Lee Valley Tools    Gardening Newsletter
   Vol. 8, Issue 4
   April 2013
   Magnolias for Cooler Climates
Kobushi magnolia
A stunning Kobushi magnolia grown in Ottawa, Ontario (Canadian zone 5b).
There's no denying the beauty of magnolias. In any garden, they make exquisite specimen plantings and beautiful informal groupings. With some 125 species, including both deciduous and evergreen shrubs and trees, they can grow anywhere from 2m to 25m or more. Their cup- or saucer-shaped blossoms, with prominent pistils and stamens, emerge at the end of buds that often resemble pussy willows. The tepals (sepals and petals that are visually similar) number six or more and are ovate or slender. Bloom colors, solid or in combination, include creamy white, pink, purple, yellow and even green. So far, there is no true red. Magnolias' oval, smooth-edged leaves are slightly wider towards their tips, while the lower parts can be lobed. A short stem supports each leaf. In fall, the spirally arranged follicles of cucumber-shaped seed pods turn green with rosy-red tints. A follicle produces one or two orange-red fruits, each containing a large black seed. Supporting the lot is a trunk with smooth bark that becomes rough with age, and fleshy shallow roots assisted by impressive tap roots.

Magnolias thrive in rich, loamy, slightly acidic soil. It must be kept moist, as their root systems don't tolerate drought, especially when newly planted. Mulching helps retain moisture and enriches the soil as it breaks down. New mulch can be applied annually or biennially over peat moss (which helps maintain soil acidity), compost or well-rotted manure. Azalea fertilizer or synthetic fertilizer, perhaps 10-10-10, can be applied shortly after blooms fade and again in late June. Several hours of sun per day encourages generous blooming, although younger trees can tolerate semi-shade until mature enough to bloom. Early-blooming varieties beat other deciduous trees to available light, provided their blooms survive the frost.
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