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How to Tell if a Lilac Bush Is Dead?

By Heide Braley ; Updated September 21, 2017

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.


Things You Will Need

  • Pocketknife
  • Pruning shears
  • Saw

About the Author


Maryland resident Heide Braley is a professional writer who contributes to a variety of websites. She has focused more than 10 years of research on botanical and garden articles and was awarded a membership to the Society of Professional Journalists. Braley has studied at Pennsylvania State University and Villanova University.