Thoughts, Opinions and Ideas of Landscaping My Yard

I’m having really mixed thoughts on what I want to do with my yard mostly because I’m not a plant person. I’m hoping perhaps someone here has good advice or ideas.

Now that spring is blooming, I’m being lead under the impression that my lilac bushes are dead/dying as shown in the following observation. My other bush on that fence line (I have no clue what it is) has only sprouted two things of leaves on the trunk in the year and a half that I’ve lived on the property.

I guess first things first, are my lilac bushes dying and if so, what should I do? My impression is, the dead stuff is killing what is alive. So do I cut all the dead stuff, prune a little bit and see if the bush survives? On the other hand, my lilac bushes have been the most successful in attracting birds to my feeders, probably because of the cover.

My current plan right is, is to plant native shrubs/trees along the rest of the fence line and cut down the lilacs as the new shrubs grow. What are your thoughts?


I think your solutions largely depend on what you want to happen, and the sequence of how you want it to happen.

I don’t necessarily think your lilacs are dying (ie diseased), I just think they are nearing the expected lifespan. Is there any evidence or sign of some pest, pathogen, or disease that you think is causing die-off of the canopy? If not, I would not expect the dead material to be harming the living material. If you prune it, then the plant would focus its energy on what is alive rather than trying to maintain dying material. So simply pruning the dead material away could reinvigorate the plants, and you may even see new growth from the crown (ie base) of the plant.

The lilac bushes look very, very old. I’m not sure what the lifespan of a lilac is, but these may be nearing it. You could prune out all of the obvious dead stuff, step back and see what is leftover. It may look very unsightly at that point, and you may decide you want to put new plants in to replace them. So you would remove the lilacs and put in new plants. Or maybe you look at the living material after you prune out the dead, and it seems okay, so you leave it as it is. I would suggest planting additional stuff so as the lilacs truly die, you are not left with an empty fence line. Either way, I would start by pruning out the dead and evaluate at that point. It’s a lot of material, so you might hire somebody to do it; up to you of course.


Oh man, so much space for native plants! I’d highly recommend the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center as a resource for species selection. Here’s their list of recommended (i.e. native, commercially available, and reasonably care-free) plants for Oregon: You’ll want to filter it for the light, moisture, and soil conditions of your property.

As a @birdwhisperer, you’ll probably also appreciate Audubon’s guide to creating a bird-friendly yard: They also have a database with plant recommendations, although in my limited experience it sometimes tends toward bird-friendly (yay!) at the expense of commercially available and reasonably care-free (boo).

If you’re up for something longer form, check out Doug Tallamy’s classic book Bringing Nature Home (and his new book Nature’s Best Hope) [third link forbidden by iNat, but the books are very googleable]. Tallamy is an entomologist who has probably done more than anyone to scientifically document, and popularize, the connection between native plants, insects, and birds.

I can’t speak to your lilacs other than to confirm that they don’t look great ; )

Happy planting!


Even I have admired gardens inspired by Doug Tallamy. From Cape Town.


Hello, welcome to the forum!

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Nebraska and Prairie so not sure if it is relevant?

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I’m a plant enthusiast more than an expert, but before I put in anything else I’d try to trouble-shoot. Have these lilacs reached the end of their lifespan? Or are they diseased (fungus/other pathogen)? Or are they damaged by a punishing late frost? Is there any new construction with concrete nearby which can adversely change the soil ph?

Make sure any new bushes you choose are suited to the amount of sun you have and how well the soil drains.


Good advice!

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Of course most of us are naturalists, not gardeners, so perhaps we are not the best people to ask!

I agree that all of your trees appear to be half dead. If you would like to re-work your yard to be a more natural and more native environment, you might want to consider cutting them all down, and digging out the roots in an attempt to get rid of whatever pathogen(s) may be killing them. You may want to try to get the putative pathogens ID’ed before you do that though. Your local extension may provide a service for ID-ing pathogens.

I would also consider trying to learn as much as you can about your soil, the subsoil, and the rock underlying your yard. Does the soil tend to stay wet? Does it dry out too much? If we could tell which weeds dominate your lawn that might give some clues as to what the soil is like.

Because you are interested in “going native”, I would walk over to any small or large natural areas that are near you, and see which native plants are doing well there (not counting any invasive species, of which there are many no doubt) and then consider planting those in your back yard.

