Happy First Day of Summer! I decided as I was pruning my Dwarf Korean Lilac (syringa meyeri ‘Paliban’) last weekend that I would try to capture a bit of what I was doing to help some of you out. Sorry, I don’t do video.
I remembered that when I had a post about this shrub last year, I got a bunch of searches about pruning it. So here goes. And yes, I know that the photos aren’t really all that instructive.
First, you want to prune all the dead flowers off. You want to do this for two reasons. The first is mainly cosmetic. The dead flowers are ugly and the shrub will look better when you’re done.
Next you want to do this after it blooms because lilacs bloom on old wood. So the sooner you prune, the sooner the lilacs begin to make that “old wood” (which is really this year’s growth) so that they will bloom next year.
Next, as you’ll notice, the shrub branches weirdly around the dead flowers. Sometimes it branches off nicely on either side of them as shown here.
And sometime it branches off in all directions from the flower as shown here.
In this second case, you need to make a choice as to where to cut. I usually go back into the shrub and find a place where it is branching nicely in two directions so the shrub will grow symmetrically.
If I can’t find a spot like that, I will cut where I can find a group of leaves facing the direction where I want the branch to grow. Since, as you see, this group of branches is relatively close to the ground, I would want an upward facing group of leaves. I might have to go pretty far back into the shrub to find it–but this part of the shrub is pretty mature so I’m okay with that.
Finally, I’ll find awkward growth and remove that.
Not only is this branch lanky and spindly, but it’s hitting the mailbox too. I’m going to go way down into the shrub–not just to the next set of branching leaves–when I prune this so that it’s awhile before it comes up and bumps the mailbox again.
Finally, once I’m done “deadheading, I’ll take a look to see if there are any crossing branches that might rub–I’ll remove those.
I also, for the first time this year, removed some branches that were making the shrub too dense. After several years of pruning at the “Vs” I had lots of thick growth down in the center of the shrub. I thinned that out a bit.
And I never hesitate to cut the shrub “down to size.” The mature height of this shrub is supposed to be four to six feet. Remember the “plants can’t read” rule. Sometimes you get a branch that’s just going to sport way above that. And sometimes, despite the mature size, that isn’t exactly what you want (the mailbox is roughly 5′, for example, so I try to keep the lilac on the same scale).
It would be totally wrong of me to put a plant that wants to get to 7-9′ in there and to try to keep it at 4-5.’ Not only would that be a herculean task; it would be stunting the character of the shrub. Far better to wait for a dwarf variety of that shrub to come along.
We’ve all seen those “foundation” plantings that now obscure the second story windows on older homes. Don’t make that same mistake. Don’t wrestle with your shrubs. And don’t make the mistake of thinking “I can just keep it pruned.”