Ba­sics for grow­ing happy, healthy lilacs

The Morning Call - - LIFE - Sue Kit­tek

I fol­low your gar­den­ing re­port each week and am a novice re­gard­ing plants. My late wife used to do the in­side and out­side gar­den­ing at our home. This sum­mer I de­cided to cut down an ugly look­ing lilac bush that seemed to be lo­cated at a wrong lo­ca­tion by the pre­vi­ous own­ers. Does this bush re­quire sun­light? It’s present lo­ca­tion does not pro­vide much and that’s why I was go­ing to get rid of it. How­ever, I had some boys come over to and un­for­tu­nately, they didn’t bring a saw but cut ev­ery­thing off and left about 3 feet of a too large stump. I was go­ing to cut it down my­self but ne­glected to do so and now I see many shoots grow­ing off this stump. My ques­tion to you is, can I cut some of th­ese shoots off and put them in wa­ter to root so that in spring, I could plant some of th­ese shoots in a bet­ter lo­ca­tion? Thanks for tak­ing this ques­tion and con­tinue with your fine ar­ti­cles! — Gene Galluppi, Coop­ers­burg

Lilacs (Syringa sp.) are a gar­den fa­vorite for their beau­ti­ful, fra­grant spring blooms.

Here are the ba­sics for grow­ing happy, healthy lilacs:

■ Plant the bushes in fer­tile soil, add or­ganic ma­te­rial if the soil is poor.

■ Make sure the site is well-drained. Wet feet will in­hibit blooms and can kill the plant.

■ Lilacs like full sun, at least six hours. Less light, fewer if any blooms and poor over­all growth.

Main­tain lilacs by:

■ Ap­ply­ing a top dress­ing of com­post around and un­der the bushes each spring. Cover with mulch to con­serve mois­ture and in­hibit weed growth.

■ Do not over fer­til­ize. They rarely need any fer­til­izer at all, but can be fed a bal­anced 10-10-10 fer­til­izer if nec­es­sary, ap­plied in late win­ter. Over-fer­til­iza­tion will cause lush growth but no flow­ers.

■ Since lilacs bloom on old wood, trim af­ter bloom­ing.

■ Re­move any dead wood.

■ Re­move the old­est canes, cut to the ground.

■ Re­move small suck­ers.

■ Re­move any weak or spindly branches.

Re­vi­tal­ize old plants:

■ Three-year plan: Re­move a third of the branches each year, cut­ting the old­est branches each year.

■ One-year plan; Cut back the en­tire bush to a height of six to eight inches. It may take sev­eral years be­fore the bush blooms again — and if the bush is very weak, you may kill it.

Note that any dras­tic prun­ing can re­duce or elim­i­nate fu­ture blooms, par­tic­u­larly if the bush is cut af­ter the next sea­son’s buds have al­ready formed. Now to Gene’s spe­cific ques­tions: Shoots can be re­moved and re­planted but will need four to five years to reach bloom­ing ma­tu­rity. But there is a dif­fer­ence be­tween plant­ing suck­ers and plant­ing cut­tings.

If Gene cuts off the stems from the roots, he has cut­tings. Th­ese are then stripped of all but the top two or three leaves and rooted.

Suck­ers can be re­moved from the par­ent plant by se­lect­ing those that are far­thest away from the main plant. Use a sharp shovel to sever the roots be­tween the sucker and the main plant. Care­fully dig up the sucker, pre­serv­ing as much root as pos­si­ble. Trim off any dam­aged roots and pot up the sucker — or, in spring, plant the sucker di­rectly in the gar­den.

Keep both cut­tings and suck­ers wa­tered un­til they es­tab­lish a good root sys­tem. Us­ing shoots with roots rather than cut­tings will re­sult in quicker growth and ear­lier flow­ers but ex­pect to wait a few years in ei­ther case.

Box­elder bugs and lantern­flies

I have re­ceived at least two let­ters ques­tion­ing if there is any cor­re­la­tion be­tween the de­crease in box­elder bugs and the surge in lantern­flies. While both are an­noy­ing pests, the lan­tern­fly is, by far, the more-de­struc­tive in­sect.

The box­elder bugs (Boisea trivit­tata) do not sting, do not trans­mit dis­ease, rarely bite and cause al­most no dam­age, ex­cept for po­ten­tial stain­ing on light­col­ored sur­faces from the fe­ces of the bug. Box­elder bugs con­gre­gate on warm, sunny sur­faces on warm spring and fall days. The adults/nymphs over­win­ter in walls, at­tics, any warm dry crevice. They emerge on warm days and fre­quently mass on the sides of houses. The in­sects lay their eggs on the box­elder. Masses of in­sects can be dis­lodged with strong streams of wa­ter. Do not squash as they pro­duce a strong stink. Plat­ing al­ter­na­tive bushes will limit the prob­lem. In­ten­sive in­fes­ta­tions may be con­trolled by pro­fes­sional in­sec­ti­cide ap­pli­ca­tions but things rarely reach that level. See this fact sheet from Cor­nell Univer­sity for ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion: idl.en­to­mol­ogy.cor­nell.edu/wp-con­tent/ up­loads/Box­elder-Bug.pdf.

Spot­ted Lan­tern­fly (Ly­corma del­i­cat­ula) in­fes­ta­tions are much more con­cern­ing. The adults are now fin­ish­ing up mat­ing and egg-lay­ing. Th­ese de­struc­tive pests can cause ex­ten­sive dam­age to many Penn­syl­va­nia crops. Gar­den­ers are en­cour­aged to scrape off any egg de­posits, crush them and dis­card them in the trash. Adults should be killed — swat, stomp, crush; what­ever works for you. See Penn State Ex­ten­sion ma­te­ri­als on the Lan­tern­fly (ex­ten­sion.psu.edu/ spot­ted-lan­tern­fly).

Poi­son Ivy re­lief

Your ar­ti­cle in the Aug. 17 Morn­ing Call re­gard­ing at­tempts to treat poi­son ivy prompts me to tell you of my ex­pe­ri­ence. More than 40 years ago I had a se­ri­ous case which drove me to try­ing ev­ery­thing on the mar­ket to help. I even broke open Vi­ta­min E cap­sules and smeared the oil on the itch­ing to get some re­lief. Af­ter much read­ing (and I don’t know the source where I learned of my “mir­a­cle cure”) I read the Amer­i­can In­di­ans crushed the leaves of the plan­tain and used the liq­uid on the itch­ing. For me: TO­TAL SUC­CESS. It not only worked for thieve, but for in­sect bites if done prop­erly. Be­ing “pooh=poohed” by my friends, I would pull the vines with my bare hands. As re­cent as last sum­mer it worked again! This is just a sug­ges­tion to share the luck I had. I en­joy your col­umns even though I am not able to do much gar­den­ing but I ap­pre­ci­ate read­ing about your ef­forts to help us what Mother Na­ture. Thank you, — Eve

I have of­ten heard about the medic­i­nal prop­er­ties of the plan­tain (Plan­tago ma­jor), a very com­mon weed in many gar­dens. I am not qual­i­fied to rec­om­mend it for any medic­i­nal use, but note that it is cited in many home reme­dies for re­lief of skin ir­ri­ta­tions. See this WebMD ar­ti­cle for more in­for­ma­tion: www.webmd.com/vi­ta­mins/ai/in­gre­di­ent­mono-677/great-plan­tain. My ex­pe­ri­ence with this plant is lim­ited to the child­hood pastime of wrap­ping the stem around the base of the seed head and shoot­ing it at my com­pan­ions.

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