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In the Garden

Q: After the hard freeze, the leaves on my Daphne odora turned brown and some of them are falling off. What should I do to save it?

A: The best thing you can do for your Daphne is to leave it alone. It’s typical for the leaves on Daphne odora to turn brown after suffering a hard freeze, and once the foliage has been burned in this way, it’s not uncommon for all of the leaves to fall off as well. This is especially prevalent on Daphnes that are planted in full sun.

As upsetting as it is to see your Daphne defoliate in this way, it almost never causes lasting harm to the plant. It won’t even keep it from blooming.

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In February or March, even in its leafless state, the shrub should be covered with masses of the incredibly fragrant flowers right on schedule. By April, your Daphne should fully leaf out with fresh, beautiful new dark green leaves edged in gold.

Just to be on the safe side, give your Daphne odora a year to recover before doing any hard pruning. Your Daphne odora will not only survive any ill effects from the winter cold, once it’s covered with spanking new leaves, it will also look the best it has in years!

Q: My lilac has grown way too tall. My wife wants to cut it to the ground and start over but I’m afraid that it won’t bloom for a long time if we do this. How should we lower it without sacrificing the blooms?

A: As you found out, if you don’t prune lilacs yearly, they quickly grow to 15 or 20 feet tall with most of the blooms at the top.

Lilacs take hard pruning, so you could cut the plant right to the ground without harming it. The lilac would grow back, but since flowering occurs only on older wood, you may not see any blooms for several years.

The best way to renovate a lilac without sacrificing years of flowering is to prune it over a three-year period. Starting next spring, right after the blooms fade, cut 1
3 of the tallest branches right to the ground. The remaining older stems will bloom the following spring, while at the same time, new replacement shoots will begin growing from the base.

Allow these replacement shoots to grow for one summer, then in winter thin them out to form the framework for an attractive replacement tree and pinch them back to encourage branching.

The following spring, prune out another third of the older stems and remove any new shoots that grow out of the base during summer, while continuing to shape the replacement shoots selected a year earlier.

On the third spring, finish the renovation by cutting out the remaining older branches. Again remove any new shoots to prevent them from crowding the ones that were selected to form a new tree.

Within a year or two after the last of the old stems have been pruned, the replacement shoots should begin blooming. From then on, every spring, as soon as the flowers fade, prune the tallest branches to a node 6 inches to a foot below the spent flower clusters. That will enable you to maintain your attractive lilac at about 8 feet tall without sacrificing flowering for years to come.

Ciscoe Morris: “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING 5.

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