Magnolia trees can be a wonderful addition to any landscape. Their large fragrant flowers and attractive glossy green leaves can give any landscape a focal point to build around especially during the flowering season. Homeowners looking to add a tree to their landscape will rejoice in the fact that magnolias are also cold hardy. Magnolias come in differing sizes, some are available as small specimen trees and others can be large shade producers. Those of us living in northern counties can plant deciduous magnolias which are grown more as large shrubs than trees and can have different colored flowers depending on the variety. Let me help you pick the tree that may be right for your yard. I will also tell you of some of the problems associated with magnolia trees.
The largest and stateliest of the Magnolia family is the Magnolia Grandifloria, or Southern Magnolia. This tree is the one most of us see in open areas and can grow to a height of 60-80 feet tall. It produces large white blooms which are very fragrant. If you are looking for a shade tree that is cold hardy this may be the one you should choose. The large leaves of this tree are glossy and can withstand the high temperatures in our area. After the flowers have fallen off, the tree will produce a seed pod which wildlife will feed on. If you plan on using this tree in your yard be sure to give it room to grow and water and feed the tree as it is establishing itself. As the tree ages, little care is needed and the tree will give you years of enjoyment.
If you are looking for a medium sized magnolia that still has the fragrant white blossoms, then you need to pick the “Little Gem” Magnolia. “Little Gem’s” are a smaller version of the larger Southern Magnolia. Growing to a height of only 15-20 feet, the “Little Gem” could work well in any landscape. The leaves are only one third the size of the larger Southern Magnolia and its flowering season is from early summer to late fall. Little Gems will actually flower a little earlier and stay in bloom longer than the Southern Magnolia. Because this tree grows more upright, 20ft tall and 10 ft wide, homeowners can use the “Little Gem” in many locations around the yard. When used as a corner plant, homeowners can plant hedges or flowering plants around its base. Another benefit is that the “Little Gem” is cold tolerant and can be used in both moist but well drained soils to dry soil conditions.
I have had many opportunities to run across another variety of magnolia which is sold in this area called the Magnolia “Stellata” or Japanese Magnolia. This magnolia is usually pictured with gorgeous pink or white flowers and only grows to a height of 8-10ft. When this plant blooms the flowers and colors are magnificent but in this area this is a rare occurrence. Homeowners have called me inquiring about whether or not this tree can grow here or to ask why this tree has never bloomed for them. This deciduous tree grows better in north Florida where cool air temperatures allow the chilling requirements and soil conditions this plant needs for blooming. My personal recommendation is not to plant this species in our area. If you currently have one of these trees and you still wish to plant it you will need to improve the soil with compost and peat. Plant the tree on the north side of your home in a shady area and be sure you irrigate the tree regularly.
Taking care of magnolia trees is fairly easy if you follow a few simple tips. First of all remember, magnolias will drop leaves. This is not because the leaves are diseased but rather the trees produce an abundance of leaves and as older leaves are shed new ones are produced. I remember Gil Whitton, (my former friend and mentor) telling people to buy two rakes for their large trees because magnolias drop leaves regularly. This rarely will make the tree look bare because as I have stated, new leaves are continually being produced. There are however, a few insects and fertilizer tips I want to share with you.
Magnolia scale or false oleander scales are small white scales that sometime infest magnolia leaves. Look close at the leaves on your tree and if you notice this small scale on the underside or top of the leaves you will need to treat them. Look for them on the midrib of the leaf and if you do see a lot of them spray your tree with malathion and oil. Because this scale is hard to kill you may need to make two applications applied 10 days apart.
Another problem the leaves get is a fungal problem called algal leaf spot. Algal leaf spot forms small gray colored concaved spots measuring one quarter to one half inch on the leaves that in rare situations coalesce. If you see these spots on your leaves you will need to spray your tree with a fungicide to control this fungus. Other than these two problems your tree is relatively free of other problems.
Most magnolias receive fertilizer as you are taking care of your turf grass however; I have found that applications of iron will dramatically help the color and vitality of magnolia trees. I use a product called Ironite around my magnolia trees. Ironite is a granular iron product normally available at any local garden center. Ironite comes in 25 to 40 pound bags and you can spread it out around your tree with a fertilizer spreader. If you use a spreader to apply this product be sure to sweep off any surfaces such as sidewalks or white surfaces as this may stain. Allow at least 30 days for the product to be absorbed by the tree.
I hope that if you are considering a shade tree or dooryard tree for your yard that you will consider a magnolia tree. Thank you for your support and until next time, remember without plants we wouldn’t be here!