Plant Spotlight: Magnolia Tree
July 24, 2020
Flowering magnolia trees (Magnolia sp.) have some of the most outstanding blooms in nature; spectacular white, yellow, pink, and burgundy tinged blossoms that flower in spring. Flowers can be huge and are often fragrant. If it is an early blooming cultivar, the flowers will be displayed on naked stems before the leaves of the tree appear. If later blooming, the tree will show both foliage and flower together. Most cultivars found at garden centers are hybridized species, although there are many that are native. Magnolia is a deciduous tree, but can be grown as a shrub, and its flowers are pollinated by beetles. Flowers can be forced indoors in vases once buds have formed on the limbs. Not all magnolias survive in northern climates, so be sure to research which cultivars will perform better in your community.
When, Where, and How to Plant
Plant magnolias in a rich, fertile soil that is high in organic matter and well drained. Magnolias prefer bright sun and will flower less in shadier conditions. Remove all burlap, rope, and wire, then water the root ball well before planting. Dig a hole the same depth of the root ball, but at least 2 times as broad when planting. Water very regularly until the tree is established, particularly if planting in summer. Magnolias do not handle drought well; keep consistently watered.
Mulching the tree with several inches of compost out to the drip line annually will help the tree hold moisture. Do not fertilize otherwise unless the tree is showing signs of malnutrition. Pruning is not required regularly; however, if it must be done to tidy the plant, prune the trees in spring immediately after flowering.
Overcrowding magnolias or planting them in heavy, damp shade can encourage unattractive mildew and fungal issues to develop such as wood rot, gray mold, and verticillium wilt. Plant the trees with plenty of room for air circulation with companion bulbs or other perennials that might bloom in early spring at the same time as the tree. Magnolias can lose their flowers because of late frosts, so it is beneficial to plant late blooming varieties. Roots are fleshy and particularly sensitive to damage, therefore be cautious when digging around them.
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