Blooms really popped out in the past few days, brightening the scene with lovely spring colors that stand out against the late-winter landscape. I think one of the best of these early bloomers is the saucer magnolia, a medium-sized tree that unfolded its blooms almost overnight.
This is such a joy to see, not forgetting the bridal-wreath spiraeas, forsythias, star magnolias, daffodils, redbuds and camellias that also make this a beautiful time of year.
And the saucer magnolia brings not only beautiful flowers, but a lovely tree that is well-suited for smaller properties, typically growing at a moderate pace over time to 15 to 25 feet tall and wide. It typically has several trunks, which makes it seem like a large shrub for many years until it matures into a taller plant that is clearly a tree. It is, of course, a relative of the evergreen Southern magnolia, famed for its beautiful white blooms in late spring and one of the symbols of gardening in the South. Another relative is the pretty star magnolia, a shrub or small tree with frilly petals on its early blooms.
The plant prospers in acidic soil enhanced with organic matter such as compost and will grow in part shade to full sun. As with most trees and shrubs, it prefers well-drained soil with even moisture through the year.
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It is deciduous, meaning the leaves drop in autumn, but the silhouette left behind is striking because of the branching habit that begins low on the trunks, spreading horizontally in a graceful manner. The flowers, depending on the variety, may be pink, white, purple or burgundy. But most of what we see are all pink or pink and white. Their shape leads some people to name it tulip magnolia.
Though remarkably care-free, the early blooms of saucer magnolias, typically 3 to 5 inches in diameter, may be harmed by a sudden deep freeze in early March. That has happened a few times to my saucer, a variety named Alexandrina, which has been growing for more than 35 years. There is, of course, no way to cover a big plant as you would a hydrangea facing a deep freeze in April.
But it is a risk worth taking, doesn’t happen too often and should not discourage you from choosing this great plant. Some of the newer hybrids bloom a bit later and should escape such freezes.
Q. I want a dramatic but small plant for my desk. Some things I see are rather blah. Any ideas?
A. Though it is a philodendron, Prince of Orange is far from ordinary. The new foliage is a beautiful orange, which contrasts nicely with the older deep-green foliage. Give it bright, indirect light, water it about once a week, allowing the soil to dry out a bit between watering. Should the leaves turn pale, move to a less bright location.