Can This Tree be Saved: Lilac version

Asked June 10, 2017, 1:16 PM EDT

Hi there - We have a mature lilac tree that we inherited when we bought our house 3 years ago. The tree is about 15 feet tall and has produced beautiful blooms every year, but this year the buds turned brown and died before opening. There are very few leaves that have just appeared fairly recently. The other trees and shrubs in the vicinity are all doing well and the plant is not crowded by other growth I've read suggestions from cutting it down to the ground to removing it all together, but have no idea how to proceed. Help!

Washington County Oregon

4 Responses

Hello. Thanks for your question. I'm sorry about your lilac. It is difficult to say what could be going on with it. My bet is on the weather. We had a painfully long winter and a cool, wet spring. The brief burst of warm sunny weather was hardly noticeable.

You say new leaves are appearing. That's a good sign. I would recommend doing nothing rash with the lilac, but treat it as you normally would which would include removing the brown blossoms and pruning out old wood to shape it up a bit.

Oregon State University Extension has a brief publication on care of lilacs. You can see it at this link.

http://extension.oregonstate.edu/gardening/prune-lilacs-soon-after-bloom

Follow those guidelines and keep an eye on the lilac to make sure nothing else is happening to it. It will likely fully rejuvenate before the next blooming season.

Best of luck.

P.S. After responding to your question it occurred to me that perhaps I should have raised the issue of lilac blight. (I didn't because your description didn't sound like lilac blight.) Nonetheless, take a look at this handout on lilac blight and decide if it applies. If not, you can ignore it.

http://extension.oregonstate.edu/gardening/how-recognize-treat-and-avoid-lilac-bacterial-blight

Again, good luck.

After reading the article you sent, I'm thinking that perhaps it's a case of lilac blight. The tree now has a very few new green leaves at the very top, but it appears much like the description you sent. I am thinking that we may just remove the tree (which is quite tall and gangly, having never been pruned in the 20+ years I imagine it's been here), and perhaps plant a new, blight resistant variety. Just fyi, when I clicked on the link within the lilac blight article that was to lead me to pictures, the link came up as broken.

Thank you for your help. I really appreciate it! Oh, one more quick question - if this tree does have blight and I remove it and its roots, should I NOT plant another lilac in that spot? It does back up to a fence but the spacing allows for good ventilation behind and on all sides. Thanks again.

Joyce

Thanks. First, let me try to send the photos of lilac blight.

https://pnwhandbooks.org/plantdisease/host-disease/lilac-syringa-spp-bacterial-blight

Second, in response to your question on whether you can plant another lilac in that same spot. Probably. If you follow the guidelines offered in the articles: select disease resistant variety, treat the soil, etc., you will likely have success.

However, if you really value the plant, it may be worth the effort to try and save it rather than replace it.

Good luck.