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Help please. I have a purple lilac (small tree really rather than a shrub) in my garden which was here when we moved in over 10 years ago so don't really know which species it is. I have never needed to do anything to it - beautiful blooms and foliage. Last year the leaves were rather sparse but we had plenty of blooms so to help it along, after flowering I pruned it a little. I took out the dead wood and cut back all the suckers - it didn't occur to me that I needed to feed it. This year it is virtually bald - there are about 5 leaves on it. A handful of suckers are back and they are leafy! It has loads of buds but these have matured at about 1 inch long and are flowering. It looks very odd and clearly needs help. The branches seem to be alive. What can I do to revive it? It's probably about 12 foot tall. I think some of the suckers are now growing in my next door's garden - and are in bloom! The neighbours fruit tree (plum?) is planted very close to the lilac. My husband has also used feed and weed on the garden in past years although not this year. Any ideas as to what might be ailing it? We really don't have very green fingers - are there any idiot proof ideas to help my lovely tree? All help will be gratefully received! 

Lion S

Oh dear, that doesn't sound good. Judging from what you're saying it seems that either the rootsystem or the stem has been damaged severely. And there are a number of possible reasons. Can you show us some pictures of the Lilac complete, it's stem and it's surroundings? Maybe we can help you.

BTW, have you scratched the bark with a thumbnail? Was it vibrant green underneath? And when was the neighbour's fruit tree planted?

Hi. I know right! I'm quite concerned. I have taken photos but I can't seem to get my jpegs to upload - not sure how else to get photos on here. The photos are not of the best quality but I agree that they might give you some clue. Any ideas why I can't get them to load?

I have scratched multiple branches (main thick ones and smaller ones with nothing on them) and all are vibrant green. There is a knarled hole in the main trunk but it has always been like that and I can't see any new signs of damage or insect life. The plum tree in the neighbours garden is planted right at the foot of the lilac and was planted after we moved in although I couldn't say for sure how old it is but I think likely 6 years or so. We have never watered the lilac - always assumed that as a tree it would look after itself.

I've had a really good look at it. Some buds are definitely in bloom (mostly at the top of the tree at the moment) but they are tiny. Most seem moist and be ready to open. A fairly small proportion look like they may dry off before they open. The leaves which have opened seem fairly small too. The branches have lots of tiny little buds which have not grown at all. In the very early spring I was happy to see so many of these as I thought the tree would do better than last year.

I only took out the dead branches last year. It was the first time we ever pruned so I was careful not to take off too much. Any ideas?

Lion S

Hmm, well it's a good sign that underneath the bark it's nice and green. I do think that the fruit tree is taking up most of the nutrients and water in the soil so a good feed and watering after flowering will be very welcome. Some bonemeal and compost will be fine. Make sure it doesn't touch the stem of the Lilac or fruit tree. Also water the tree in dry periods and mulch after watering to retain the moisture but make sure the soil never gets too wet; the soil should feel moist but not soaking wet.  

Some of the tiny buds might still open after you have fed and watered the Lilac but it's also likely that a number of them have been caught by late frost. Hopefully more leaves will develop.

Pruning out dead branches is never wrong and I'd recommend that you keep removing the suckers. I would also remove the flowers after flowering. This way the energy will go to forming new flower heads for next year. Good luck and please let me know if it's picking up or not.


Sounds like the Lilac suckering is robbing the parent plant of nutrients and water. Cutting back suckers won't work, you need to rip them out when young to damage the bud so it can't regrow.


Dear all. Many thanks for the advice - I hadn't realised I needed to be so brutal with the suckers. Will yank them out asap although I realise it's too late for this year! However, if the main tree is on it's way out can the suckers be left so I have a bit of my lilac left or doesn't it work that way? I would attempt planting up the suckers for a new plant but wouldn't know where to begin. Flowerchild, is there a liquid feed I could give the lilac. It is surrounded by lawn so I'm not entirely sure how I should be putting compost and mulch on it. Should I remove the grass growing around it and if so, how much of a clearing should I gave the base of the lilac. Sorry - I did say that I don't really have much garden knowledge!

Lion S

S Harrison, you don't have to apologize at all. We all have had to learn what we know and did so by asking questions. So, ask away. 

Personally I would remove some of the grass around the base of the stem as it is taking away nutrients and when the grass needs mowing the shrub could be damaged by the mower. Leave about 30 cm around  the stem free of grass - or more, which would be even better -  and then you can feed it. Keep this circle free of weeds as well. A liquid feed IMO will not be enough to save it. But of course other people might have a different opinion.