If you are nonetheless interested in some garden plants I would recommend that you look at the gardens near you and try to see which look well-established, like they have been there for many years, and then see which trees, bushes, etc appear to be doing really well in conditions that are presumably/hopefully very similar to yours. That is as long as they are not invasive species.

One thing in your garden which is a problem is that the lilacs appear to have been planted in a row right next to the fence. I would never recommend planting any bushes right next to a fence, as the fence prevents air flow, and sometimes even sunshine, getting to the bushes next to it.

So I would not recommend planting a row of native trees or bushes next to that fence as they may suffer also.


This lilac really looks very old. I recently updated a bush by cutting, planted by my grandfather more than 60 years ago, it had trunks similar in thickness, though without drying out. They write that there are more than 100-year-olds, but this is rare.


How does one identify some pathogen or disease? I could probably figure out if I know what I’m looking for.

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It’s hard to generalize, as there are so many different plant pathogens, and they all produce different effects.

These are ones I have seen in the Eastern States, so they won’t be relevant to you, but it will give you some idea of the effects that various pathogens can produce:

Yeah it looks like most of those pathogens you’ve found are leaf affected. I just tried looking for something of that spectrum and all the leaves look to be very healthy.

New leaves in the spring usually do look healthy. The effects of pathogens show up later, in summer usually.


Hi there,
I’m in agreement with much of the above comments, in particular:
-Cut our the dead wood on the lilacs and cut the living stems by half after they flower. Or consider removing them. They’re pretty when they’re bloom, but they don’t do much for our native species.
-Check out Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy.

Since you’re more of a bird person than a plant person, I’d recommend filling your yard with native shrubs that: provide some nesting, resting, and hiding spots for birds, produce flowers for pollinators and berries for birds, and offer forage to native insects that birds eat, such as caterpillars. If you’re not in love with gardening, you may want to skip perennials and just focus on shrubs. I’m on the east coast and haven’t been out your way, so I’m not sure what species to recommend. In my area, I’d be thinking spicebush, viburnum, shrubby dogwoods…
The Xerces Society has lots of regional lists of plants to support pollinators. Have fun choosing!

I’ll add one caveat to a piece of advice given above- if you look at your neighbor’s plants for inspiration, keep in mind that most of the ornamental plantings in US yards are non-native species, many of them now invasive in the ever shrinking natural areas we have left. Many of the trees and shrubs you’ll see in your neighbors yards are simply what was available at the nursery, or more likely, big box store, that day. Most were chosen only with aesthetic value in mind, not with consideration for the ecosystem into which the plants would be introduced and what species they might support. These things are changing, though; and a growing awareness of biodiversity is beginning to drive people’s purchases. If you’re lucky enough to have a native plant nursery in your area, you can go to them for advice on plants to support your local birds. Doug Tallamy explains this subject far better than I can in his books; so I again refer you to him.


Welcome to the forum @greenshade!

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A couple genera you might look into are Prunus and Ribes. I have both chokecherries and native currants in my yard, and would recommend both. Especially the chokecherries, they seem surprisingly drought tolerant and have a good show of flowers and fruits. And with both, birds eat the berries and then spread seeds, so once you have one plant you start to find seedlings that you can transplant to where you want them.


Generally agree, with one caveat: before you remove anything, especially shrubs at this time of year, please consider doing a survey of what you’re removing to exclude the possibility of disrupting a nest of a native species or a threatened insect population, etc. Some species, being remarkably adaptable to humans’ ruinous behavior, make good use of what’s around if no native options exist. Others, not so much and they’re in trouble. I’m always way behind on my endless fight to remove invasives and some un-threatening non-natives because inevitably a cardinal or chipping sparrow or catbird has built a nest in a lilac or forsythia. Great that these discussions are being had though.

Also, echo the cooperative extension services and all of what Susan said… they often run low-cost seedling/ sapling/ bare root sales of native plants. Careful though, my local extension touted several non-natives as natives and upon further inspection I realized this was not the case and I was quite disappointed. A quick double check with additional reputable sources can prevent that happening though. This is usually through a master gardener program and often there will be a diversity of opinion since the gardening world isn’t always filled with naturalist types but if you can find a master gardener with an interest in natives they’re often eager to help discuss soil type and ecology and suggest plantings. Good luck with removing lilacs…think of it as a home gym workout!


when I first read the title of this topic I thought it said “Thoughts, Onions and Ideas of Landscaping My Yard”