Garden with a Winner!™

February 18, 2018- Magnolia

Ontario has a native Magnolia, Magnolia acuminata or the cucumber Magnolia (tree). Unfortunately this native plants is listed as “endangered” in natural habitat. One can still find native stands in some parts of the Niagara region in Ontario, however the ever fragmentation of habitat due to commercial real estate and increased indiscriminate ATV traffic, these limited stands are in peril. Magnolia acuminata is sensitive to prolonged dry periods as well as very wet conditions, compounding the problem significantly. Whenever you discover or realize that a plant is native to your region or for that matter, Canada, it’s a pretty sure bet that the plant will be tough and hardy enough to withstand the Canadian conditions. Magnolias should be in heavy bud in late February and into March, depending of course on the temperatures that Mother Nature has imposed. Keep in mind that the genus Magnolia has been growing for a very, very long time with paleobotanic evidence from the age of the dinosaurs and before. Given this information it should make Magnolias of any variety or species attractive to the Canadian gardener. Some of the genus have leathery, evergreen foliage that is typically quite waxy while others are deciduous with somewhat hairy leaves.

Magnolia acuminata has simple foliage about the size of a man’s hand and is one of the deciduous species. The flowers tend to open around the same time as the leaves start to break bud, giving a reasonable spring show. Many people admire the sweet scent of the flowers however there are other species that have much headier aromas. This tree will grow to a height of 30 meters so is best planted in a location offering ample room for spread.

Saucer Magnolia, Magnolia X soulangeana is quite the deciduous specimen tree for any sizeable landscape. This tree can reach heights of 30 meters and a considerable spread as well. Blossoms on Saucer magnolia are enormous and are in heavy bud in late February, generally speaking. Given that the flower buds are formed the previous season, and the sun’s intensity is increasing rapidly, it’s a good idea to select a location to plant this tree that is somewhat sheltered. Additionally, it is wise to avoid southern exposures as the potential of early bud break is much higher. The chilling spring winds are naturally not the best for the emerging Magnolia flowers. The blossoms themselves are large, like a saucer, hence the name and provide a very pleasing aroma reminiscent of citrus, at least to my nose. Magnolia acuminate is perhaps the most common of all Magnolias on the market with many colourful hybrid varieties reaching garden centres and nurseries on a regular basis. Blossoms now range from the typical pinkish – white through pure pink and burgundy.

The evergreen Magnolia relatives such as Magnolia grandiflora have a restrictive hardiness range. Gardeners being who we are, attempt regularly to grow plants well out of range, Magnolia grandiflora often falls into this category. Relegated to the milder climates of British Columbia and very protected southern Ontario zones, this gorgeous magnolia would offer significant bragging rights to those who keep a specimen successfully. The Southern Magnolia as it is known commonly, is the plant referred to in many classics such as “Gone With The Wind” as the sweet smelling tree so associated with the deep south of North America. Well worth the effort if your zone is accommodating as the results, even on a small specimen, are outstanding. Boasting huge, dark green and very waxy foliage with a “cinnamon” coloured fuzzy underside, the foliage is totally eclipsed by the flowers. Enormous, dinnerplate sized blooms almost flop they are so leathery and heavy. The scent is mesmerizing, intoxicating and very exotic with once again, citrus overtones. The large floral structure in the centre of the flower is prominent and if pollinated, will form a cucumber-like structure with eventual dark red berries. A good friend of mine who moved to Vancouver Island from Saskatchewan, shares photos of his Southern Magnolia so laden with bloom that it requires support. Indeed, bragging rights (he didn’t move it from Saskatchewan however, I’m just sayin’)!


February 18th, 2018