Magic is happening all across the Southeast right now with incredible blooms of the early season magnolias. If you have never seen them then you might be thinking I am talking about some early variety of the Southern magnolia of which movies are made, and books are written.
These are different and go by names like saucer magnolia, tulip magnolia, Japanese magnolia which all seem to fit beginning with incredible cross originally credited to one of Napoleon's retired soldiers. Actually, Etienne Soulange-Bodin was much more than a soldier, he was an agronomist, a hero in the world of gardening and founder of the Royal Institute of Horticulture at Fremont near Paris.
I remember the first time that I saw them, I was a young adult playing in a golf tournament at Callaway Gardens, in Pine Mountain, Ga., Having spent most of my life in west Texas this was an experience forever remembered not only with their beauty but fragrance too.
Botanically speaking we refer to these wonderful blooming trees as Magnolia x soulangeana with the accepted common name Chinese magnolia. The hybrids today, however, will stump even the best of horticulturists and taxonomists, but don't let that stop you from including this dazzling display as your opening curtain call for spring. Even if freezes knock the blooms back from time to time, this small tree is a must-have in the landscape.
The same can be said for the star magnolia, Magnolia stellata. A couple of days ago I was mesmerized by a cluster of three of them growing at a strip mall of all places. The olfactory experience made me want to grab all of the customers to come and take in the sweet aroma. I am sure I would have been carried away, but such is the power of these harbingers of spring. The Magnolia stellata has also been used as a parent in many hybrids including the exotic looking Loebner magnolia, Magnolia x loebneri.
Even though I am touting them because of what is happening in the Southeast, a wide geographic range can grow them as they are cold hardy in zones 4-9. Three-gallon and larger plants are arriving at our garden centers now waiting for you to adopt them and find a home in your landscape.
If you look at the internet and see the number of varieties in the marketplace you will be stunned. I assure you, you will not find this-many-selections at your garden center. You will find a good number however and now is the time to start shopping. Visit those certified nurserymen in your area that specialize in great woody ornamentals. When you decide to plant, choose a site that is fertile, well-drained, moist and ideally offers wind protection.
Dig the hole three to five times as wide as the root ball, but no deeper. The top of the root ball should be even with the soil profile. You may ask yourself why we always suggest the hole be wide. This allows for the easiest and quickest root-expansion and thus good establishment in your landscape.
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The height of these magnolias varies with the cultivar and will range from 15- to- 30 feet. Space them 15- to- 20 feet apart or from other spring-blooming trees. Their flowers border on the spectacular with color, shape, size and tantalizing fragrance. The large, fuzzy buds also offer unique texture in the winter garden.
The early spring or late winter garden can truly look like a painting if you include a saucer or Chinese magnolia, or star magnolia with other bloomers like Taiwan cherry, camellias, forsythia, and early blooming narcissus. With the addition of plants like these, your spring will seem to be extended as the azaleas, dogwoods, and redbuds quickly follow.
Follow me on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.
(Norman Winter, horticulturist, garden speaker and author of, "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden." Follow him on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.)
(c)2019 Norman Winter
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