I had only to glance out of the window to find the topic for today's column. My neighbor has a beautiful pale pink magnolia in full bloom, and my young magnolia stellata is covered with white, starry flowers.
Driving through town is always a pleasure in the spring, when all the flowering trees are showing their colors. In this summery spring, they are as beautiful as they have ever been.
The magnolia is a survivor of ancient forests where the large, colorful flowers and noticeable fragrance were adapted for pollination by clumsy, slow-moving beetles in the time before bees. Fossilized remains have been dated to 50 million years of age.
Magnolias still grow wild in Central America and Mexico, and there are 125 known species, nine of them native to the forests of North America.
Their native habitat is moist woodland, and so ideal planting spots would be in damp areas with plentiful humus in the soil. Standing water could be harmful, but young trees will benefit from watering in dry summers. Avoid low areas where cold air could collect.
A north exposure will delay early opening, so help to guard against a spring frost that could cause browning of flower petals.
This said, my magnolia is flourishing in clay soil where water pools after a downpour. Apparently, a tree whose ancestors have survived for millions of years has developed resistance to conditions that are less than ideal.
My little tree is 3 years old now. I had always wanted a star magnolia, but they were expensive and I really had no room for another shrub, but some moving around freed a space, and I am so happy with the result.
The eventual size of magnolia stellata can be as much as 15 feet wide and tall, but that problem is far down the road.
The white flowers appear before the leaves and the buds develop in July, ready for flowering the following year. For this reason, the shrub should not be pruned. If pruning is absolutely necessary, early summer would be the best time. If branches are removed, the wounds may not heal.
This year, blooming is earlier than usual, along with most other plants in this warm spring. April is the expected time to welcome the flowers, which are white and many-petaled.
Other varieties which do well in this area include soulangeana and liliflora with blossoms of pink, cream or purplish red. I remember a hospital stay many years ago at the old Mercy Hospital when the beautiful old magnolia on the front
lawn seemed to be tapping at my window.
Magnolia should not be transplanted because root damage may kill the plant, and the initial planting needs great care to protect the tender roots. The rootball should not be spread.
Once settled in, it is a good idea to underplant with some variety of ground cover to minimize disturbance from weeding or other
activity in the topsoil around the trunk.
The best method of propagation is by layering. This is an easy but slow process. In June or July, select a branch near the ground, with a year-old one most likely to succeed, and peg it to the ground.
Mound a little soil over the spot and leave it alone.
In one or two years, sufficient roots should have formed to support the new shrub, which can be cut away and planted. I am going to try this.
My thanks to all the people who grow flowering trees. Tiffin is a more beautiful place because of your efforts.
Janet Del Turco is a local gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener program. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.