Help with choosing a Magnolia

Discussion in 'Magnoliaceae' started by SBinNW, Mar 24, 2009.

  1. SBinNW

    SBinNW Member

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    I've been in love with the magnolia ever since I worked in the old Biology building on the UBC campus where my lab's window overlooked the courtyard and a gorgeous deciduous magnolia. I spent the last four years in St. John's Newfoundland where I was lucky to get anything other than Japanese knotweed to grow. But now that I'm back in beautiful BC with a new house and a "blank slate" front yard, I can't wait to start growing all the plants I've always wanted to - including a magnolia. The problem is I don't know what type of magnolia I should get!

    I've done a bunch of research in books and online (I love this forum). Initially I was drawn to the M. grandiflora because of it being an evergreen and, of course, the giant pure white flowers. I've taken a look around some of the local nurseries and the variety I found most often was 'DD Blanchard'. The individual trees, although still possessing most of their leaves, appeared kind of ragged with drooping yellowing/browning leaves (I realize the rusty coloured undersides are a feature of this variety) and not really aesthetically pleasing. Does this variety typically look like this over the winter? Or are these particular plants not really healthy due to being in small pots over winter and would not look so ragged if planted in a more preferable environment? I also read that this variety does not produce as many flowers as other M. grandifloras.

    The most important feature I am looking for are the large flowers. I'm not completely attached to the colour of the flower (although I would prefer something other than pink) and now after seeing the 'DD Blanchard' I'm not attached to the evergreen feature either. I would really appreciate some suggestions for other varieties of M. grandiflora and/or other species of magnolia in general.

    I have a large south-east facing yard in New Westminster, BC and would like a larger variety of magnolia, at least 20-25 ft mature height. I also don't mind cleaning up litter, especially if it means I can enjoy those gorgeous flowers.

    Thank you in advance!
     
  2. DGuertin

    DGuertin Active Member 10 Years

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    Well, check the climate stats on it, but if you want big Magnolia flowers, you can't do any better than Magnolia macrophyllum!
     
  3. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    20'-25' is actually on the small side for a magnolia. The specimens you saw at local outlets may have not been adequately protected by the vendors over the winter, showing the effects. If the southern magnolia seems to be the choice then try a more compact one like 'Victoria' or 'St. Mary'. These will require decades to exceed your height requirement and are less likely to snap under the weight of damp snow than those with a more open habit.

    Do not be tempted by the commonly offered and planted 'Little Gem' as it not very hardy and may also be broken badly by snow. Its flowers are also on the small side, which while not a deficiency per se does not fit your desire for jumbo flowers.

    If largest possible flowers are the top priority look for 'Samuel Sommer', keeping in mind that this one is neither small-growing nor particularly compact.
     
  4. SBinNW

    SBinNW Member

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    Thank you for your replies D and Ron. I really appreciate you taking the time to help me out. A tree choice is one that will hopefully last a lifetime and I want to make sure I make the right one!

    Now that the deciduous magnolias are starting to bloom here in Vancouver I realize I really do prefer the evergreens. Although I appreciate the showiness of the deciduous varieties, I love the contrast of white flower on dark green leaf. With your help I think I've narrowed my choices down to either Victoria, St. Mary, Samuel Sommer or Timeless Beauty (macrophyllum is a bit over the top and I worry with it's big leaves that it might be susceptible to snow accumulation). I'm leaning toward either the Samuel Sommer or Timeless Beauty simply because I prefer a non-pyramidal mature shape. Now my only challenge is actually finding a nursery that carries one of these varieties.

    Thanks again!
     
  5. DGuertin

    DGuertin Active Member 10 Years

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    SB - M. macrophyllum is completely deciduous, even here in Houston. Like I said, though, I don't even remember what the zone rating is, and I don't know which you're in, so it may be a moot point, regardless! ;-)
     
  6. SBinNW

    SBinNW Member

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    Thank you for the clarification D! Rookie mistake!

    We're lucky here in the Lower Mainland (in comparison to the rest of Canada) to have a decent hardiness zone of 7. I've read that M. macrophylla is hardy to zone 6, so it should be fine up here. I know people have had success growing it on Vancouver Island, which is not too far away.

    Thanks again.
     
  7. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    'Monland' is comparatively uninteresting visually, go with one of the others.
     
  8. maggiec

    maggiec Active Member

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    Hi
    I'm in New West too!
    Took me years to decide and to find it, but I planted a 'St Mary' two years ago and couldn't be happier. The flowers are incredible and the tree has held up to the last 2 cold winters with minimal damage. There is a m. grandiflora across the street (not sure which cultivar) with a more open habit, and it always looks sickly and has never flowered in the 10 years I've been here. This winter's snowfall snapped off a couple of sizeable branches, leaving it badly misshapened. So, the variety you choose is very important.

    I have a michela maudiae too and it is exceptional. Profuse bloomer, very fragrant, evergreen.
     
  9. SBinNW

    SBinNW Member

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    Great to hear that someone is having success with an M. grandiflora in New West. Since the stock is so important, may I ask you where you purchased your 'St. Mary'? I contacted Gardenworks at Lougheed and they said that they usually have both the 'Victoria' and 'St. Mary' varieties. I've found that they are generally pretty knowledgeable and have a great selection; however, some of their stock tends to be old and terribly root-bound.

    I had hoped to put one in the ground in late May; would this be an appropriate time or should I wait until the fall after the flowers have finished?

    Thanks to all for the replies!
     
  10. maggiec

    maggiec Active Member

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    I bought from Gardenworks and wrung my hands over the price tag - $199 - but went for it as I couldn't find it anywhere else. Then last year, I saw them at several nurseries, priced at $89. That's how it usually goes, eh? Perhaps a bunch of new stock became available? I also saw some at Art Knapps in PoCo.

