Dirt on Gardening

A tree that can put on a show in the garden this time of year is the hybrid magnolia. Not the typical Southern magnolia — Magnolia grandiflora — with the glossy dark green and leathery leaves, hybrid “saucer magnolias” are known for their reliability in the garden.

The botanical name for saucer magnolia is Magnolia x soulangiana. The first hybrid magnolia was developed in France. Saucer magnolia varieties are known for their versatility. Although, like any spring blooming tree, saucer magnolia blossoms can be destroyed by frost, but overall it’s an extremely adaptable tree.

Saucer magnolia will adapt to any type of soil in zone four through nine. The tree prefers full sun and does well as a specimen planting in the garden landscape. They are usually low-branched with upright, arching branches that form a rounded outline. The tree reaches 20 to 30 feet high and wide at maturity.

The flowers of saucer magnolia vary depending upon the variety ranging from ivory to pink to purple. The flowers are cup-shaped and cover the tree before the leaves come out on the tree. One of the beauties of the tree is the large flowers that open right at eye-level and offer a sweet fragrance.

Deer-resistance is another added plus for this tree. After the flowers fade, the leaves of the tree are three to six inches in length and dark green in color. The leaves do not do anything remarkable in the fall. The bark of the tree is light gray and smooth, definitely beautiful in the winter landscape.

Notable varieties of saucer magnolia include “Alexandrina” that produces flower blossoms that are light purple on the outside and pure white on the inside. This cultivar is one of the earliest blossoming saucer magnolias available.

“Lennei” and “Lennei Alba” are more of a stiff, broad shrub reaching 15 to 20 feet high and wide. “Lennei” has purple flowers that are goblet shaped. “Lennei Alba” has pure white flowers. Both of these cultivars have darker green leaves, too.

If you’re looking for a late-flowering saucer magnolia, “Brozzonii” and “Verbanica” are two cultivars to consider. When the white with pink tinge blossoms of the “Brozzonii” saucer magnolia bloom, they are 10 inches in diameter. This tree is also one of the larger saucer magnolias reaching 25 to 30 feet in height.

“Verbanica” has deep rose colored flowers with white on their tips. This late-blooming variety is known for abundant blossoms even as a young plant. The habit of this tree is also large and rounded.

Saucer magnolias are very commonly available at most nurseries. Although purchasing and planting one today is too late to enjoy the blossoms this spring, adding this tree to your garden this spring will provide many months for the tree to get established in time to bloom next spring.

Questions or comments related to gardening? Contact Joleen at missourigardener@hotmail.com

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