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How to Tell if a Lilac Bush Is Dead?

lilac image by Henryk Olszewski from

Sometimes after an especially harsh winter, you may look around your yard at your shrubs and wonder if they have survived. Lilacs are one of the shrubs that many Northerners covet for their early spring blossoms and sweet fragrance. During its dormant time, the lilac bush can look dead with its scraggly branches. However, there are a few things you can do to make sure it is alive.

Scratch the surface of the lilac bush's bark with a pocketknife. If you see green beneath the surface, there is a good chance the lilac bush is very much alive. Be careful not to wound the plant; just make a slight, 1/2-inch scrape so you can see the green color below the brown bark.

Wait until spring. Lilacs are known for being vigorous growers first thing in the spring. When the snow has melted and you notice the birch trees are sending out their pollen, you should be able to see the buds swelling on your lilac bush. Check several branches to make sure it is alive since you could just have one dead branch.

Cut back the branches to see if the root base is alive. You can cut back a lilac tree to the ground and it will often send up new shoots from its large root base. As you cut, look for signs of green under the bark and look for little shoots emerging from the soil. If you have the patience, you can wait a few weeks in the growing season to see if there is any life. If nothing, then you might have start with a new plant.

Time To Trim A Lilac Bush

A lilac bush does best when it is trimmed every year. Doing so helps to maintain the plant's shape and to minimize the number of old, damaged branches, which are vulnerable to disease. The buds become the next year’s flowers. They are more likely to cause problems than to produce a lot of flowers. Look for broken ends, damaged bark and obvious cuts or holes in the branches. Also remove all branches that are misshapen or growing sideways through the plant. As soon as the lilac bush's flowers are dead, trim each flower stem back to the leaves, removing all trace of the flowers.

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