Old and tangled Lilac - what to do?

We have a rather old and tangled Lilac in our small city garden. It's about 20' tall with one fairly separate and upright trunk about 6" - 8" diameter one one side and multiple tangled trunks and stems on the other, all at an angle outwards. It's suckering everywhere as well. It still flowers well.

It's nice to have a tree and some shade, and it's lovely when it flowers, but this thing is probably long past its best and definitely needs taming. Some photos might help:







The options seem to be:

1. Prune heavily, but I don't think that's going to solve the basic problems.

2. Cut the bulk of the tangled stems away, leaving just the most upright old trunk. Trouble is, that'll leave the branches / foliage very one sided and I don't know if it'll come back.

3. Cut the whole thing down to about 6" - 8", remove all the tangled and worst trunks and hope it grows back as a bush.

4. Kill it completely and look for something to replace it with.


Any thoughts or suggestions?


  • hogweedhogweed Central ScotlandPosts: 2,498

    I would take out the smaller branches close to the ground and see what it looks like then. Not sure what you can do about suckers. I have a rhus which is suckering all over my lawn so advice on that would be timely.

    'Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement' - Helen Keller
  • Your Lilac tree looks somewhat like mine! I'm going to have a go at tidying it up but no chance of taking it down, landlady wouldnt appreciate it me thinks! Thing is I love it, it still flowers and is just about the most beautiful thing in my garden when it flowers so I wouldnt want to lose it anyway, I just wish it would smarten itself up a bit! image

  • treehugger80treehugger80 Posts: 1,406

    keep the two biggest trunks and remove the rest, keep pulling the suckers - don't cut them with secateurs as they'll grow back more.

    if you have big step ladders get into the crown (top of the tree) remove any dead, dying or generally manky looking branches. get down, go get a cup of tea and then go back up and remove any crossing or overly long lanky branches - make sure you cut near a joint otherwise you end up with dead stubs of wood.

    it should re-sprout well this year and you'll still have some flowers next year and loads the year after. just don't take more than about a third of the top out in one go (hence the cup of tea break)

  • AddlepateAddlepate Posts: 2

    Hello, thanks all for your ideas.

    I've started by cutting out the obviously dead or unhappy parts and pulling the suckers as they come up, and I'll see how things look then.

    Looking at it, I think at least part of the problem is that at some point it's obviously been hacked right back at about 10' above the ground - there's an obvious change from very old to newer wood there on all the trunks - so some of the old trunks have died, some have regenerated well, and some have regenerated wildly and oddly.

  • AirwavesAirwaves Posts: 82

    treehugger80 has given advice  using methods we used in our then garden a few years ago. It worked and as we removed the crossed branches we could see a shape developing and we had a good crop of flowers. Once the tree has flowered it is important to remove the dead flower heads

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