Tag Archives: deformed magnolia flowers

Garden lore: seasonal garden advice

Herewith your annual reminder of three seasonal matters.

  • If your magnolia appears to have plenty of furry buds but when they go to open, all you get is a few damaged petals – or nothing – the culprit is almost certainly a possum. They can develop a taste for the buds and eat the centre out without the damage being overly obvious to the casual eye until the blooms fail to open. A single possum is quite capable of taking out most of the buds on a tree over a few nights. Mark and the dogs head out every dry night at this time of the year on a possums-in-the-magnolias round. The price of our glorious display is seasonal vigilance (and high velocity lead, which is not an option for city dwellers).

    One of the first blooms on Magnolia Felix Jury

  • If you feel you must spray your lawn, do it on the next fine day and do not delay if if you have deciduous magnolias (or indeed kiwi fruit or any other plants that are susceptible to hormone spray drift). The faintest whiff of lawn spray at the time the leaf buds are breaking dormancy is likely to damage them badly and magnolias are particularly susceptible. Most magnolias break into leaf just as flowering finishes. Every year we get enquiries from people worrying about the deformed new foliage on their trees. Invariably, the cause is lawn spray. Unfortunately, there is not a whole lot you can do about spray-happy neighbours.
  • Get any tree or large shrub pruning done urgently. The birds will be building nests full time shortly. I am not sure what killing off birds’ eggs – or worse, later in the season, hatchlings – is called. Aviancide, perhaps? But if you have ever taken the time to watch the birds gathering materials for nests, you will realise what a huge amount of time and effort it takes. It seems very mean to destroy them, all for failing to factor that into planning for pruning.

    Vulcan in its full glory today.

Garden lore

“Woman has no seductions for the man who cannot keep his eyes off the magnolias.”

Anonymous, from Up the Garden Path by Laura Stoddart.

Magnolias and lawn spray do not mix. This one is Sprengeri diva

Magnolias and lawn spray do not mix. This one is Sprengeri diva

Magnolia problems
If you insist on spraying your lawns, and many do, then get onto it straight away. Many of the common lawn sprays are hormone-based. If you delay any longer, you risk causing severe damage to deciduous plants just breaking dormancy. It doesn’t matter how careful you are – spray drifts invisibly and the slightest whiff can damage other plants at critical times. Kiwifruit are particularly sensitive and so are magnolias.

There are two common questions about deciduous magnolias we are asked repeatedly, year in and year out. The first is related to malformed leaves, or sometimes defoliation on one side of the tree. Almost invariably, we find the enquirer has sprayed their lawn for moss and flat weeds. Of course, magnolias are often used as lawn specimens. So if you must spray, get it on as soon as there is a fine, calm day. It should not affect your magnolia at this time of winter. If you leave it until spring is advanced, there will be damage and it can be severe and unsightly.

The second common question is about completely malformed flowers on magnolias. Possum damage. You just need one critter who develops a taste for them and it can take out pretty much an entire season of blooms. It nibbles in from the top to eat the bud so you can’t spot the damage from below.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Tikorangi Diary: Friday 8 July, 2011

Footprint in the frost

Footprint in the frost

Today feels like the first blast of real winter. As it is now the second week of July, I guess we can hardly complain. Spring starts here in August. A visible frost earlier in the week had me out with the camera which is an indicator that they are not common events here. As Lloyd and I tramped across the lawn and I photographed the footprints, I did briefly ponder the advice not to walk on frosted grass. Sure enough, the footprints had turned black the next day.

The bananas are partially tucked up for winter, just in time

The bananas are partially tucked up for winter, just in time

Fortunately, Mark had covered his bananas a few days earlier. This is one fruit which we have to nurse through the winter, though we did scoff a little at the advice in the local paper last week to cover your citrus in frost cloth. We have never worried about the citrus and it has never been a problem.

Lloyd does build a nice stone pillar when required

Lloyd does build a nice stone pillar when required

Lloyd finally finished the repairs to one of the stone walls – he does build a nice stone pillar when needed, does our Lloyd. This one was started from scratch. Since then, poor man, he has been out lifting the last of the open ground magnolia crops. We still have to sell some plants here to pay for the garden so the call of the nursery has taken him away from the garden. So too for Mark, who has been spent most of his time putting in cuttings (mostly michelias from his breeding programme as he conducts propagation trials). It is getting close to the end of the cuttings season now, though we only put in a shadow of what we used to when the nursery was in full production.

Mark is out and about most evenings after dark with the dogs in search of troublesome possums who may be developing a taste for magnolia buds. Every year without fail, we get asked about magnolia trees which are opening badly deformed flowers. In our experience, the culprit is always a possum, and usually only one. Magnolias are not possum magnets as the oranges or fresh growth on roses are, but one single minded critter can take out most of the buds on a single tree over a matter of nights. Because they chew down into the centre of the bud, the damage is not obvious until the tree tries to open the flower. Mark usually does autopsies on the possums he shoots (which is to say, he analyses the contents of their stomachs to see what they have been feeding on) and upon occasion he will find one chock-a-block with magnolia buds.

Besides doing a little fiddly-faddly potting of plants to sell during our annual garden festival at the end of October (a very important time for us), I have abandoned my efforts on the rose garden (I just don’t enjoy working in that area and I have not worked out yet what is wrong with it). I will have to return to it to finish, but it has been much more fun to work in an under-used area of the woodland. I have been planting drifts of bulbs – big bulbs like Scadoxus puniceus (given that we can sell each big bulb for about $25 because it is rare here, it felt wonderfully indulgent to plant a drift of about 30 of them), Scadoxus katherinae, Haemanthus albifloss and Haemanthus conccineus. I find bulbs much more rewarding than those wretched roses and I can live with their scruffy foliage when they start to go dormant – though H. albifloss is evergreen and the others have quite short dormancy periods. I am only just getting to grips with the fact that large clumps of bulbs need more regular lifting and dividing to stop them from falling apart when in full growth. We did the auratum lilies this time last year and most of them held themselves up in summer, without needing staking. Every three to four years seems to be about right for these types of large bulbs.

For a change from grubbing in the dirt, I have been pruning rhododendrons. These are a backbone plant in our garden and winter is the ideal time for hard pruning. They do look better when dead wood and wayward branches have been removed. A few get subjected to a really hard prune back to bare stems though this sacrifices this year’s floral display for a better long term outcome.

I was going to dig some of the huge clumps of yellow clivias today, replant the largest sections and pot some of the smaller divisions for sale but it was too cold for me to want to garden. It can wait. Clivias are tough, forgiving plants and the timing of lifting and dividing is not critical at all. In fact, they won’t turn a hair, as long as they are treated properly, no matter when it is done. It shouldn’t stay this cold for long. I even caught myself with the camera, starting a photo shoot on how to divide clivias for an Outdoor Classroom – old habits die hard.

The magnolias are coming into flower. At this stage, just M. campbelli and Vulcan but the buds are swelling fast and starting to show glimpses of colour on many others. It makes this time of year one of the most exciting for us.

Magnolia Vulcan is coming in to flower

Magnolia Vulcan is coming in to flower