Great Design Plant: Saucer Magnolia

A specimen tree that’s distinctive and appealing, and provides yearlong interest, makes sense in a garden; it’s helpful, hardworking and will perform year after season. Saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana) performs especially in one season — perhaps even in only one month — than during the remainder of the calendar year, by far. But quantify most trees’ yearlong display against saucer magnolia’s short-lived early spring spectacle, and I would say this one, famously created by agronomist √Čtienne Soulange-Bodin, wins over a year of reliable foliage.

While its simplistic and delicate appearance may imply a finicky and high-maintenance mood, many find these trees to be surprisingly unfussy and simple to develop with proper attention and care.

The New York Botanical Garden

Botanical name: Magnolia x soulangeana
Common names: Saucer magnolia, Japanese magnolia, tulip magnolia
USDA zones: 4 to 9 (find your zone)
Water requirement: Moderate (keep the soil evenly moist)
Light requirement: Full sun to partial shade (prefers morning sun)
Mature size: 25 to 30 feet tall; similar spread
Benefits and tolerances: Blooms attract bees, birds and butterflies; simple magnolia to grow; tolerates clay soil
Seasonal attention: Historical, prolific blossoms on branches
When to plant: Plant it in spring during active growth. (It may also be planted in autumn before the frost.)

Matthew Cunningham Landscape Design LLC

The New York Botanical Garden

Distinguishing attributes. Saucer magnolia heralds the spring among the year’s earliest bloomers. Flowers appear earlier in warmer climates, and later where winter persists. Five to 10-inch waxy blossoms blur bare branches before the tree leafs out, highlighting its dispersing, architectural form — one of the tree’s most elegant qualities.

Search for fuzzy 1-inch buds as signs of flowers to come. White, fragrant blossoms blush pink and purple as they emerge and open for their namesake saucer shape. Most cultivars have been developed in a vast variety of colours and sizes. When the blossoms fall, waxy petals temporarily transform the floor into a soft pink blanket.

The tree leafs out after blooming, making glossy, bright 4- to 6-inch ovate leaves. By late spring the spectacle of saucer magnolia has passed, but it doesn’t imply its worth is lost. Foliage persists nicely through summer, turning yellow and brown in fall before dropping.

While we’re all wild about its flowers, the form of saucer magnolia itself creates a gorgeous garden focal point. Appreciate its dispersing, low branching structure and smooth gray bark till its flowers return.

Matthew Cunningham Landscape Design LLC

The best way to utilize it. Saucer magnolia is your ultimate early-spring accent tree, but remember it’s a yearlong garden feature. Plant it in a secure area where you are able to enjoy its blossoms in foliage, spring through summer and architectural branching structure.

Cluster numerous trees, but don’t forget the most size of this tree and its origins, and consider its mature size when you are planting it. Saucer magnolia reaches towering heights for a patio tree but can also be low branching.

Here, mature magnolias lineup Commonwealth Avenue in Boston.


Bring a few flowering magnolia branchlets inside.

Matthew Cunningham Landscape Design LLC

Planting notes. There’s a motive saucer magnolia can be used so broadly — it’s one of the most tolerant and easy-to-grow magnolias. But that in no way means it’s a low-maintenance or no-maintenance tree. Magnolia trees are investments, of both time and money.

Saucer magnolias are not tough to develop, but they require the time to establish. Be sure to take extra care and listen to small details when they’re young.

Plant in spring once the tree is actively growing. Fall will also do the job, but plant four to six weeks until the ground freezes. Select a site which will protect the tree from harsh winter winds or heat that might cause it to bloom too early in spring. Also be sure it has enough space to grow (look out and upward). Magnolias don’t like to be transplanted, which means you want to acquire the spot right the first time. Dig a hole twice the diameter of the root ball, but do not dig deeper than the root ball. Magnolias have fleshy surface origins, so you don’t wish to pay those overly much.Be sure the root ball is well watered to earn root damage less probable. (The roots will soon be supple and less brittle.) Split the surrounding soil so that it doesn’t serve as an origin barrier.Place the main ball in the floor, maintaing an even space round it.Backfill with rich, organic material; water in dirt and well. Maintain moist soil. Mulch around to protect the soil from frost.Saucer magnolia grows moderately to slowly, so don’t expect to see flowers the first year. Be patient and nurturing. In midsummer, after it finishes flowering, gently clear out broken and crossing branches. There aren’t any significant pests associated with this particular tree.

More: How to Help Your Trees Weather a Storm

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