Now is a Good Time for Planting Saucer Magnolia
If there is a Saucer magnolia in your neighborhood you’ve surely noticed it by now. It’s like a beacon of color amidst the winter landscape. The end of February through early March brings forth the gorgeous blooms of these beautifully floriferous specimen trees. Although they may go unnoticed most of the year their arrival is a burst of glory that will brighten up even the most mundane of settings. The grand display of large, lavender, pink and white blooms is announcing that spring will soon be here!
Saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangiana), sometimes called Oriental magnolia, is a hybrid that was born in France and has been a longtime favorite of gardeners and landscapers throughout the south. It is a deciduous tree whose broad leaves arrive in early spring after flowering has occurred. The absence of leaves during flowering serves to make the floral display even more noticeable. The open, saucer-shaped flowers may reach 6 inches in diameter and are typically lavender-pink on the outside and creamy white to pale pink inside. The blooms are pleasantly fragrant.
Not all cultivars of Saucer magnolia are the same. ‘Lennei Alba’ has ivory-white flowers. ‘Alba’, has white flowers with a basal pink blush. The flowers of ‘Susan’ are deep red with lemon fragrance. Probably the most popular cultivar of Saucer magnolia is ‘Alexandrina’. Its flowers are rose-purple on the outside and pure white on the inside. ‘Alexandrina’ is usually available at garden centers in late winter and early spring.
The growth habit of Magnolia soulangiana is typically upright when young then gradually shifting to pyramidal or rounded with age. Often it is grown as a multi-stemmed shrub or small tree. At maturity, it may reach 30′ tall and 20′ wide.
Saucer magnolia performs best in full sun in a well-drained spot where its roots can spread out. It will tolerate a relatively wide range of soil pH from 5.0 to 6.5. It’s often planted along the edge of the property line in combination with evergreen shrubs where it may get lost in the crowd until the showy blooms arrive in late winter. Saucer magnolia looks good in combination with other small trees and shrubs yet it does quite well when used as a specimen or accent plant. To enhance plant growth, fertilize in late winter or early spring with a balanced fertilizer.
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Planting a Magnolia Tree
Planting a magnolia tree puts the homeowner in the company of many who adore this extremely popular tree. Considered a premier landscape tree in the southern United States, magnolias, of which more than 100 cultivars exist, can be found all over the world growing in conditions with which it can exist.
Within the U.S., it grows all along with states bordering the edges of the country from Washington in the West to New York in the East. Two states, Louisiana and Mississippi, have designated it as their state tree, with Mississippi also incorporating it into its nickname, the Magnolia State.
Give It Room
When planting a magnolia tree, keep in mind that this tree is one in which plenty of room will be needed. A magnolia trees roots grow more prolifically than those of many other trees, with the roots spreading out beneath the ground far wider in diameter than the canopy of the tree. You will want to make sure you have plenty of yard space for this, otherwise, you may find yourself spending lots of time root pruning, a tedious task, at best.
Because these trees grow so densely and become so tall, planting a magnolia tree as a windbreak or screen makes an excellent method of taking the brunt out of high winds or foiling the prying eyes of nosy neighbors.
Reaching heights of 90 feet (27 meters) with spreads as wide as two-thirds of its height, this tree performs very well for these uses. It’s natural, the pyramidal shape helps in that its branches grow almost to the ground, providing privacy and protection from winds with its thick, dense foliage.
Lovely Large Leaves
The leaves of the Magnolia grandiflora further entice homeowners into planting a magnolia tree. Large and glossy, they range from five to eight inches long (13-20 centimeters) and have a brown, velvety underside that makes them interesting in both texture and appearance. Since magnolias are evergreen, there is not a large fall drop, but rather a small, yet the continual loss of leaves throughout the year.
The leaves are rather leathery, so leaving them to be mulched with a lawnmower may not be acceptable to some people, who prefer leaves that can be more finely and uniformly ground. Magnolia leaves, because of their tough, fibrous texture and large size, if left on the ground, can promote disease and insect populations, so the best solution is to bag them and leave for trash pick up.
How to Plant
Some landscapers have equated planting a magnolia tree to that of planting a giant azalea, they need rich, low-pH (acid) soil, some babying at the first (watch the water! No drowning, but no drying out, either!), and a little luck. Watch for circling roots when planting, also.
Because magnolias tend to have roots that can encircle one another and eventually kill the tree, trim off any that appear to be trying to do that at planting time. Otherwise, you may be finding yourself using a stump grinder to grind out surfacing roots that may be trying to girdle the tree in later years.
After digging a hole twice as large as the root ball, planting the tree, backfilling the hole with a good mulch (pine bark makes an excellent one), watering in well with root stimulator (follow the directions on the container), you are on your way to planting a magnolia tree that will truly make you proud in years to come. Be patient and take care of it, and your magnolia tree will repay you generously with lifelong gifts of fragrance, shade, and beauty.
Pruning Magnolia Trees
Who does not love the Old South charm inherent in magnolia trees? The lovely, lemony-scented fragrance of their big, showy blooms; the shade they provide when mature; and the fact that they are evergreen all play a big part toward homeowner choices in selecting them.
But these trees do have a tendency to grow all the way to the ground, as they say, with their branching habits. Learning about pruning magnolia trees the right way can give you a handsome tree without sacrificing its health or appearance.
Rather than pruning magnolia trees, many people opt for going ahead and allowing the tree its natural tendency to send out nearly ground-level branches. This does not affect the health of the tree at all; it does, however, take up space you may want to utilize in some other way. Or you may just simply prefer the more traditional tree shape with a longer trunk exposed at the bottom portion of the tree.
Another way of pruning magnolia trees involves training them into espaliered forms. In order for the tree to thrive with this type of growth pattern, however, it will be necessary to not only prune the branches and limbs but also to prune its roots. Without appropriate root pruning, the tree will not be able to get enough nutrients from its leaves to support a normal-sized root system will eventually succumb.
Espaliering means pruning magnolia trees to grow in and around a trellis-type structure. You can place these types of trellised trees right up next to a house (or any other structure), provided you keep the root system, branches, and limbs of the tree under control with frequent pruning. This method of growing magnolia trees is recommended for those people who enjoy working in their gardens and yards. It is not advisable for those who want more of a maintenance-free landscape environment.
Pruning for Traditional Shape
Pruning magnolia trees so that they develop a more traditional tree shape (that with a longer, more exposed trunk) is much easier than espaliering. Simply take of the limbs up to the level desired with a chainsaw or other cutting tool.
Make sure the cuts are flush with the trunk, that you do not leave an amputated stump sticking out. Painting the freshly cut wounds is no longer considered necessary nor recommended. It is now believed healthier for the tree to utilize the fresh air to callous over the wound and heal. Paint is thought to trap disease-bearing organisms that may cause damage or even death.
More About Root Pruning
Sometimes the roots of magnolias have a tendency to girdle or encircle themselves, which cuts off essential nutrients. The tree can literally choke itself to death. Root pruning magnolia trees before they are planted, cutting off those that appear to be growing in a circular pattern, is the best solution.
In trees already growing or that are mature, you may need to cut the offending roots with a stump grinder. Try to cut only those roots that have surfaced and that are at least as far away from the trunk as three times its diameter. In other words, if a tree trunk is one foot in diameter, do not cut surfacing girdling roots unless they are at least three feet out from the trunk.
Pruning magnolia trees is, on the whole, a pretty simple matter. But it is a chore that if done, must be done properly. With good overall care and pruning methods, your magnolia tree should live longer than you.