Sharon Hull, This Week in the Garden | Magnificent magnolias

Peninsula Premier Admin

Every year at this time, when the deciduous magnolias bloom, I am gob-smacked by the beauty of the enormous bi-colored velvety-petaled flowers and their big fat fuzzy buds. And I am reminded of what reliable performers the trees are here; in much of the U.S., because the trees bloom so early, overnight freezes often turn the flowers to black slime, completely ruining their appearance for the season. Here in our mild climate, that rarely happens since our frosts are usually not deep enough to cause the flowers and buds harm.

Many of our vintage homes have magnificent old trees that are covered in fragrant blooms at the moment; they can cause serious plant envy among gardeners, with their huge flowers in pinks, roses, purples, whites and even soft yellows. If you are contemplating planting your own magnolia, what might you find available locally? (Remember that Valentine’s Day is coming up soon. A magnolia would be a sweet gift for your honey.)

Magnolia x soulangeana, often called Saucer Magnolia or Tulip Tree, is frequently seen in old gardens here. Growing to about 25 feet with similar spread, this large tree produces white to pink or purple flowers, 3-6 inches wide; the inner surface of each petal is pale pink with the dark color occurring on the outer surface, providing a lovely bi-colored effect. Flowers appear both before and as the large medium-green leaves emerge. Seedling trees are quite variable so look for a cultivar such as one of the following if size, color and form are important to you.

Fuzzy bud of Magnolia soulangeana. (Contributed)
Magnolia soulangeana bud and open flower showing bi-color effect. (Contributed)

‘Black Tulip’ is a slender tree, excellent for container culture, or topped as a hedge. It has an unusually dark burgundy 6 inches wide flower with an elegant tulip shape. Flowers appear before the leaves emerge.

‘Alexandrina’ has huge purple pink flowers with white interiors. It is a multi-stemmed deciduous tree with a ground-hugging habit of growth. It was introduced in France around 1831.

‘Elizabeth’ produces luminous, pale yellow, cup-shaped flowers to 6 inches across that glow on the bare branches in late spring. It will become a large tree, to 30 feet high by 15-30 feet wide.

‘Vulcan’ produces, in early spring, rich, ruby-red blossoms that are 10-12 inches across, beginning at a young age. The form is slender and elegant, vigorous, to 15 feet tall and 10 feet wide.

M. liliflora ‘Nigra’ is a compact, rounded, shrubby tree that matures to 8-12 feet tall and as wide. Each lily-shaped flower has six (sometimes seven) purple petals with white insides (petals are 3-4 inches long).

Magnolia stellata (Star Magnolia) produces flowers that are quite unlike those of M. soulaneana types. The slightly fragrant white or pink flowers, with strappy petals that open to resemble stars, are produced prolifically in late winter. The tree blooms quite early in winter so it is best to plant where you can see the flowers from inside your home. It grows only to about 10 feet and twice as wide, usually with a multi-stemmed shrubby form.

Magnolias are easy care plants with no serious pests or diseases but they do have fleshy roots that resent being transplanted from their original spot, so site carefully and allow for future growth. The larger-growing specimens show up best when the background highlights the flowers and big fuzzy buds as well as the picturesque gray limbs. Don’t plant other smaller plants, like annuals or perennials, under them since any digging will disturb those sensitive roots. They like soil that is neutral to slightly acid, amended with lots of organic matter at planting, and slow release fertilizer if growth is weak or sparse. Provide good drainage and full sun for best health, growth and bloom. Young trees need regular irrigation during our dry seasons but the trees become more drought-resistant as they mature.

Garden tips are provided courtesy of horticulturist Sharon Hull of San Lorenzo Garden Center. Contact her at 831-423-0223.

Contributed by local news sources

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