Home & Garden

The magic of the Southern magnolia

This magnolia tree in Lincolnton is taller than a house tall and stands near the front porch on a quiet street.
This magnolia tree in Lincolnton is taller than a house tall and stands near the front porch on a quiet street. mhames@charlotteobserver.com

Magnolia trees are hard to miss this time of year. Drive about any street around Charlotte and you’ll find them in full bloom.

There are many kinds, but you’ll mostly see the large evergreen Southern magnolia. The trees grow with their heavy limbs extending down the trunk to the ground. Their leaves shed year round and create a mess often hidden beneath.

Their beauty extends past the blooms. Long after the petals melt from white to a golden brown the pod in the middle grows until it spouts bright red seeds and finally drops to the ground.

Much too often homeowners, past or present, have cut the limbs near the bottom of the slow-growing tree to be able to walk beneath. The consolation is that with their thick leaves, they make a great place to hide from the sun. And because the tree can grow taller than a two-story house, and with a wide base, they are often too close to structures as they age.

Ruth Ann Grissom of Charlotte, a writer who contributes to the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, has written about her love for the magnolia. She believes that the people who plant the trees underestimate how big they’ll get.

She notes there are smaller varieties of the evergreen Southern magnolia homeowners can plant that won’t grow nearly as big as the typical one. But if you go with the Southern classic variety, give it enough room so future generations can enjoy its charms.

Magnolia gardening tips

Southern Living Magazine gives the following tips on their website:

Where to plant: Pick a location where the shallow, fleshy roots won’t be damaged by digging or by soil compaction from constant foot traffic.

When to plant: As with most trees, plant in fall or winter.

Soil: Magnolias appreciate fairly rich, well-drained, neutral to slightly acid soil amended with plenty of organic matter at planting time.

Mulching: In the early years, keep a cooling mulch over the root area.

Watering: Irrigate deeply and thoroughly, but don’t waterlog the soil.

Fertilizing: Treat chlorosis (yellow leaves with green veins) with iron chelates. Feed trees if new growth is scanty or weak, or if you see significant dieback despite adequate watering and drainage. Use a controlled-release product.

Pruning: For evergreen kinds, do the job before the spring growth flush. Best method is to remove the entire twig or limb right to its base.

  Comments