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Gopher Gulch: Help your lilacs to chill out

Ex-drunks tend to feel a mixture of smug and grateful when many are suffering from the granddaddy of all hangovers, which might account for my waking full of energy and advice early on New Year’s Day.

Believe it or not, some plants need care now in order to produce the objects of our desire later on. While it’s not wise to mess with Mother Nature, this little trick is acceptable, and it will greatly increase your lilac blossoms.

Lilacs aren’t a native plant but the original hardy, long-lived perennial arrived with the first French settlers. We’ve been hybridizing and generally messing around with them for 300 years, trying to create new colors without losing that heavenly fragrance. Lilacs are remarkably tolerant, blooming even though our soil is much more acidic than they’d like. When you wander around the yard feeding decorative plants and beds the various nutrients they need, give the lilac bush a couple cups of dolomite lime. It will reward you with more blossoms over a longer time.

We may think it’s cold, but the lilac bush doesn’t think it’s having winter. It stands there patiently, hating to have its feet wet, too warm for comfort, and yet noble and willing to present you with lovely, fragrant blossoms in a few months. The only problem is that if it doesn’t get a good freeze it can’t produce many blossoms. There’s a direct relationship between low temperature and high blossom count.

Lilacs want serious cold, which is why they grew so well when the first French trapper’s wife planted them in what is now Minnesota. I can only imagine the joy lilac blossoms must have brought to a woman who’d been snowed in all winter with ripe skins and runny-nosed kids. Why do you think the trappers were out in the peaceful, silent snow?

Lilacs are a symbol of an established home, not something you can produce in a season. It takes seven years after a transplant for them to begin blooming. They’ll grow here, but most winters they need a little help, and this is probably going to be one of them. For each lilac bush, pick up a couple blocks of ice, dump them out of the plastic bags and place them on the ground at the base of the plant. Believe it or not, the melting ice is just enough to convince the lilacs that they’ve had winter, especially if you apply it during one of our colder times. The result will be more and better blossoms this spring.

To help your lilac bush produce more blossoms next year, prune it a bit as soon as it’s through blooming this year. Remove any limbs that have become lanky and don’t produce, permitting the energy to go into new growth and more blossoms. You can remove up to one third of the oldest stems each year. The more new growth you can encourage, the more flowers you’ll have next year.

Reach Inez Castor, a longtime Triplicate columnist, at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

 


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