Magnolia x soulangeana
Saucer Magnolia, Tulip Tree
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.
Hybrid of M. denudata and M. liliiflora, this deciduous tree grows to 25 ft. high and wide. It’s a good lawn plant, and a good anchor plant in big container plantings. Seedlings are highly variable; look for named selections (especially later-blooming ones in frost-prone regions). Medium green, rather coarse-looking leaves are 4–6 in. long or longer.
White to pink or purplish red, fragrant flowers are variable in form and size (from 3–6 in. wide). Blooms appear from late winter into spring, both before leaves emerge and as they open.‘Alba Superba’
Purple-suffused buds open to large, nearly pure white flowers. Early blooming. Rather more upright and slightly taller than most varieties.
Slender, upright grower that reaches 30 ft. tall and 15 ft. wide. It’s an excellent specimen tree for small gardens. In mild climates, it can be grown in containers when young. Can be pruned as a hedge. Protect from strong winds. Large, goblet-shaped blooms come in deep wine red. Blooms in early spring, before foliage emerges.‘Brozzonii’
White blossoms very slightly flushed purplish rose at the base; 8 in. across. Late. One of the most handsome white-flowered magnolias. Vigorous tree.‘Lennei’
Bears very large, globe-shaped blossoms that are deep purple outside, white inside. Spreading, vigorous plant. Late bloom helps it escape frosts in cold areas. ‘Lennei Alba’ (M. lennei ‘Alba’) is similar but with earlier, pure white, slightly smaller blooms.‘Lilliputian’
Grows to just 18 ft. tall and 10–15 ft. wide. Good where a smaller magnolia is called for. Flowers are pink outside, white inside, and somewhat smaller than those of other selections. Late blooming.
Grows to 25 ft. high and wide. Growth is more tree-like than many saucer magnolias. Large, reddish purple, cup-shaped flowers appear just ahead of leaves in early spring. Big (6-in.) dark rose seedpods.
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