Advice to grow by: Ways to make your lilacs bloom better

What’s wrong with my lilac?

Eleanor A. writes: Why won’t my lilac bloom? I read up on pruning, and I am doing it correctly.

Answer: You are not alone with this issue! Lilacs (Syringa) are most “at home” on the east coast. They thrive with little attention where cooler temperatures prevail. So in our region, it’s important to create an environment and maintenance routine to help this plant along.

Lilacs need well-drained, slightly alkaline soil. Since your shrub is 2 years old and growing successfully, make sure to avoid fertilizer with nitrogen or you’ll get more beautiful green leaves but no blossoms.

The other thing to know is that lilacs bloom on old wood. That means that this year’s growth becomes next year’s flower bud. Continue to prune with care by removing only the spent blossom clusters down to a pair of leaves.

Lilacs don’t need much water. The Water Usage Classification of Landscape Species (WUCOLS) database rates lilacs as low- to moderate-water usage.

Our last suggestion is be patient. It can take anywhere from two to five years to get flowers. Other lilac lovers are waiting with you!

How to grow veggies in small space

Nancy P. writes: I really want to grow veggies, but my yard is very small. What should I plant?

Answer: To create a garden with lots of variety in a limited space, try square-foot gardening. The first-square foot garden was designed by Mel Bartholomew, an engineer looking for a more productive way to use space. With his method, you can put a large number of plants in your garden by dedicating each square foot of space to one or more plants of the same size.

The number of plants you put in each square depends on the mature size of the grown plant. The smaller the plant, the more you can fit in one square. As long as all the plants are the same size, you can even have more than one type of plant in the same square.

For example, you could sow or transplant four small plants, such as strawberries, basil, chives, lettuce, Swiss chard or fennel, in 1 square foot. To fit four plants in a square, plant them in two rows, with 4 inches between plants.

With spinach, leeks, beets or bush beans, you can fit nine plants in a square foot, in three rows with 3 inches between plants.

With carrots, radishes or green onions, set out 16 plants inside the square foot in four rows, with 2 inches between plants.

For large plants such as tomato, bell peppers, cabbage or zucchini on a trellis, plant only one in a square foot.

The ideal plot size is 4 feet by 4 feet, but any space you have will work, as long as it gets six to eight hours of sunlight a day. Your garden can be in the ground or in a raised bed. Prepare the soil by amending it with compost. Then, using lengths of string, wire or wood, lay a grid of one-foot squares over your prepared soil.

A successful vegetable garden requires frequent watering. Unless you plan to water by hand, you need to set up your watering system before you put in your plants. Watering options, from simple to more complicated, include watering by hand in the early morning, a soaker hose, water-filled buckets attached to either soaker or drip hoses or a drip irrigation system.

Contributors to this week’s column were Ellie Samuel, Mary Lou Milkoff, Pat Decker and Karen Felker.

Send your gardening questions to The UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County ( provides environmentally sustainable, science-based horticultural information to Sonoma County home gardeners. The Master Gardeners will answer in the newspaper only questions selected for this column. Other questions may be directed to their Information Desk: 707-565-2608 or

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