Basics for growing happy, healthy lilacs
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.