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Magnolias are trees or shrubs with astonishing goblet- or star-shaped flowers that are admired icons of spring and summer. Evergreen magnolias are particularly good for wall-training.
Common name MagnoliaBotanical name MagnoliaGroup Shrub or treeFlowering time Spring, summerPlanting time Autumn, winter and springHeight and spread 2-15m (6½-50ft) by 3-10m (10-33ft)Aspect Sun or part shade, shelteredHardiness Fully hardy but flower buds may be frostedDifficulty Moderate
Deciduous magnolias usually flower in spring before leaf emergence. Magnolia grandiflora (bull bay), the most commonly grown evergreen, flowers in flushes from summer until early autumn. In warm summers these can be followed by striking knobbly seedpods from which bright red seeds emerge in autumn.
Site in full sun to give the best growth and flowering. Magnolias thrive in any fertile, moist garden soil that is not dry and alkaline:
Pruning is seldom required, with the following exceptions:
The evergreen Magnolia grandiflora flowers and grows particularly well if trained against a sunny wall;
Layering shoots near ground level is the easiest propagation method.
Deciduous magnolias can be propagated from soft- and greenwood cuttings. Liquid feed rooted cuttings and overwinter in a frost-free place. Magnolias are not easy to strike from cuttings and artificial light may be needed from summer until leaf fall if they are to be developed enough to survive the first winter.
For evergreens, take semi-ripe cuttings in late summer and early autumn.
Magnolias grow readily from seed but may take over 10 years to begin flowering. Collect seeds when the cones begin to split. Many of the seeds do not fully develop due to lack of pollination. The shiny black seeds will be covered by an orange-red fleshy covering which should be cleaned away with water. Mix the cleaned seed with moist sand or vermiculite, then place in a polythene bag in the refrigerator for two to four months before sowing under cover. Dried seed is often unsuccessful. Pot on seedlings as soon as large enough to handle and grow on in containers for two or three years before planting them in the garden.
Magnolia stellata AGM: shrub to 3m (10ft) x 4m (13ft). Abundant, star-shaped, many-petalled pure white or faintly blushed flowers from early to mid-spring.
M. 'Jane' (Kosar hybrid) AGM: shrub to 4m (13ft) x 3m (10ft). Cup-shaped, fragrant, purple-red flowers in late spring.
M. × loebneri 'Leonard Messel' AGM: rounded tree to 8m (24ft) x 6m (20ft). Many-petalled, star-shaped, pale pink flowers in mid-spring.
RHS Find a PlantAGM Magnolia
Non-flowering: Newly planted trees can take several years to settle before starting into flower. Flowering is very dependent on site, and for M. grandiflora plants in warm, sunny conditions are likely to flower best. Excess pruning can also delay flowering.
Blackened flowers or buds: Flowers and flower buds of the early spring flowering magnolias are susceptible to frost damage.
Yellow leaves: Young leaves of many magnolia are naturally pale but yellowing of more mature foliage may be caused by excessive alkalinity.
Leaf loss: Leaves of evergreen magnolias are long lasting but are shed after several years leading to harmless, if alarming, leaf fall episodes in early summer.
Watch out also for signs of bracket fungi, brown leaves, honey fungus and Phytophthora root rot.
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