Magnolias are magnificent flowering plants featuring blossoms in white, pink, red, purple, or a more recent development, rich yellow. These plants show a remarkable variety of leaf shapes and plant forms. New varieties and hybrids appear every year, but distribution is spotty in local nurseries. Many more kinds are available from mail-order specialists.
Magnolias include both evergreen and deciduous types. Most have large, striking blossoms composed of petal-like segments, but a few are grown for use as foliage plants.
For any magnolia, choose the planting site carefully—virtually all of these trees are hard to move once established. Magnolias never look their best when crowded. Pick a location where the shallow, fleshy roots won’t be damaged by digging or by soil compaction from constant foot traffic. All magnolias may be used as lawn trees; try to provide a good-size grass-free area around the trunk, and don’t plant under the tree.
Magnolias appreciate fairly rich, well-drained, neutral to slightly acid soil amended with plenty of organic matter at planting time. They will grow in somewhat alkaline soil but may develop chlorosis. At least in the early years, keep a cooling mulch over the root area.
Irrigate deeply and thoroughly, but don’t waterlog the soil or the tree will drown. Only M. virginiana can take constantly wet soil.
Feed trees if new growth is scanty or weak, or if you see significant dieback despite adequate watering and drainage; use a controlled-release product. Treat chlorosis (lack of iron—common in alkaline soils—that shows up as yellowing between leaf veins) with iron chelates.
Leaf damage can result from excess mineral salts in the soil or salts in irrigation water. The latter is a problem in Southern California and, typically, the factor limiting success of magnolias in desert regions. Frequent heavy waterings will help leach out salts and carry them to lower soil levels—as long as drainage is good.
From China, this deciduous tree grows to about 35 ft. tall and 30 ft. wide. It tends toward an irregular form; good in an informal garden or at woodland edge. Choose a site where it can be shown off against a dark background or sky. Leaves are 4–7 in. long. Does well in Southern California.
Fragrant flowers are white, sometimes tinged purple at the base. Blossoms are erect and somewhat tulip shaped, 3–4 in. long, spreading to 6–7 in. The tree blooms early at the base of branches, and often a few flowers appear in summer.
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