Is there a lovelier plant than a magnolia in full bloom? Maybe that is too extreme, but at this time of the year the absolute glory of magnolias all around me truly makes my heart sing. I will be talking about them with Tony Murrell on Radio Live tomorrow morning – tune in at about 7.45am these days.
Herewith, my answers to frequently asked questions.
- If your magnolia looks as if it still has furry buds (the outer casing of the flower bud that our children used to describe as sleeping bags for mice) but they fail to open to blooms or only show a splash of damaged petal, the culprit is almost certainly a possum. If you examine a bud, you will see where it has eaten its way in to take out the tasty centre. A single possum is capable of destroying most of the buds even on very large trees. Mark has been shooting possums most of his life and has carried out autopsies on the stomach contents of literally thousands of them over the years. This is because he wants to know what they are eating and it is part of the process of skinning them and jointing the carcass to feed the dogs. Old habits die hard and it seem a waste to discard both the fur – which can be sold – and the meat. At this time of the year, he can find a few possums wreaking havoc with stomach contents entirely comprised of magnolia buds. Red buds from early varieties on this one in the photo.
- Once the flowers are open, we have seen kereru eating the petals, particularly of the early varieties. But they don’t destroy an entire tree and we are willing to accept the damage. We have heard of the Eastern rosella parrots stripping trees up north but we have not seen it here, even though we have some of this Australian import here.
- This is your annual advice NOT to spray your lawn from here on. Without fail, every year, we get enquiries about magnolias opening with distorted foliage and without fail, when we enquire, the person has used lawn spray nearby in early spring Most lawn sprays are hormone-based and will cause damage to a number of crops including tomato plants, kiwi fruit and grapes. Magnolias are particularly vulnerable at the point when they are about to break into fresh leaf and because they are often used as specimen plants in or close to the lawn, they cop the spray drift. If you must spray your lawn, at least wait now until later in spring when the trees have put on their new foliage.
- As far as we are concerned, it is a myth from England that magnolias cannot be moved. We have moved large trees but do it in late autumn or winter, not spring.
- If your coloured magnolia is flowering for the first time and the colour is not what you expected, take a look at the flower form. Some magnolias will put up pale blooms to start with. If the flower shape is more or less correct, then be patient. With a bit more maturity, the colour should deepen. This is particularly true of the deeper coloured reds and purples.
- If your magnolia has two totally different flowers on it, it is most likely that the root stock has escaped and is growing too. Most magnolias are budded onto a strong growing root stock. Over time, a root stock that has put out shoots will out-compete the chosen variety budded onto it, so it really does need to be removed. Examine the base of the trunk. Budding is done just above the soil level so you will find the rogue growth on the lowest branching level. Anything below the bud (or graft) is rootstock, above is the chosen variety. The sooner the escaped root stock is removed, the better.
Finally, I posted the two photos below on our Facebook garden page but I wanted to include them here too. This is the sight I see when I look out of the window every morning – upstairs, looking across to one of our boundaries. That stand-out magnolia is Mark’s Felix Jury, named for his father. The white adjacent to it is Manchu Fan, the pinks are all unnamed seedlings. It is an absolute stand-out magnolia and I can boast because Mark won’t.