Magnificent magnolias

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August is the height of magnolia season. While many of the deciduous varieties start blooming in July, magnolias reach their peak in August.

Deciduous magnolias are garden aristocrats. They’re relatively expensive to buy, slow growing and rather dull for much of the year. In hot summer areas the leaves can develop unattractive burnt edges as the weather gets warmer and drier. But then, when they bloom, all is forgiven. Their endearing habit of flowering on bare stems shows them off at their very best.

Newer varieties of deciduous magnolias are being introduced all the time. The Jury family in Taranaki has been responsible for developing fabulous varieties such as ‘Black Tulip’ and ‘Felix’. ‘Star Wars’, another New Zealand introduction, is a cross between the lily-flowered magnolia and the large-flowered M. campbellii. The blooms are a rich pink with long petals that gyrate in different directions.

Evergreen magnolias are increasing in popularity, especially the new types of Magnolia grandiflora. This giant tree from North America is usually considered to be too large for suburban gardens but, fortunately, in recent years a number of smaller versions have become available. All have similar, perfumed, large white flowers over many months throughout the warmer weather. The best known is ‘Little Gem’ which, though often described as a dwarf, will still grow into a substantial tree that’s between five and eight metres. It can be pruned a couple of times a year to keep it under control but, remember, this will be an ongoing commitment.

Other slightly smaller forms of Magnolia grandiflora are ‘Kay Parris’ and ‘Teddy Bear’. All three – ‘Little Gem’, ‘Kay Parris’ and ‘Teddy Bear’ – have coppery-brown, felted backs on their leaves. This gives them an interesting two-toned appearance

The plants called michelias (pictured) are now also classed as magnolias. Into this group falls the well known port wine magnolia, Magnolia figo, which is commonly found under its old name of Michelia figo. It makes a thick hedge with hidden flowers that have a pervasive perfume.

‘Fairy’ magnolias are hybrids that were also developed her in New Zealand by the Jury family. They flower in various shades of white, cream, pink and maroon and produce an abundance of small blooms over many weeks.

Caring for magnolias

All magnolias enjoy deep, rich soil that doesn’t get too dry. Prepare soil well before planting by digging in – to twice the width of the pot – plenty of organic aged manure or compost.

Keep plants watered during dry weather but don’t let too much water sit around their roots. Mulch annually after flowering with a thick layer of organically rich material. Evergreen magnolias can be trimmed but, if possible, pruning should be avoided with most of the deciduous varieties. Feed with Dynamic Lifter Plus Flower Food and watch out for snails chewing on new growth (use Blitzem or Baysol pellets).


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