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Southern Gardening

Japanese Magnolias Offer Winter Beauty

By Norman Winter

MSU Horticulturist
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center

The large, tulip-shaped, purple, pink and white flowers of the Japanese magnolia will open soon in neighborhoods all across our state, making you wish you had planted one or two. One of Napoleon's retired soldiers is credited with making the cross.

Japanese MagnoliaThese huge-flowers produced in late winter and early spring are a sight long remembered. The past few years they have been exceptional in bloom. It won't be long until they start to show up at garden centers.

These will be dormant like the ones currently in your neighborhood. Since they will not be blooming yet, the demand will be low, offering you top choices in selection. This also gives you time to get them in the landscape before they bloom.

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.

If by some chance you have to plant in late spring to early summer, you may want to form a 4-inch berm outside the root ball area. This berm should be able to hold 5 gallons of water. The berm makes it easy to get needed water to the root ball at a time when Mother Nature may not be so generous. Remove the berm after the first year.

The height of Japanese 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 fragrance. Even if the blossoms get killed by freezes every other year, those years in bloom are worth it. The large, fuzzy buds are also unique in the winter garden and can be used as an accent or specimen.

The early spring or late winter garden can look like a Thomas Kincade painting with the Japanese magnolia, Taiwan cherry forsythia, flowering quince and early blooming narcissus. With the addition of plants like these, our spring will seem to be extended because the azaleas, dogwoods and redbuds will follow these first blooms. The Japanese magnolia is also superior in that it has no serious pests or diseases.

Feed Japanese magnolias in late winter. Apply a formula such as an 8-8-8 fertilizer at a rate of one pound per 100 square feet of planted area. This is the area from the trunk to just outside the canopy. If you feel you need to do some pruning, do so after the bloom cycle.

Alexandrina is one of the most popular varieties, but color varies and it is sometimes best to buy in bloom to select the color you want. Burgundy (deep purple), Rustica Rubra (reddish purple) and Lennei (dark purple) are well-known choices. Verbanica (light purple) is gaining recognition for showing good frost tolerance during blooming. Also try Magnolia stellata, the star magnolia with white star-like flowers.


Released: Jan. 8, 2001
Contact: Norman Winter, (601) 857-2284

Editor's Note: Ideal publication dates of Southern Gardening columns are within one month of their release. Editors should examine older columns carefully for any information that could be time sensitive.

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