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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
Growing Together: Let’s explore the world of magnolias
The Leonard Messel magnolia is the most common cultivar - like all magnolias, they prefer well-drained soil in a full sun to part sun location.

What would spring be without seeing the first of the magnolias bursting forth into bloom?

The magnolia tree has captivated imaginations across time and cultures with its beautiful, large waxy leaves and plush white to pink flowers. Some of the blooms also have a wonderful perfume to them that fills the air in the early spring.

And this year, after our mild winter, they are opening even earlier than normal.

Though magnolia flowers are gorgeous and fragrant, they last about two weeks before they fall off. I think that’s why we wait with anticipation for the flowers to open every spring. They are not a long-lasting flower, but they do make you stop in your steps to enjoy its beauty.

The magnolia flowers can symbolize different qualities according to their colour. White magnolia flowers can stand for purity, luck and stability. Pink magnolias stand for joy, youth and innocence. Purple flowers mean well wishes for health and good luck.

If you are looking for a magnolia tree to plant into your garden, it’s good to know that there are several species of magnolias available in our climate. Here are some of the more popular species and cultivars commonly found in local garden centres.

On home and native land

Did you know that there is a magnolia that is native to this area and Carolinian forest? It’s called the cucumber magnolia (magnolia acuminata). It’s getting harder to finding it growing naturally as urban sprawl continues but can still be found especially along the northern shore of Lake Erie.

In its youth, it is a distinctly pyramidal form, but rounds out with age — like most of us.

The cucumber magnolia can reach heights of 50 to 80 feet and slightly less is width. Its smaller two-and-a-half to three-inch flowers borne in late May to early June are yellow green in colour are sometimes difficult spotting in bloom as the flowers are born high in the canopy.

In the fall, the leaves turn an attractive ashy brown in colour. The tree is known for its seed pod, shaped like a cucumber, that will turn into a pinkish red fruit in October.

Simply Elizabeth

A better-known cultivar, which is a cross between magnolia acuminata and magnolia heptapeta, is “Elizabeth.” Its habit is a symmetrical pyramidal shape. Its finely tapering buds open to a paler primrose-yellow colour. It blooms from late April to mid-May.

Loebner magnolia

Another species of magnolia is Loebner magnolia (Magnolia x loebneri) which is a cross between Magnolia kobus and Magnolia stellata. This species is medium-to-large, reaching 25 feet high and 28 feet wide. The flowers typically have 12 petals similar to the star magnolia. They are fragrant and open sometime in mid-to late-April — one of the earlier blooming varieties.

Leonard Messel

The most common cultivar is one called “Leonard Messel.” Its petals are flushed with a purple-pink line along the center of the petal. Like all magnolias, they prefer a well-drained soil in a full sun to part sun location.

Saucer magnolia

Saucer magnolia is probably the most common of the magnolias in this area. Its large flower buds start to open as a medium pink and fade out to light pink/white when fully opened. The flowers typically have nine petals and open up to about ten-inch flowers late April to early May. The saucer magnolia can grow up to be 20 to 30 feet high and wide.

A helpful tip for all Magnolias is that you should never prune more than a third of its branches off at one time.

Shining stars

Star magnolia (magnolia stella) is a deciduous small tree or large shrub that produces star-shaped white flowers in later winter or early spring, before any other flowering tree — and before even most spring bulbs.

When possible, plant it in a sheltered location to help it flower in the spring, since the buds are easily damaged by frost — which could be the reason why the magnolia buds won’t open, if you’re having that issue.

The white and pink flowering types are star magnolias such as royal star (white) and pink star (pink). The star Magnolias are some of the smaller growing types but can still reach 15 to 20 feet in height and 12 to 15 feet in width. 

The other guys

Some other varieties of magnolias that are suitable for our climate, but not as commonly found are: Magnolia grandiflora (evergreen magnolia), magnolia macrophylla (bigleaf magnolia), magnolia quinquepta (lily magnolia), magnolia sieboldii (summer blooming), and magnolia virginiana (sweetbay magnolia).  

As you can see, there are many species and cultivars available to choose from when choosing your tree. Now is the best time to go to the garden cenres to see them in bloom and choose the best one.

Happy shopping!

Joanne Young is a Niagara-on-the-Lake garden expert and coach. See her website at joanneyoung.ca

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