Discovering a hidden haven in the Latrobe Valley, Victoria, Australia

I think I’m killing my lilacs. But I don’t really know for sure…because I am becoming increasingly aware that I don’t really know anything about them. When I bought them I was advised that a sunny spot was favourite along with some good organic soil. They both get sun and I’m working on improving the soil.

A bud on Miss E Willmott

It all started last spring when I was admiring all the lovely lilacs flowering in my neighbourhood. All of them except mine that is.

At that time my plants looked healthy enough (one is three or four years old, the other two) but were resolutely not flowering. Then as summer wore on and turned to autumn I noticed the older of the two, which is the white one (Miss E Willmott I think) was forming buds in March. I thought it was a bit of a strange time of year to be doing that and now this in early winter…

Partially opened flowers...at the start of winter? Maybe the plant thinks it's in the Northern Hemisphere!

…and now both she and ‘Charles Joly’ both have buds but both look sick.

'Charles Joly' is budding now too, but has sick looking leaves.

This is usually where I turn to the wonderful world of the internet and some trusted gardening advice sites…but there seems to be an assumption out there that either everyone knows how to grow lilacs, or they are so hardy that they couldn’t possibly be killed. Oh dear. Everyone knows the secrets but me!

I feel quite lost as to what to do and have lots of unanswered questions.  Did I just prune them at the wrong time? Is it normal for them to look like this in winter? Is the white one dying? Is there anything that might help them bounce back?

Any help would be very much appreciated!

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Comments on: "Is This How You Kill a Lilac?" (16)

  1. Dear Heidi, I should so love to come to your rescue with sound advice which, acted upon, would restore your plants to full health. But I know not how to do this. Like you, I am amazed as I thought that lilacs, a staple of the English garden, were absolutely trouble free. I cannot imagine why yours are giving you so much trouble and I am deeply sorry.

    And, Heidi, thank you so much for leaving such a kind and thoughtful message on my ‘Explanatory Note’. It was, and is, much appreciated and I am very touched.

  2. Heidi … I don’t know that much about growing lilacs. As you would guess they’re not a plant we can grow up here in the tropics … the only I do know about them is that they love a slightly alkaline soil and hate acidic soil. Have you tested the PH of the soil at all? If it has a PH of 6.5 or less, the soil will need a dressing of lime in the autumn.

  3. Oh, dear. I have no advice to give, only good, hopeful thoughts to send to your lovely lilacs to help them survive until you discover what is wrong.

    We cannot grow lilacs here. They die quickly in the heat and humidity. My first experience of them was in my 20s, when visiting New England, and I was in awe of their beauty and fragrance. I’ve got my fingers crossed for you to experience them personally in your garden soon. 🙂

    • Hello Meredith! Hmmm… your comment about humidity has got me thinking. We tend to have a dry warm to hot summer here, but the last couple of summers have been a bit more humid than usual (although by no means tropical). Maybe this might have played a part!

  4. I’m rather useless in the growing lilacs department, as I haven’t ventured into that realm myself. I believe they are deciduous, and perhaps a warm winter, or significant fluctuations in temperature could confuse them. I’m a little concerned about the look of the leaves though, they appear somewhat mottled and perhaps curled more than I’d expect. Do you know the pH of your soil? Are these growing near a structure (where they may be prone to reflected heat)? Is the mulch right up against the trunk, or pulled back some to prevent fungus/mold/bacterial growth? Just tossing around some thoughts…I hope you nail the problem down soon.

    • Hello Clare, the weather patterns is something I’ll have to give more thought to. This winter is closer to ‘typical’, but last winter wasn’t…which might have triggered something.

      It certainly looks like I better do a soil test as it’s been something I haven’t quite organised myself to do yet and I’ve no idea of the pH!

      Well spotted on the mulch too! I lay it with some ‘room to breathe’ and then the ducks come along and kick everything up against the trunks again while they are digging around! I’ve gone and scraped it all back again now 🙂

      Thanks for all the tips!

  5. Sorry, I can not help since I don’t have any experience with Lilac although I just recently got a tropical lilac in my garden. I am sure you will get lots of advise from other great gardeners out there. good luck! I envy anybody who cal grow lilacs in their garden.

    • Hi Ami, I haven’t even heard of a ‘tropical lilac’ so I’m going to have to go and look that one up! I hope it does well in your garden and I also hope I have some pictures of some nice healthy lilacs to show you when our springtime rolls around!

  6. Heidi, I have a feeling your lilac problems are change-in-climate related. I would wait until your spring to see what they are like before you despair. Some people say lilacs like Epsom Salts … you could try that. Good luck. Pam x

    • Hello Pam, thanks for the reassurance and the ideas 🙂 I hadn’t heard of trying Epsom Salts – I’ll give that a go!

    • Hello na, I was wondering if the summer is too hot here too.

      But everyone else in the area seems to be able to grow beautiful big lilacs, so that can’t be it for me! It must be something I am doing wrong 😦

  7. Sorry I can not help you.
    I have small lilac. It don’t grow bigger.
    I heard it is hard to grow hot place like here.

  8. Heidi, I am enjoying your blog and garden. Here in the Dakotas Lilacs grow everywhere. We are zone 4, so we get cold, snow in the winter and we usually have dry, hot summers. Lilacs like moisture. Sometimes if we have a really dry summer I water them or they will not bloom very well the next spring. This year when the buds were about to open we had a freeze spell and most of them sort of freeze dried right on the plant. But we did get a few fragrant flowers. Our soil is very alklai. If we have a summer with lots of rain, lilac tend to get powderly mildew, but they come out of it. Your lilac looks young, maybe it just needs time. If yards around you grow lilacs, you should also be able to grow them. Maybe your variety like a more alkalai ph. I notice you have lovely camelias and they are usually acid plants? Cheers!

  9. Hello Gloria and thank you very much for stopping by with your thoughtful and helpful comments!
    Sadly I think my lilacs show up my ignorance quite a bit as I had not really put any thought or time into getting to know my soil, or understanding how much that can impact on some plants! I have been just trundling along thinking the more organic matter the better (and I still have a long way to go in that department too).
    You are right, the camellias love it here, so I think I better make some adjustments to the soil around the lilacs if I can!

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