I'm sorry but I can't be helpful with uploading your picture. I still would very much like to see it.

Alina W

I agree with the comments about stripping the grass from the base of the lilac tree, and Flowerchild's other comments on how to treat it. As for feeding, I think that you can try feeding it with more or less anything, as it will be better than nothing.

Suckers - yes, you can certainly dig them up and grow them on into new plants. Here's a step by step guide:

Hello again. Thanks to you all for the great tips and links. Truly appreciated!! I now have a plan of action and hopefully my lilac will revive for next year - and if not, then hopefully some of the suckers will take for an eventual replacement.

Flowerchild, I have tried again to upload the jpeg photos I have taken which are now sitting on my pc but the site keeps telling me that it's not a vaild file type. So unfortunately I can't show you the pitiful state of my beloved tree.

I will keep the post updated with any improvements/decline my lilac may make during the summer. Any other tips or advice on my lilac will always be welcome! Thanks!!

Oh no. Have just investigated the cut tree stump. Signs of white fungus and strong mushroom smell. Will get it removed asap. Fingers crossed for my lilac. Have decided to wait and see if it shows any signs of recovery rather than remove it at this time just in case it's suffering from something else.
Alina W

Don't panic about the tree stump - it sounds like normal rotting. But get it removed by all means, just in case.

Oops - accidentally deleted my post so no one knows what I'm babbling on about. I went to a local garden centre (visit unrelated to lilac) but mentioned the lilac. Their resident expert asked me various questions and I came away realising that I may have (and do indeed have) honey fungus in the garden. We cut down a plum tree in spring which died - cause of death was unknown at that time. The stump is still there, but not for much longer. Unfortunately we had also planted a 5ft tall ceanothus and 2 rose buses in the garden this spring - all of which are highly susceptible to this fungus apparently. Whilst I can dig up and pot the small roses, the ceanothus and lilac are on their own.

Alina W

Are you sure it's honey fungus? Have you found the bootlace-like strands in the soil, for example?

To be honest I'm not entirely sure but the signs seem to point that way. The fungus was under bark (between the bark and the tree wood) around the base which is where I was told to look for it. It smells really strongly of mushrooms. There is grass right up to the stump - we will be digging around this to have a look at the weekend to see if we can see these bootlace strands. The plum tree was more or less dead last summer and autumn saw massive mushroom heads grow around the base of it - which we ignored as it's not the first time we have seen mushrooms on our lawn....In spring we knew it was dead  as all the branches snapped like twigs. Interestingly my neighbour on that side had a lilac almost at the foot of our plum tree and that lilac died about 2 or 3 years ago. I could be jumping to the wrong conclusion however...?


I was give a rooted lilac sapling years ago by a neighbour. It has grown well and produced other saplings which I have managed to pull up (with roots) and re-plant elsewhere in the garden.  I now have 4 lilacs, but none of them had ever flowered.  This year 3 of them have flowered (one of them being the "mother" plant). I can only put this down to the pruning, as the un-flowering one was cut back the most.  This makes me think that I have been pruning too much, or at the wrong time of year. When is the right time to prune or should they just be left alone?

Alina W

Lilacs are generally left alone - prune them after flowering if you have to.

S Harrison, it does sound worrying. There is detailed information here, but it does sound as though that is your problem.

When you plant up your lilac suckers, plant them in pots to avoid spreading it.

You may also like to have a look at this site, particularly point vii.

Oooh, now that's interesting. Thanks so much for the links. I will have to investigate the Armillatox further and see if it is something that's readily available so that I can get my hands on it.

I'm thinking I may not plant up the suckers. If it is honey fungus (and like you I think it's quite likely) and if the lilac is showing early signs of infection (lots of if's I know!) then I think I won't want to run the risk of trying to raise a potentially sick plant.

So. An update. My lilac tree has been cut down. It finished 'blooming' and the few leaves it had also disappeared and i got sad looking at bare twigs so took a saw to it..... I have left a couple of the suckers in situ to see what happens.
The stump of the dead plum tree was dug out. The mushroom smelling fungus was all over the roots....most of which are still deep under my lawn. Eek. For what it's worth though i didn't find the same fungus at the base of the lilac. Just playing a waiting game to see what else dies!

did anything else die??