Dwarf Korean lilac standard dying

(Question)

Our dwarf Korean lilac standard has been dying bit by bit for about 3 years now! We have cut the dead bits out every year, but each year more and more dies! It gets sun from about noon on and plenty of water. I fear we’re going to have to pull it out. Help!

(Answer)

It’s a shame to hear that your Dwarf Korean Lilac standard (Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’) is not doing well. It’s usually an adaptable dwarf tree that tolerates dry and moist conditions and also manages to stand up to urban pollution. You don’t mention whether there seems to be a pest or disease attacking the tree so I assume that isn’t the issue – and in any case the Korean lilac is  resistant to mildew.

However, the last three winters, beginning with the ice storm in December 2013, and the alternating warm and cold spells in the last two years, have been very hard on some shrubs and trees, including non-native magnolias, Japanese maples and native junipers and cedars.

The possibility that your Korean lilac isn’t getting the “full sun” it needs may also be part of the problem. Full sun means at least six hours of sun a day and perhaps the afternoon sun it’s getting isn’t sufficient. There’s another possibility – could you be overwatering your tree? It needs regular watering upon planting and for the first couple of seasons, but once it’s established, it shouldn’t need watering except under drought conditions.

I hope this helps. If none of these possibilities makes sense, check if there are any signs of disease or insects or  describe in a little more detail how or where the dieback is occurring, and perhaps it will be easier to come up with a solution.

Good luck!