Care for the old-faithful lilac

In a well-drained spot in full sun the common lilac, Syringa vulgaris, will flower year after year with virtually no care. But there will be years when the flowers are few and not very large.

The old lilac that is carefully pruned twice a year, including removal of one or two of the oldest, most-brittle main branches, is likely to produce dozens of big, intensely fragrant flowers in double, triple, or four-in-one clusters. The older the shrub, the more care it should have.

The lavender lilac is very fragrant, the white lilac only slightly fragrant, while the newer double hybrids fall somewhere in between.

Although the common lilac grows well in relatively poor, sandy soil, it will grow even better in good garden loam.

About the only pest that bothers it is a certain wasp or hornet that appears in some Eastern areas during hot weather. The insect attacks the tender new bark, leaving wide rings of bare wood on branches that would have borne blossoms the following spring.

These branches must be pruned off, along with all the finished flower heads that you can reach.

The white lilac seems to be more appreciated and valued than the more common lavender lilac.

Digging a root shoot for a local lilac-lover is not the simple process that one writer suggests.

''Select a shoot farthest from the parent bush and dig it out gently getting the root,'' she says. Gently? You can drive your heavy, sharp-bladed old spade down around the sapling with great force.

If the shrub cooperates, you may not have to hack it free of the main root with an ax or Boy Scout hatchet.

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