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October 19, 2013

1 - Strawberries may survive without mulch in New Mexico, but properly applied mulch removed early will probably be beneficial.

2 - Lilacs should be pruned to renew the shrubs and increase flower production.

Yard and Garden October 19, 2013

Q.

I have two questions:

#1 - I put in a strawberry bed this summer and it did really well. I have been told differing opinions on what I need to do to get them ready for winter. One said, just leave them alone. Another said cover with straw mulch after it gets down to about 20 degrees. What should I do - remember, I am in northeast New Mexico.

#2 - I have a lilac bush that I have sadly neglected and it looks it. I was told to cut it down to the ground after it goes dormant and let it grow back up from there. Is that a good idea? Owida F. Union County

A.

Regarding your strawberry question, it depends somewhat on which varieties you have. I had strawberries in Bozeman, MT, and did not cover them. They did fine most winters, but we had snow cover every winter for at least part of the winter. In New Mexico, I think I would cover them after it has gotten cold (ground frozen or at least by mid-Nov to Dec.). We are less likely to have consistent snow cover. Mulch will help conserve moisture and prevent wide temperature swings from warm to extremely cold as are very likely to happen in New Mexico. The fluctuating temperatures will do more harm than consistently cold temperatures. Remove the straw covering in the late winter/early spring before the plants begin growing so that they will be less injured by late freezes. They will break dormancy early under the straw if it warms too much. And then, when you remove the straw they will be exposed to any cold spells with less ability to withstand it. They are also more subject to developing fungal diseases if left under the straw as temperatures warm.

If your lilacs are healthy and fairly vigorous, you can cut them to the ground and let new growth develop from the base. You will lose a season's blossoms if you do this. However, this is a good way to renew the lilac shrub. Select 5 to 10 of the healthy new stems that develop from the ground to become the new shrub and prune away any others at ground level.

Another option is to cut out one-third to one-half of the old stems to encourage new growth from the base of the plant. Select some of the new stems that develop from ground level to develop the new shrub and remove all others at the ground level. This will leave some older stems to produce flowers and in 2 to 3 years the new stems should produce flowers. The second year cut some more of the old stems out to favor growth of the new stems. Once again select a few of the new stems to become the new shrub. This renewal pruning, cutting about a third of the old stems each year is a good way to continuously renew the plant and keep the lilac shrub more compact and floriferous. You will find that your lilac shrubs produce more and better quality flowers if you do this.

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension publications Web site at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h, or to read past articles of Yard and Garden go to http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/periodicals.html

Send your gardening questions to:

Yard and Garden, Attn: Dr. Curtis Smith
NMSU Agricultural Science Center
1036 Miller Rd.
SW, Los Lunas, NM 87031.

Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist emeritus with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. NMSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating