Grape Vines, Spruce Tree & Lilacs

A grape vine the is obviously suffering; identifying a rare and unusual spruce tree; and a little on lilacs!
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

August 3, 2008

Above, three shots of Debbie’s suffering grape vine; below the highly unusual Picea breweriana.

The questions this week are again widely ranging, beginning with two that came in three and two weeks ago, respectively.

First, from southern Manitoba, here is Debbie’s question of July 7 to Donna Dawson, “Donna not sure if you take requests for advice. I attempted to get this e-mail to the Devonian garden at the U. of Alberta web site/ask an expert without success. If you are unable to help, could you advise where I could direct my garden dilemma with the grape vine? Thank you in advance for reading my e-mail. A worried gardener.

“Yikes! What's happening to my valiant grape vine? There are two vines in these pictures, one on each side of the garage door. The one on the left is definitely in trouble. Both vines are approximately 6-8 years old and prolific producers, last year gave approximately eight five-gallon pails of grapes. As you can see the leaves are yellowed and starting to brown, dry up and fall off. A note about the planting area, the vine on the left is planted in a thin strip of soil against the garage with a cement sidewalk right in front of it, while the one on the right has grass in front. I'm wondering if this is a nutrient problem and have fertilized it (for the first time ever) with Miracle Gro all purpose 24-8-16. There is lots of fruit on the vines this year. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated, we were considering pruning them back this year (for the first time). We've had lots and lots of rain in this area, southern Manitoba, this past June.”

I believe your problem is a simple one of lack of nutrition. A problem such as this should really be solved by a laboratory examining one of the suffering leaves and establishing what nutrient(s) are missing. The close-up of the leaves indicates either a lack of potassium (one of the three major ingredients in all fertilizers--the third number on the package), or a lack of magnesium--one of the necessary minor ingredients; or both. The 24-8-16 that you applied (I assume to the soil around the base of the plant) should help, but what would help even more would be a liquid application of a soluble 20-20-20 to the foliage (with the excess allowed to drip down to the soil beneath). I would do that asap, and then two weeks later. Next year, hopefully both vines will be healthy, but if one is not, simply start early (in May) with the liquid feed.

And here is the one from S. Rooney that is two weeks old: “I am on the hunt to find out what type of tree this is? I came across it on Mount Maxwell, while visiting Salt Spring Island, British Columbia. I find the weeping branches are so interesting. Would you be able to identify it and tell me if it would grow in Zone 5a? Thank you for your time.”

My response was as follows: “This was a sticker of a question. My friend, arborist Bill Granger (in Port Moody and Bowen Island B.C.) has so far been unable to come up with a name, but Toronto horticulturist friend Larry Sherk suggested it be could Picea breweriana, and in checking on the Web, I have to conclude he is absolutely correct. You can do the same, particularly checking some of the references in the UBC forum sites. Now, as to whether it will grow in zone 5a, that is indeed another question. I would have to say no, since it is only generally found in the south-west portion of Oregon, and the north-west portion of California. Although, there are a number growing in Vancouver, and indeed in Great Britain and Ireland.

“There is one posting on the UBC site from someone in Montreal, who apparently has one, but he doesn’t say where he has it. It might be worth signing up to the forum and asking him that question.

Just where in zone 5a are you located?”

And now one from Lyn Vause that arrived just on July 28th: “A couple of years ago, our neighbour asked us to borrow our pruning shears to prune the lilacs on the property she was renting. We helped her do this. The lilacs are now quite full and healthy looking but they are not as tall as they were. They are about a foot or so shorter than previously. The actual owner of the property is upset that they are shorter than they were. Is there any way to help lilacs grow faster? How long would it normally take a lilac to gain one to two feet in height? Our long-time neighbour on the other side of us thinks these lilacs were actually wild lilacs, not actually planted by anyone in the 75 years he has owned the house. Does that sound accurate? Do lilacs grow wild?

“We would appreciate any help you could give us or if you could redirect us to someone who would be able to help us. Thank you.”

Since these are obviously old plants with huge root systems, they should grow back to their original height in just one or two years--regardless of whether they are wild or not. I guess the definition of a wild lilac would be one that is the common lilac, Syringa vulgaris with the usual purple flower heads and reasonable perfume. But, wild or not should not make any difference as to growth rate. The addition of fertilizer starting next spring would certainly speed up the amount of growth.

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