Magnolias in the park, covered with cattail matsI had an idea of how young magnolias should be protected during winter, from watching the workers in the park, whom I saw covering with cattail mats. Unfortunately, at that time, I didn't ask them where they got those mats, because I didn't know I would ever need one for protecting my plants.

Fortunately, I had the chance of growing a 'Little Gem' magnolia and aMagnolia grandiflora covered with a veil cucumber magnolia in my home. They grew up to 3 feet (1 metre) high in four years. After researching their planting age, I decided it was time to plant them outside in the garden. I was well aware that my young magnolias would need winter protection, the same as I saw in the park and was determined to assure them all the protection they needed. They did well during summer, then fall came. I began searching for the cattail mats I needed for covering them. I Googled and searched all over, but nothing. Didn't anyone make cattail mats anymore? It seemed so, but I had a new plan to use my beach mats, although they were made of straw and therefore more rigid than cattail mats. I was so sure I would cover magnolias with those, but my good faith in people made me change my mind and failed me, in the end. I went to a nursery where they had protection cloths for plants. They didn't have cattail mats, but the lady from that department was very sure that the sack and veil she recommended were perfect for protecting my magnolias. I should have known better, yet I took those and mummy-covered my magnolias.

Magnolia grandiflora covered with a sack over the veil

Mummy wrapped up magnolias in my garden

I forgot about the beach mats I had, being very confident in what the lady from the nursery said. However, just to be sure, I saved the roses around the magnolias from their usual cut back in the fall, thinking that they would somehow protect the magnolias from the blizzards we might have during winter. That might have worked, if it weren't for the two very deep freezes we had that winter. Such deep freeze as -22F (-30C) were unusual for our climate in the past, yet it seems it became usual during the last three winters. Our perennials thrive in such low temperatures, even if they are young. This wasn't the case for the magnolias. Lucky the deep freeze only lasted for a night each, not more. When spring came and the snow melted, I could see the damage that deep freeze has done to my garden. One of the cherry laurel bushes had damaged, brown leaves on the upper part of their branches, but those close to the ground were still green.

Cherry laurel with damaged brown leaves Cherry laurel green leaves

The roses had brown branches too and were deeply damaged and had to be cut back short.

Damaged rose stems Close-up of damaged rose stems

When the temperatures were finally positive, I uncovered the magnolias, but what a disappointment! Their leaves were brown and dry and so were part of their branches.

Damaged brown leaves on cucumber magnolia Damaged brown leaves on Magnolia grandiflora

Cutting the damaged part of the Magnolia grandiflora stem

Showing the damaged part of the Magnolia grandiflora stemI had to cut them back to where the branches seemed to be alive. I can see which is which by the branches' paler color -when the branch is dry- while the green branch is more vivid. I also checked the branch by bending it and see if it breaks easily, which means that it is dry.

After the first trimming, my Magnolia grandiflora had a stem and two branches I had to cut back short my Magnolia grandiflora, close to the ground

The sky collapsed on me when I saw the dying magnolias - my babies, which I pampered and grew for so many years, since they were only seeds! Well, this is gardening: plants live or die - it happens all the time. This is something I've learned to accept. It was too late for regrets, but maybe not too late for trying everything to fix them. The only thing I could do was cut them back short and see if they would sprout again. I had to do the same with the mimosa tree, which also had dry branches, to about half of its height. The cucumber magnolia sprouted a few leaves, which died back soon, most probably because of the drought. The mimosa tree sprouted and grew taller than before, same with the cherry laurel bush, but my beautiful 'Little Gem' magnolia seemed to be dead.

Dry mimosa tree next to blooming lilac Mimosa tree grew bigger and larger

Cherry laurel sprouting again in the spring

However, I didn't lose hope and didn't pull it out. Not yet, maybe next year, if it still shows no signs of green. One cherry laurel bush also seemed dead, yet, all of a sudden--almost by miracle--it sprouted. This gave me hope for my magnolias.

I am very sad, but life goes on. Next time I'll know better, especially now that I've learned two good lessons: first, I'll never plant any other subtropical plants in my garden if I can't protect them properly; second, to trust my instincts and have more confidence in my knowledge. I should have known better that a real gardener, who's work I already knew, is more reliable than than a store clerk's words, who probably didn't really know what she was talking about, but all she wanted was to sell her products. That's why, please follow my advice: if you'd ever need to protect your plants during winter, don't ask me - I'm not reliable, I've killed mine!