If you have a magnolia tree on your property, you can probably relate to the bit of melancholy I am feeling now. My beautiful magnolia tree’s blooms have come and gone for another year.
The magnolia tree (Magnolia grandiflora) is a large, broadleaf tree that boasts dark green leaves and large, fragrant flowers. Many of the tree's other characteristics are known to vary. Some can grow up to 80 feet tall and 50 feet in width. Some take on the shape of a pyramid, and others have a rounded crown. Several magnolias are evergreen, while several others are deciduous. Non-evergreen magnolias often have drier leaves that fall from the tree throughout the year and flowers that bloom in early spring.
Common in the Southern United States, magnolias tend to thrive in relatively warmer climates, or in areas where the temperature never drops below 10 to 20° F. However, some varieties are hardier, and can grow in colder conditions. For example, I had a magnolia tree in my front yard when I lived in Evanston, Illinois. They can also be found in East Asia, Eastern North America, and Central America.
To plant your own magnolia, you should first choose an area with rich, moist, slightly acidic soil that drains well. Keep in mind that magnolias like full sun, but can also grow in partial shade. Once you have designated a suitable planting space, select a young and healthy tree. You'll want to keep the tree in a container, or have its roots balled and wrapped in burlap.
Your planting hole should be three to four times the width of the root ball or container and of similar depth. When placed in the hole, the root ball should be even with the ground. Cut off any roots that are circling the ball to avoid future entanglement—magnolia roots can sometimes girdle and deprive the tree of essential nutrients.
Once you have positioned it in the hole, make sure the tree is standing straight up. Note that young magnolias can be top heavy, so you may need to use stakes and/or lines to stabilize your tree even after planting it. You can then replace about half the soil you shoveled out when creating the hole. Next, fill the hole with water, and allow the roots a little time to absorb the moisture. Finally, fill the hole completely with the remaining soil. Throw in some compost or leaf mold to help get your young magnolia off to a healthy start.
Water your young tree regularly and keep the base moist until it has fully established itself in the ground. Use a slow-release fertilizer when the flower buds begin to emerge in the early spring. As soon as the buds appear, begin feeding your tree a balanced organic fertilizer every other month between March and September for three years. You may cut back fertilization to once or twice a season following this initial period of growth.
How fast your magnolia grows depends on climate and variety. For instance, magnolias are unlikely to bloom in cold conditions, since their buds are sensitive to temperature. Soil quality can also affect growth. Magnolias grow best in slightly acidic soil with a pH level between 5.5 and 6.5. Purchase a testing kit at your local nursery to make sure you are giving your tree the nutrients it needs.
Lastly, it is crucial to keep pruning at a minimum. Magnolias are known to have delicate trunks and slow-healing wounds. Puncture wounds caused by clipping or trimming could be an easy entry point for unwanted insects and disease. Do any necessary pruning chores only after the tree flowers.
A Couple of Other Tips:
- You can propagate a magnolia by collecting its seeds or by taking semi-hardwood cuttings from the tree in late summer. Cuttings can take as long as a year to root.
- Since magnolias have large, rope-like root systems, they are not good candidates for transplanting once their trunks are four inches or more in diameter.