Magnolia’s turn to shine

Kelly Heidbreder
Kelly Heidbreder

The birds are chirping, the weeds are flourishing, and the buds on the spring bloomers are just popping out.

One of my favorite spring show-stoppers is the magnolia and this would be a great year to add a few to your landscape if you don’t have them. They are easy to grow and are bursting with blossoms. Give them a sunny location or even a morning shade and afternoon sun, and they will thrive.

M. x soulangeana or the Saucer Magnolia is a really popular cultivar. Its blooms look like the saucer under your teacup and usually have a blush of pink on the petals. Some cultivars have a deep pink or purple flower.

My grandmother had a line of these in her yard in Petersburg, Mich. We used to rip all of the lower flowers off the shrubs and bring in fists full of them to her. I’m sure she was mortified at our rough care of her shrubs, but she always smiled and put the big blooms in her favorite floating vases.

Many species like M.stellata or Star Magnolia are blooming right now. They get their name from their flowers that look like a pointy star. They are very fragrant and can stay compact and bushy with the right kind of pruning, or spread to the height of a small 15-20 foot tree if they have enough space.

It doesn’t take a whole lot of effort to keep your magnolia bush in shape. Cut out anything that is dead or broken any time of the year. If it has only been planted for a year or two, you shouldn’t prune it. Just like a toddler, let it get a strong root system going before you send the energy back out to the stems.

If your magnolia is a few years old and needs to be trimmed into shape, do it after it stops blooming. For most cultivars, you will have to wait until mid summer. You can find magnolia cultivars that will bloom from early spring until late summer and extend the flowering season for up to seven months.

Once the blooms have started to fade, cut them off. Just clip back to the next healthy bud. If you have a few stems that are growing wild, you can rein them in by give them a bit of a trim. Cut them back to match the length of the others on the bush.

If your magnolia is decades old, it might need a major overhaul. They might seem set in their ways just like we can get after many years of bad habits. But if you really shake things up, you can move in a new direction. So can your magnolia.

You need to start doing some shrub remodeling and this process can take three or four years. First, cut about a quarter to a third of the oldest stems all the way down to about two feet above the ground.

Next year, do the same thing, choosing the oldest stems and cutting them way back. By the third or fourth season, you will have gotten rid of the old wood and your plant will start to look years younger.

Clip the blooms and bring them inside. They will brighten up everyone’s day.

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