Magnolia wonders: how to grow the country’s favorite flowering tree

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My favorite at Junker is “Apollo”. The flowers are glamorous with a distinctive two-tone effect. They’re a deep pink when they open, but fade to a pale pink or white as they get older, and it’s a nice mix.

The scent is not powerful but incenseful, a bit like a lily. The anthers are dark pink, with a dark pink filament, and they have a very exotic-looking stigma with a green center, covered with numerous pink hairs.

This is especially noticeable in this cultivar as the petals reflect when mature, which really shows the center. ‘Apollo’ is a shrub variety that most of us could incorporate into our gardens, and Karan says that overall a great, easy plant.

“Ian’s Red” is my next pick. This comes from New Zealand and has campbellii genetics in its blend, resulting in huge and impressive blooms. They have a slightly textured surface – like curtains of raw silk; they are the color of blackcurrant mousse and smell deliciously like apple.

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Another of my favorites is “Alex”. This is also fragrant – smelling of lilac – and has perfect tulip blossoms, pale pink on the inside, with a lightly dusted magenta-crimson pigment on the outside. It has a beautiful bronze tint to its emerging leaves.

‘Joli Pom-Pom’ is also irresistible, with pure white flowers that resemble glorified water lilies.

The flowers have a wonderful texture and there is a huge clutch of striped, green and pink anthers with a purple top and a bright green elongated stigma. These look like a split zinnia in the middle of the flower.

Another beautiful white with a smaller flower is ‘Pirouette’.

These remind me of gardenias, fully double with lots of petals. Karan loves this one – an instant buttonhole. It can be pure white or have a little pink in the flowers, depending on the weather. It has a good fragrance, sweet but slightly camphorated.

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For anyone who wants a medium sized tree, Karan recommends ‘Red Lion’. This has huge, classic magnolia tulip-shaped flowers, pink with dusted outer petals and dark pink feathered on cream. Some flowers are much darker with no trace of cream.

The flower stems come straight out of the branches, holding all the tulips very straight. Ladybugs love to overwinter in the buds.

The final magnolia that we are looking at is “Goldfinch”. In addition to white and pink, magnolias also come in yellow forms. These are the last to flower, they bloom from late April to May, so hopefully they will be frost-free even in colder areas.

“Goldfinch” is one of the oldest of these yellow varieties, and it is derived from the North American species Magnolia acuminata. These even thrive on alkaline soils and grow well on chalk.

Late spring is a great time for planting. What you do now will shape your garden for decades, if not centuries, to come.

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Planting and cultivation advice

  • Magnolias are cold hardy and resilient. The foliage blackened by a late frost will soon regrow.
  • Karan strongly recommends investing in larger factories. At Junker, they find that magnolias establish themselves much more reliably from a larger plant.
  • Magnolias have traditionally been considered to have a preference for acidic soils, but Karan concluded that soil structure is more important than pH.
  • Magnolias hate to dry out in the summer. Their huge leaves need a lot of moisture. This condition alone will damage them more than anything else. So add a little organic matter when you fill the planting hole.
  • Leaf mold or compost from yard or municipal waste is the substance to use, not mushroom compost. The main thing is then to mulch very generously on top and to do it again in the spring each year.

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