When lilacs last in the backyard bloomed

We purchased the 1920s Sears, Roebuck bungalow in 1978. It came with a lilac bush in the rear yard. The bush dutifully bloomed each spring. But gradually the flowering diminished.

I clipped out the old wood and it revived. For a while.

This year, nothing.

How could this be? You prowl along old country roads, follow a stone wall, find a stone cellarhole — and there will be either an old apple tree in the dooryard, or a lilac.

There are white lilacs, purple lilacs and what we called double lilacs — twice as purple as the regulars.

We’d be happy with any lilacs at our house.

Lilacs to sniff as we walk by.

Lilacs to snip and put in a vase on the dining room table.


Research tells me a late freeze may be the cause.

Nope, not this year.

The lilac bush may have too much nitrogen. So don’t fertilize.

Not a problem. Never fed the shrub.

Improper pruning.

Haven’t pruned in several years.

Root restriction.

Doubt it. Won’t know unless I go at it with a shovel.


Yes, it is old.

Insufficient light. 

That may be the answer. The lilac has to fight for sunlight against the next-door maples, medium and huge, and our elderly crabapple tree, our prime shade relief when we eat at the outside table. 

The neighbor’s forsythia bush, not far from the lilac, may also be sun-starved; it is really only half-a-cythia these days, very flew blossoms.

The forsythia otherwise at least is good habitat for chickadees and cardinals in winter, and catbirds seem to like it for spring nesting. 

And the catbirds arrived back last week, brought some friends — Baltimore orioles. 

These chirpers promptly began singing at 5 a.m.

Just the way to start the day.


The writer is senior associate editor of this newspaper.