Gardening Articles: Landscaping :: Trees, Shrubs, & Vines

Magnolias (page 2 of 3)

by Eliot Tozer

Deciduous Magnolia Varieties

The genus Magnolia comprises about 128 species, most of which are evergreen. Trees are native to Asia, the southeastern United States, Latin America, and South America. Only six species are native to the United States.

Magnolias grow as trees, some reaching 100 feet, and as multi-trunk shrubs, a few of which can reach 50 feet tall. However, most of the shrubs, which are characterized by multiple stems, range in height from 10 to 20 feet. Most deciduous magnolias are precocious (they bloom before the leaves appear), producing a spectacular display of unalloyed color. Magnolias that bloom in February or March (or earlier) are precocious.

Asked to select his favorite magnolias, Figlar doesn't hesitate to run through his list: Oyama (M. sieboldii) and Yulan magnolias (M. denudata) are great magnolias. Anyone can grow them. Lily magnolias (M. liliiflora), are also easy to grow. 'Vulcan', a cross of M. campbellii and M. liliiflora is magnificent. So is 'Spectrum', a cross between M. liliiflora 'Nigra' and M. sprengeri 'Diva'." Like almost all fanciers, Figlar loves the star magnolias (M. stellata) 'Centennial', 'Royal Star', and 'Rubra'. And M. zenii because it blooms in March. M. biondii, though its flowers aren't spectacular, also starts to bloom very early in spring.

Other experts weigh in with their favorite deciduous magnolias. In a 1996 article in American Nurseryman, garden writer Nancy Rose listed several magnolias well suited for urban landscapes in the Upper Midwest. Among them were M. stellata and M. loebneri 'Leonard Messel' and 'Merrill'. And Barry Yinger, a plant explorer and writer, gives high praise to two new David Leach introductions, available for the first time this year: 'Golden Girl' produces axillary as well as terminal blossoms over a four-week period, and 'Coral Lake' is the first coral-colored magnolia.

Fraser magnolia (M. fraseri) blooms after 7 years, M. campbellii 'Lanarth' after 16, the whiteleaf (M. hypoleuca) after 8, and Sargent's (M. sargentiana robusta) after 15 years. M. stellata, on the other hand, blooms in about 3 years from a cutting, and Figlar once grew a bigleaf that bore a 10-inch flower when it was 4 years old and 14 inches tall.

He says, "Almost any magnolia grown alone on the corner of a front lawn makes a fine specimen, except for the so-called eight Little Girls, also known as Kosar-DeVos hybrids -- 'Ann', 'Betty', and so forth -- and the small, shrubby star magnolia, which are too small to stand as specimens. Magnolia also look fine in groups; their colors are pleasingly compatible. But don't crowd them in with other kinds of trees and shrubs. I planted mine along the side of the yard to look like a woodland border." Figlar likes to plant an area densely, letting the leaves touch and the branches intertwine. When they get too crowded, he cuts some away.

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