    Re growth habit, I also thought I preferred rounder to pyramidal, but now I'm thinking this shape makes it less likely to snap in the snow? Just a thought...

    If you're planting in late May, I guess the only thing if the weather is unseasonably warm, is to keep it well watered the first year. I planted in early spring and got several flowers the same year. These pics will give you an idea how big those flowers were - bees were drunk over them. Fragrance was heavenly.
     

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  11. SBinNW

    SBinNW Member

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    Thanks for the pics maggie! I love the drunken bee!

    I'm still preparing the spot where I plan to put the magnolia so I haven't had much time to check out all my sourcing options. I'll definitely call around now that I know there can be a big difference in price. I'm glad to hear your tree from Gardenworks is fairing well. I bought a bunch of shrubs from them last month and they all seem to be budding happily and the rhodos even look like they'll bloom soon.

    Another question; how much growth have you seen with your m. grandiflora over the two years you've had it? I'm worried that if I plant a small magnolia all by itself on one side of the lawn (in the hopes that one day it becomes a focal point) that it will look very lonely for many years before it's large enough to be a tree in it's own right. This won't prevent me from getting one, but if it's an extremely slow grower, I might consider planting other shrubs and perennials around it.

    Thanks again!
     
  12. maggiec

    maggiec Active Member

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    It's definitely shown growth but I would not say it was vigorous - perhaps a foot or two? It put out a lot of growth after the initial planting - so glad to out of that pot, and is definitely more bushy now. Keep in mind that its time in my garden coincided with the 2 worst winters in recent memory. Both winters, I went to knock the snow off the branches and the freezing temps really had me worried. I've found that my shrubs tend to take a little while, the magic number seems to be 3 years, to get settled and then they really take off. So, I have to reserve judgement for the time being.
    Also, I like to underplant trees with shrubs, etc. With me, it's always where can I find a foot or two to plug something in so I don't have the issue of a tree standing by itself :)
     
  13. SBinNW

    SBinNW Member

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    I went out to Gardenworks at Lougheed yesterday and found the 'St. Mary's for $199 like you said maggie. They looked alright, but many of the leaves had serious leaf burn. Do you find this to be a problem with your tree? They also had a variety which I had never heard of: 'Bracken's Brown Beauty'. I did some reading up on it and received some mixed reviews. Most people like it and find that it's fairly cold hardy except many others find that it has a tendancy to lose all it's leaves if temperatures get too low or suffer serious leaf burn if left exposed in the winter (this might be a problem for me since I want to plant the tree in a south-east facing yard with relatively no shade). The ones at Gardenworks were a bit bigger than the 'St. Mary' trees yet were half the price ($99). Perhaps because it is a less desirable variety?

    I think I might check out Art Knapps and some other nurseries in the valley this weekend.
     
  14. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    I wouldn't buy any Southern magnolias that were left sitting out through the winter, in pots. If the leaves got scorched the implication is these were not adequately protected - or protected at all. Potted broad-leaved evergreen stock being overwintered at this latitude should always be packed into plastic houses in fall or otherwise gotten out of the weather.

    Look for fresh stock sent up from California since the winter. Ask what vendors are expecting to get later if they don't have attractive plants now. If you don't want to buy a big one costing hundreds of dollars you will also want to canvass the current or expected availability to see what smaller sized stock might be offered.
     
  15. maggiec

    maggiec Active Member

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    The plant I purchased was in great condition. I agree with Ron - sometimes you see the same stock languishing over winter and they look awful. When I was on the search, I noticed some nurseries coming out with stock a bit later in the season that looked great with nice healthy foliage. Gardens in Gardens in Richmond sold them last year, more expensive ($199?) but larger healthier specimens.
    My tree has made it though the winter with no leaf burn, just the typical shedding of a few older leaves. I'm sure being in the ground rather than in a pot makes all the difference.
     
  16. SBinNW

    SBinNW Member

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    Thanks again for your advice Ron and maggie. Don't worry, there was no way I was going to buy a plant ($200 or not) that looked in terrible condition. I was suprised a) that they were selling these sickly looking 3' tall 'St. Mary's for $200, and b) that much healthier looking and larger 'DD Blanchard's and 'Bracken's Brown Beauty's were being sold for half the price. Any thoughts on the 'BBB'? Is it similar to the 'DD Blanchard' in that is produces fewer flowers?

    I'm definitely willing to pay a higher price for a healthy tree that I will adore for many years to come. I'm not the type to make rash decisions or impulse buys. When all the pieces fall into place and I find the perfect tree, I will just know. Until then I hope you guys don't mind me asking more silly questions!
     
  17. maggiec

    maggiec Active Member

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    I've seen fair sized DD Blanchards for as little as $59. Some sources state it produces somewhat less flowers; also, it can reach 50' or more. As I recall Blanchard has a rather lanky, open branching habit. The important thing for me was not just how many flowers, but when. Some grandifloras take a while to flower and I'm impatient. St Mary is noted as productive even at a young age. I've seen sources that say BBB has smaller leaves and flowers.

    Did you check out Art Knapps in Coquitlam? They had St Mary last year for $89 I think.
     
  18. SBinNW

    SBinNW Member

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    I had my mother in law (who lives in Abbotsford) check out some of the nurseries out her way. She asked around at a few different places and the common consensus was that new stock typically doesn't arrive until late May. Which is perfect timing really since that's when I was planning on having everything ready to put a tree in the ground. Until then I guess I have a month to do more research and reconnaissance.
     
  19. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    Long wait for flowering is result of planting seedlings (specimens raised from seed). Named selections (cultivars) raised from vegetative fractions (grafts etc.) have the sexual maturity of the original plant and flower when still comparatively small. Often these will have been blooming when purchased.
     

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