew up with, but many other colors are available.

The second most common cause of poor bloom on lilacs is improper pruning. Lilacs bloom on second-year wood (branches grown the previous year). You must prune immediately after the blooms are spent (late spring or early summer), cutting back  branches by about 1/3 to a pair of leaves. New wood will grow, and develop buds by the next spring. Do not prune in the fall or winter. You will cut off the developing buds!

Once the Lilac is established (3+ years) prune out a few of the oldest branches at the base of the plant each year. This will help new branches sprout from the base, insuring more blooms. This will also keep the plant more compact in size.

A few other factors to consider in growing lilacs: be sure they have full sun, summer water, and feed lightly.  Young lilacs may need 3 to 6 years before they bloom!

Send me your questions, and gardening suggestions: I’d love to hear from you!

Planning a garden party?  I can help you get your garden looking its best for the big event. Call me at least a month ahead of the date for a coaching session: 707-829-2455.

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